Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival Announces Film Lineup for 2024

Article Contributed by Ann Flower Com… | Published on Thursday, March 21, 2024

San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF) has announced this year’s exciting film lineup, led by the Opening Night selection of the critically-acclaimed Ghostlight, and Sundance comedy breakout Thelma for the Closing Night selection.
With a slate of over 125 narrative features, short films, documentary features and shorts, music videos and festival favorites from the last 30 years, the festival has a broad spectrum of content on offer for serious cinephiles, devoted film buffs and casual movie fans both locally and across the region.  The festival runs from Thursday, April 25 through Tuesday, April 30, with an encore presentation in Paso Robles, and virtually, from May 1 – 5.
Also on tap is the SLO Film Fest’s famous Surf Nite, the popular Central Coast Filmmaker Showcase, Cal Poly Short Cuts, Music Video Showcase, and a special 45th Anniversary presentation of the horror classic, Dawn of the Dead (1978) in association with local film festival MicroHorrors.
Additional programs include short films curated by R.A.C.E. Matters, Filmmakers of Tomorrow, featuring short films by those 18 and under, a collection of shorts from Actor’s Edge school, Coastal Awakening focusing on films reflecting mindfulness, and the 30th Anniversary Series screening festival favorites throughout the years.  New this year is the event Community of Skate, debuting with the iconic Dogtown and Z-Boys and the short documentary 4DWN.

San Luis Obispo International Film Festival Director Skye McLennan said, “We take immense pride in the fact that half of the films in competition showcase the creative talents of female-identifying or non-binary filmmakers, and also half of the films spotlight individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. We firmly advocate for the empowerment that arises when individuals seize control of their narratives believe in sharing these visions on the big screen.”
Over 57 films, in the categories of Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Student Film, Music Video and Animated Film, will be participating in the George Sidney Independent Film Competition.  Central Coast Filmmaker Showcase Films are eligible in the same categories.  George Sidney and Central Coast films will also be eligible for The Audience Awards in five categories.  Three films in the Documentary Short category were nominated for Academy Awards, with one, The Last Repair Shop, taking home the Oscar.
Actor Josh Brolin is leading the Narrative Feature jury alongside Christopher Tung (Netflix), and Wendy Guerrero (Bentonville Film Festival), as well as Narrative Shorts jurors Lissa Khoshbakhti (Disney) and Fanshen Cox (TruJuLo Productions), among others.
Ghostlight, directed by Kelly O'Sullivan and Alex Thompson, comes to SLOIFF on Opening Night following its debut at Sundance.  The Opening Night Reception kicks off the 30th Anniversary Festival and presents an opportunity to meet special guests, filmmakers, and major contributors along with catered bites by Luna Red, wine from Ancient Peaks Winery and a live acoustic set from popular SLO County band, IMVA, at the Fremont Theater.

The extraordinary and heartfelt Ghostlight follows a melancholic construction worker as he drifts away from his wife and daughter, only to discover solace and purpose within a local theater's production of Romeo and Juliet. As the drama unfolds onstage, paralleling his own life, he and his family learn to confront their own personal loss. A poignant exploration of grief, Ghostlight is the quest for belonging and profoundly explores the impact of unexpected connections.
On Closing Night, the SLO Film Festival wraps up with the announcement of the Jury award winners, alongside a showing of Sundance favorite, the comedy Thelma.  Marking the feature directorial debut of Josh Margolin and inspired by his own grandmother's real-life experiences, the film stars June Squibb as Thelma Post, a victim of a phone scam.  Determined to reclaim her money, Thelma embarks on a journey, unsupported by her daughter and son-in-law (Parker Posey and Clark Gregg) but aided by a longtime family friend, played by Shaft legend Richard Roundtree in his final onscreen performance. This intergenerational tale reminds us to never underestimate age and that it's never too late for an adventure.

More narrative feature film highlights include Slamdance winner, African Giants, which introduces two first-generation Sierra Leonean American brothers – one an aspiring actor and the other a second-year law student – as they navigate the changing dynamics of brotherhood and their contrasting views on their heritage after one makes a surprise announcement.  The French feature Mr. Blake at our Service, stars John Malkovich, who arrives at a French Estate and takes on the unanticipated role of butler after realizing the occupants need help. His arrival revitalizes them and prompts them to work together to restore the manor’s former beauty.  A Funny and heartwarming coming-of-age film, Uproar follows a rugby-obsessed teen (Julian Dennison) in New Zealand learning to find his voice and awareness of his Māori heritage. It also stars Minnie Driver and Rhys Darby.  Another Slamdance winner, Good Bad Things, tells the story of Danny, a young man with muscular dystrophy, who steps out of his comfort zone and into the world of online dating.
Documentary features include Best Directing Sundance winner Sugarcane about an investigation into abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school that ignites a reckoning on the nearby Sugarcane Reserve.  The spirited Let the Canary Sing takes the audience on a nostalgic exploration of the life and career of legendary pop icon Cyndi Lauper, with a boisterous narrative anchored by the inimitable Lauper herself.  Executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, We Are Guardians takes us into the heart of the Brazilian Amazon where thousands are unlawfully invading protected lands for fast profits while Indigenous people fight to protect their ancestral home.
Surf Nite in SLO, the film festival’s signature one-of-a-kind surfing film event, is screening Trilogy:  New Wave.  The evening kicks off with a set by local band RIFF TIDE and guests are encouraged to enjoy drinks in the Fremont Theater’s stunning art deco lobby prior to introductory comments and the film presentation.
Several special presentations have been scheduled including the feature film Camera, shot locally in Morro Bay, and starring Beau Bridges and SOMM:  Cup of Salvation, the latest chapter in the acclaimed documentary series about wine.
Every year Coastal Awakening, a collective of writers, artists, historians, chefs, surfers, and philanthropists, sponsors a film series grouped around a theme close to the creative spirit of the Central Coast.  This year the focus is on films celebrating “Mindfulness and Contemplation.”  The series starts out with Groundhog Day (1993), starring Bill Murray, followed by The Matrix (1999) directed by the Wachowskis, and starring Keanu Reeves. The French film A Man Escaped (1956) directed by Robert Bresson concludes the series.
R.A.C.E. Matters teams up again with the film festival to present Space, a free program of five contemporary short films. Prior to the film screenings at the Fremont Theater, R.A.C.E. Matters will hold a Sunday Brunch fundraiser at Saints Barrel with appetizers and bubbly. The following day, across all venues, is the Central Coast Filmmakers Showcase, highlighting the work of talented filmmakers from Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties. Later in the evening, Cal Poly Short Cuts features 8 short films created by Cal Poly students under the mentorship of Professor Randi Barros Screenwriter and Editor, and James Werner, artist, and Associate Professor of Art & Design.

The 30th Anniversary Series presents a series of retrospective screenings programed by key SLOIFF contributors former Executive Director Wendy Eidson, Founder Mary Harris, Palm Theater Owner Jim Dee, and current Executive Director Skye McLennan.  Double Indemnity (1944), Big Night (1996), The Adventures of Priscila, Queen of the Desert (1994), Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Dersu Uzala (1975), Pursuit of Equality (2005), and Riding Giants (2004) comprise the series.  Riding Giants screens at the Bay Theater in Morro Bay with director Stacy Peralta in attendance.
New this year to the festival is Community of Skate, an event that kicks off in the lobby of the Fremont Theater with live music by The Bogeys. An exhibition of skateboards created by the San Luis Obispo High School Advanced Graphic Design Class will be on view along with a demonstration of live-screen printing.  The reception is followed by the screening of two films that celebrate the culture and community of skateboarding – the iconic Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) and the short documentary 4DWN.  Narrated by Sean Penn, the award-winning Dogtown and Z-Boys tells the story of how skateboarding was revolutionized in the 70’s by local skaters from the run-down beachside area between Santa Monica and Venice, nicknamed Dogtown.  4DWN tells the unconventional and deeply personal story of a South Dallas skatepark whose mission is to change the lives of everyone who walks through the gate.  Legendary skateboarders Kareem Campbell, Stacy Peralta and Mike Crum will be in attendance. Skate-themed films will be aired throughout the day before the event and include Art and Life:  The Story of Jim Phillips, Skateboard (1978) and This is Brighton (2023).
Passes are now on sale and information on the film festival can be found at https://slofilmfest.org.