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Locals in the limelight

Screenings, panels part of film festival that ends with awards on Sunday.

March 25, 2009|By Jason Wells

Burbank and Glendale claim many of the largest movie studios in the world — Warner Bros., Paramount, Dreamworks, the Walt Disney Company — but it took until Sunday for one of the cities to host a bona fide film festival.

The inaugural Burbank International Film Festival kicked off its weeklong program Sunday at Woodbury University in an effort to showcase the city’s prominent role in the filmmaking industry.

The festival’s itinerary offers a mix of screenings and industry panel discussions throughout the week, culminating Sunday with an awards ceremony and live performances by Glendale native and Academy Award-nominated film composer John Debney and Burbank’s multiplatinum vocalist Mark Slaughter, of the metal band Slaughter.

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A documentary on Warner Bros. founder Harry Warner — shot by his granddaughter Cass Warner — was screened for the opening ceremony as local celebrities filed past the short red carpet to offer supportive gestures to the event and its participants.

It was, after all, just as much about the films as it was a showcase for local talent.

“We just want to open a door for [young filmmakers],” said Sharon Wissell, an actress and choreographer who also serves as the festival’s executive director.

There are nearly 80 submissions ranging from animation to short film, documentaries, commercials and full-length features scheduled for viewing over the course of the week, all of them selected by a judging committee.

“There’s so many great filmmakers out there with no place to showcase their work,” said Karen Kramer, a Golden Globe-winning actress who became a producer.

The longtime actress and widow of storied director Stanley Kramer helped sift through the hundreds of submissions, some good, some bad, as a member of the organization’s honorary board, and said given the harsh economic climate, their work deserved to be celebrated now more than ever.

“I don’t know how they do it,” she said.

Securing financing has always been a difficult task in the film industry, where shopping a script, an idea, a vision, can be a long and frustrating journey.

And so some of the entrants Sunday said the economic downturn was just par for the course.

“For me, it’s just as hard as it was,” said Brad Kammlah, who wrote, produced and directed his debut film “Purge,” which is scheduled to be shown Tuesday in Woodbury’s Fletcher Jones Auditorium.

“If you make great stuff, you’re going to make it,” he added.

Still, it doesn’t mean hard economic times haven’t affected considerations for the multitude of other stakeholders that come with producing a film project, said Ezra J. Stanley, who was showing his commercials for Levi’s and American Express at the festival.

Art may be art for the filmmaker, but actors, crews and marketers must still be paid, forcing directors to take more and more into consideration when trying to put a project together, he added.

“It definitely makes you sharpen your skills,” Stanley said.

For information on tickets and daily schedules, visit www.burbankfilm festival.org.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@ latimes.com.

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