Monday, September 13, 2004

Temecula festival keeps reeling in fans

TEMECULA: With bigtime talent in the audience, the 10th annual film event wrapped on Sunday.

Temecula's 10th annual film and music festival came to a star-studded ending Sunday, wrapping up with a gala dinner and awards show that included several big-name actors, directors and musicians.

Among the celebrities in attendance were Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., three-time Grammy winner Lou Rawls, television star Stefanie Powers and directors Renny Harlin ("The Fast and the Furious") and Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinny"). Various stars also were presenters at the ceremony, including soul legend Isaac Hayes and actress Natasha Henstridge ("The Whole Ten Yards").

Organizers and city officials said the number and quality of the entertainment elite on hand indicates that, as it moves into its second decade, the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival has achieved notable recognition among industry movers and shakers.

Festival organizers said they received about 200 requests for media credentials, up from roughly 40 last year. The requests came from as far away as Australia, they said, and included trade publications such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Mike Naggar told the audience of 600 at the black-tie awards banquet that the festival is "hitting its stride."

City Councilman Chuck Washington said of the appearance of Rawls, Gossett and the other celebrities: "We've got legends in the Temecula Valley."

"They're larger than life to me," Washington added.

Festival program director Steve Montal said the event will continue luring and landing bigger and bigger talent.

"We've reached critical mass," Montal said. "Our accomplishments have given us recognition. The more high-profile people we bring in, the more we will attract. We'll keep growing."

Rawls and Gossett, who, along with Lynn, received lifetime achievement awards, said they were delighted at Temecula's red-carpet rollout.

"This place is booming - and it's beautiful," said Rawls, whose career includes more than 60 albums. "I was here five or six years ago, and there was nothing here. I'm totally blown away."

Rawls said the Temecula festival marks the first time he has been given a lifetime achievement award. He said the Temecula film and music festival is known by many entertainers.

Gossett, who won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for the 1982 film "An Officer and a Gentleman," said Sunday's visit was his first to Temecula. But he has soaked in Murrieta Hot Springs in the past.

"There's no such thing as a little festival, especially when you're getting a lifetime achievement award," Gossett said. "This place is just gorgeous."

Sunday's gala also included the audience awards for best films during the five-day event, which included more than 200 submissions. Winners included "Birthday Boy," Best Student Film; "Husband School," Best Short Film; "Between Two Worlds," Best Documentary; "Past Whispers," Best Animation; and "Sons of Provo," Best Feature Film.

Aaron Weisblatt, producer/director and writer of "Between Two Worlds," said he was overwhelmed at landing the audience award.

Weisblatt said his movie, whichtells the story of a World War II pilot's efforts to memorialize the sacrifices of his fellow aviators, will make appearances at festivals in Ojai and Livermore.

"It gives my film credibility throughout the film festival circuit," Weisblatt said. "And it makes me feel darn good."

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