Alex Marino, Lonny Stevens, and Steve Sturla sit in their upstairs seating area at the CAP Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
They have been sifting through film submissions, which they’ve been collecting since the end of September, for the upcoming Studio City Film Festival, Feb. 6 through 9. After months of screening, evaluating and deliberating, they have made their final decisions for which films the festival will feature.
“We’re getting films from all over the world,” Sturla explains of the 100 or so submissions they’ve received. “We’re taking features and shorts as well, and music videos, and many countries are represented at the festival.”
Sturla says he hopes the event will grow into a major festival, but they’re just testing the waters for now. All three men have been involved with film festivals before, but this is their first foray into putting on their own festival.
Their personalities make it clear that they are theater people. They are fun, welcoming, entertaining men, with bright smiles and infectious laughs.
Marino, tall, dark, and slender, is currently acting in a production of Shel Silverstein’s The Devil and Billy Markham, directed by the dapper Stevens. The two own the CAP (or Complete Actors Place) Theater, which will house the film festival. They became involved with Sturla after he attended an event at the theatre and fell in love with the space.
“I think this space is probably the most versatile of any space you can possibly find,” says Sturla. “I’ve put on a lot of events in different spaces . . . and worked in a lot of different theaters all around L.A., and I’ve never seen one that’s as diverse as this one.”
Stevens and Marino have been in business together for 11 years, the last five of them in the CAP theater. In addition to film screenings, they hold live events such as music and cabaret-style performances, live theater, and a weekly Open Stage Night, every Monday night, for all kinds of performers. The space is also available for film location shoots, and includes a large green screen.
Sturla suggested to Marino and Stevens that they host a film festival in the space, and the two men agreed.
“It seemed like a natural fit because we’re also the home of three other film festivals,” says Marino, referring to the Valley Film Festival, Bleed Fest (for women-produced horror films), and an art exhibition called Love Unlimited. “We were kind of entertaining the idea of doing [a film festival] anyway, but Steve kind of pushed us along.”
The festival will feature about 40 to 50 films over the four days, with awards given for the best films in each genre.
"We’re getting a lot of really great submissions,” says Sturla. “I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the films.”
Many of the films are feature length, and come from professional, amateur and student filmmakers. Some films are from familiar Hollywood professionals, but they refused to give names.
“Can’t tell you, so don’t ask,” said Stevens with a grin. They’ve even turned down a few of the big name productions.
“That gives you an idea of how much integrity we have,” Sturla says with a laugh.
Stevens also spoke fondly of the student productions, explaining that they “are braver, they take risks, they’re fearless.”
Marino says that some of the more impressive student films came from Chapman, Florida State University, USC, and AFI. “It really depends on the school,” he explains, “but some of the good schools get really good productions because they also got all the greatest equipment to work with, [and] they’re shooting with crews of like 50 people. So they can be really good.”
Sturla adds, “Now, it’s so easy to get equipment and people can make movies anywhere,” which he says contributes to the increase in quality. “The access to filmmaking equipment is much easier now, much more accessible than it ever used to be,” he continues. “And some of the stuff that’s coming from overseas has all been really good.”
About 20 percent of the films they received are from overseas.
The beautiful theater, with its high ceilings, 10 x 16 foot screen, and excellent sound system, is a perfect space to hold a festival like this. It also includes two VIP areas, a bar, and an outdoor patio. The space is part of what inspired the men to start this festival.
“I think, in the valley, these are the best two places to be, Sherman Oaks and Studio City,” confesses Marino. “This is pretty much the best location, because you’re just close to everything.”
What’s more surprising to Sturla is that there isn’t already a film festival in Studio City.
“Everybody I’ve talked to, they always say the same thing: ‘You mean there isn’t one already?’” explains Sturla. “So I think obviously its something who’s time has come.”
All three men agree that they want the festival to screen premieres of good quality films; “cutting edge films,” according to Marino, that Stevens describes as “informative, provocative, and entertaining.”
Sturla clarifies, “We just want it to be a good festival that’s engaging, and that there’s a level of quality there that we all, I think, are in agreement on.”