October 01, 2020
By Allison Montroy
The annual event, undeterred by the pandemic, took to the hills and hosted a drive-in experience Sept. 25 against the backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains at King Gillette Ranch.
Before parking, drivers had the opportunity to pull up to a green screen setup, where their vehicle was suddenly thrown into an explosive scene from Liam Neeson’s latest action flick, “Honest Thief,” which premiered on the big screen later that evening.
Almost 179 cars filled the outdoor venue. It was the nonprofit film festival’s first drive-in event in its seven-year history.
“We had originally decided to do the festival as a virtual festival this year because there’s so many platforms that allow for that,” said director and co-founder Kelley Fries, “and then we started to see a lot of other film festivals thinking of other ways than just going virtual, so we said, ‘Let’s see if we can tackle that.’”
The drive-in also featured food trucks and live music, playing through car speakers, from DJ Sydney, who has spun at the festival’s after-parties in the past.
Longtime friends Lisa Osborn, Stephanie Morris and Angela Michael gathered outside their cars before the film, dancing along to the songs echoing across the field as the sun faded to black behind the canyon.
This wasn’t the trio’s first year attending the Calabasas Film Festival.
“We love it,” said Osborn, a Newbury Park real estate agent. “It’s one of our favorite events.”
The festival is different from others in that it isn’t just centered around a competition. Fries, 36, and her sister Nicole, 33, originally launched the event to be “a celebration of film.”
“So many people in Calabasas work in the industry, so it was kind of one of those ‘Let’s all come out, be together, celebrate movies that we’ve worked on together, reconnect with old coworkers and make deals for new movies,’” Fries said.
The normally five-day festival always features an interactive element, such as a photo booth or virtual reality experience, as well as short films, documentaries, independent films and a student program, along with studio premieres like this year’s “Honest Thief.”
Fries, a resident of Westlake, said screening a world premiere outdoors presented some unique challenges.
“It was a difficult task because we usually screen in PCP format, which is what all the theaters have, but clearly when you’re in the middle of a field you don’t have that machine,” she said.
“So a gentleman hand-delivered the DVD and had to leave with the DVD at the end of the night so no one else could get their hands on it.”
She hopes to continue the outdoor screening in future years. Attendees said the casual outdoor atmosphere made the event more memorable than ever.
“In this environment, I’ve had so many more conversations with people I maybe wouldn’t have gotten to see,” Osborn said.
Morris, also a Newbury Park resident, added that this year in particular the festival has been a great way to include the entire family in the event.
“Usually, we have a drink, talk a little beforehand and then go into separate theaters,” Morris said. “Here, we’re all together.”
The festival continues virtually through Oct. 23, where viewers can screen and vote on the films online at calabasasfilmfestival.com.
“We’re just really happy that we were able to still provide an escape and have people come together safely and still enjoy the festival,” Fries said.
“It was a little bit different, but still fun, and it still felt like us, which I really liked,” said Fries.