By Ea Nicole Madrigal
Starting last Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7, the Pasadena International Film Festival displayed some of the most creative, innovative, and thought-provoking short and extended films from across the nation (including some produced in foreign countries such as Italy, Australia, Ireland, and Spain). The five day event culminated in the 2015 PIFF Award Ceremony.
For cinephiles, the PIFF is an excellent opportunity to screen up-and-coming directors, screenwriters, and actors. The PIFF is also vastly important to the film industry, because it allows lovers of cinema (particularly those who reside in the San Gabriel Valley) to experience groundbreaking work without attending some of the harder-to-get-into film festivals in Hollywood. Taken all together, Laemmle (the hallmark theater in Los Angeles for independent cinema) is an ideal place for this kind of event to occur.
On any day during the festival, there were up to twenty different films screened at the Playhouse Theater separated by time slots and thematic, categorical blocks. Two of these many films were standouts among the rest.
In the category, “Risky Businesses,” the film “7 Minutes” (starring Jason Ritter) was an hour and a half drama about a botched bank robbery. And what could go so badly for a trio of young men trying to rob a bank in order to make good on a drug deal gone wrong? A lot.
The story jumps forward and backward in time, but in a sophisticated way that serves the purpose to continually return to the “seven minutes” originally planned to successfully perform the heist. In a love story that intermixes the “little ditty of Jack and Diane” with the recent film “The Town;” “7 Minutes” provides just enough high end drama in a low budget capacity. Kris Kristofferson’s surprise appearance in the film also adds a bit of Hollywood glamour to the production.
However, my favorite film from the weekend was “Wings of Silver: The Vi Cowden Story.” This is a short biographical documentary of Vi Cowden, who had an incredible passion for life and happened to be one of just over 1,000 women who served as a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot in World War II.
The filmmaking itself is not something that was particularly impressive. Instead, it was the narrative that Cowden provides about her life that charms the audience and tells a heartbreaking story about the reality of women’s experiences in this early era of the 20th century (especially the experiences of women who served the country as a member of the military).
As Cowden reveals throughout the interview which serves as the central story line during the film, her passion for flight began at an early age and she was proud to be able to serve her country during WWII as a pilot. Yet, as she also exposes, when the W.A.S.P. program was deactivated, most women had to pay their own way home from the military bases; they could not find jobs as commercial airline pilots after the war; and they did not receive Veteran’s benefits until nearly 30 years later.
The documentary originally debuted in 2010, and Cowden died just a year later at the age of 94. Her story warmed the hearts of the audience at the PIFF.
Mixed with fictional and non-fiction story lines, the PIFF reminded audiences about the variety of human dramas – both created and otherwise – that stir the soul in a myriad of directions when they are put to film. As a lover of cinema, it is my hope that the Pasadena International Film Festival will continue to grow as it has become a standout in the cultural landscape of the San Gabriel Valley.