In writing about the LPFF in 2006, I said “Some might call it Cannes for the cowpoke set. Others might think of it as Toronto with tumbleweeds, or a six-gun Sundance.” The problem with those comparisons, aside from their author’s overly enthusiastic alliteration, is that they do a disservice to the Lone Pine Film Festival. Those three film festivals used for comparison, and hundreds of others just like them, are great showcases for important work and trends happening in international and independent film, and they’re also marketplaces where producers, actors, financiers and all other manner of hangers-on come to shill for their latest projects, make splashy distribution deals and, of course, to be seen.
But more so than just about any other film festival I can think of, and certainly more so than any other that I have attended, the Lone Pine Film Festival is the opposite of all that. It is the friendliest, least pretentious gathering of movie enthusiasts I could possibly imagine—for three days, beginning on Friday morning and ending with a parade through town and a festival campfire after dark on Sunday, the town is filled with folks whose memories and passions are invested in precisely the sort of movies—B-westerns, low-budget adventures and the occasional widely recognized classic—that wouldn’t get a sniff from the cognoscenti at a more typically urbane festival. The demographic skews older too, of course—a lot of folks in town for the weekend were kids in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s when these movies were in theaters, or in the ‘60s when many of them filled the parched schedules of local TV stations looking for inexpensive filler programming on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. And nobody is in town to be seen, well, except maybe the fella from Australia who makes the trip annually and dresses up as his boyhood idol William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy. Ironically, though I met and talked to him in 2006, I didn’t see him at all this year. So much for networking.