2021 San Luis Obispo International FF Announces Film Lineup


The 27th Annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (March 9-14) announced this year’s film lineup including the Opening Night selection of Philippe Falardeau’s drama MY SALINGER YEAR, starring Margaret Qualley and Sigourney Weaver, and the US premiere of local photographer Brittany App’s environmental documentary WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER on Closing Night. The festival will primarily be a virtual presentation, following the success of last year’s edition in the virtual space. However, SLO Film Fest’s signature Surf Nite event will be held at the Sunset Drive-in (255 Elks Lane), marking the first in-person event for the film festival since March 2019.

This year’s film lineup will feature 111 presentations, including 30 feature films (10 narrative, 20 documentary), 63 short films, and 18 music videos.

San Luis Obispo Film Festival Director Skye McLennan said, “Following last year’s whirlwind experience to shift our film festival to an online presentation seemingly overnight due to the onset of the pandemic, it’s a gift to know that the same dedication we put into selecting our films is matched by the SLO Film Fest audience’s anticipation to see them – virtually or in-person. But safety is still the priority, so while we will all go to the drive-in for Surf Nite, the rest of the time, we will once again be coming into our film faithful’s homes to deliver the best movies we could find.”

Falardeau’s MY SALINGER YEAR is top lined by one of the hottest young actresses (Margaret Qualley, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD), and one of the most distinctively singular actresses, Sigourney Weaver in film today. It’s a tale of a young woman who takes a job working for an old-style literary agent whose chief client is J.D. Salinger. The struggling writer-to-be starts to discover her own voice as she begins personalizing the responses to his fan mail.

Brittany App’s WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER marks the photographer’s return to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, where she could frequently be seen in years’ past catching the directors and stars on the red carpet. Now, she is the director making her feature film debut with a documentary about our personal relationship with water, an increasingly finite resource in need of fresh new approaches to conservation and perhaps even, appreciation for the role it plays in our lives.

SLO Film Fest’s one-of-a-kind surfing film event will be presented on Wednesday, March 10 at the Sunset Drive-In with a double feature of Brent Storm’s new WHITE RHINO and Bruce Brown’s all-time surfing classic THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1965). WHITE RHINO features the surfers and the photographers who followed them during three historic swells hitting the beaches of the South Pacific in 2011-12. Brown’s THE ENDLESS SUMMER, which follows two young surfers chasing the perfect wave, may be the most iconic surfing documentary ever made. Surf Nite will also include the traditional appearance of some classic 60’s surfing autos to add to the atmosphere of what could be called the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the surfing film lover.

Additional highlights among the narrative features include; Xuan Liu’s exquisite Chinese love story BLOOM told through a conversation a man has with his younger self; Ana Katz’s Argentinian drama THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET about a man dealing with life’s curve balls, makes its first post-Sundance stop at SLO Film Fest; frequent indie film presence Joshua Leonard steps behind the camera for the comedy FULLY REALIZED HUMANS which takes a look at a couple trying to exhaust their bucket list experiences before impending parenthood; Cassio Pereira dos Santos’ Brazilian drama VALENTINA follows a transgender teen trying to make a fresh start at a new school after having been bullied at the last one; and a Special Presentation of  Andy Goddard’s SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. Starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench, the drama follows the conflict when a new teacher (Izzard) tries to raise the alarm after arriving at a posh finishing school that is training the daughters of Nazis to be ambassadors for the coming Third Reich.

Documentaries are featured in the special presentations of Jen Rainin and Rivkah Beth Meadow’s AHEAD OF THE CURVE about the history of Curve Magazine, which became a lesbian cultural institution, and Judith Ehrlich’s THE BOYS WHO SAID NO! which explores the Selective Service System, the federal justice system, and the prosecution and trials of war resisters. Other highlights in a typically strong SLO Film Fest documentary lineup include; Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley’s BANKSY: MOST WANTED which explores the elusive identity of the rogue street artist; Chelsea Christer’s award-winning BLEEDING AUDIO, which chronicles the rise and disbanding of 90s rock group The Matches; and Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss’ MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY, another award-winner, which looks at the tragic side of the immigration crisis, through the eyes of families of missing loved ones that have never been found.

The San Luis Obispo International Film festival will once again put local filmmakers on a pedestal via its always-popular Central Coast Showcase, encourage the filmmaking ambitions of elementary, middle school, and high school students with its Filmmakers of Tomorrow Showcase, and put an added emphasis of inclusion and diversity with the introduction of its Short Films, Big Stories: A Program of Diverse Voices section.

Passes are now on sale and information on the film festival can be found at https://slofilmfest.org.


The 2021 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival official selections:



Opening Night Selection


Director: Philippe Falardeau

Country: USA, Running Time: 101 min

In New York City’s late nineties, a young aspiring writer lands a day-job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency. While her eccentric and old-fashioned boss tasks her to process Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, she struggles to find her own voice.


Closing Night Selection


Director: Brittany App

Country: USA, Running Time: 74 min

A story about water. A song for the sacred in all of us. A documentary centered on solutions. WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER takes a look at the driest of places – California and the Southwest USA – and the deepest of spaces – our inner worlds. It presents an invitation to change our perspective and heal our relationship with water … one watershed, one meal, one raindrop, at a time.





Director: Brent Storm

Country: USA, Running Time: 64 min

WHITE RHINO is a parallel story from the surfers and photographers who witnessed three historic swells that hit the shorelines of the South Pacific in 2011-2012. Photographer Brian Bielmann takes the audience on an edge of your seat adventure as we discover the stories behind some of his most iconic photos and what really transpired on those memorable days. WHITE RHINO features notable big wave riders Nathan Fletcher, Dave Wassel, Bruce Irons, Mark Healey, Kohl Christensen and Kalani Chapman.


Director: Bruce Brown

Country: USA, Running Time: 95 min

The crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters.




Directors: Jen Rainin, Rivkah Beth Meadow

Country: US, Running Time: 95 min

From its start in 1990, Curve magazine was a visionary and unapologetic celebration of lesbian life from cover to cover. Facing the magazine’s possible demise in 2019, director Jen Rainin and Curve founder Franco Stevens explore questions of lesbian visibility, legacy, and current day issues through interviews with contemporary LGBTQIA+ tastemakers, “celesbians” including Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez, Denise Frohman, Kate Kendell, and Lea DeLaria, along with rich archival footage recounting the formation of a lesbian cultural institution.



Director: Judith Ehrlich

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

THE BOYS WHO SAID NO! explores the Selective Service System, the federal justice system, and the prosecution and trials of war resisters, showing news footage of anti-war demonstrations and The Resistance’s rising visibility, anti-draft meetings, and smuggled film of resisters serving time in Federal prison as well as the influence of Ghandian nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement.



Director: Andy Goddard

Countries: Canada/Ireland, Running Time: 99 min.

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench star in this brand new film directed by Andy Goddard (Downtown Abbey). In the summer of 1939, influential families in Nazi Germany sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town, run by a strict but humane head mistress (Dench), to learn the language and be ambassadors for the future Nazi state. Eddie Izzard who also co-wrote and produced, plays a new teacher who tries to raise the alarm. But the authorities believe he is the problem. Jim Broadbent plays a supporting character in this fascinating story based on historical facts.



ECHOES OF THE EMPIRE: BEYOND GENGHIS KHAN                            

Director: Robert H. Lieberman

Country: USA, Running Time: 73 min

Film director/novelist Robert H. Lieberman takes us into this vast country little known by many, creating a stunning cinematic view of Mongolia’s past and present. The film leads us through the remarkable evolution of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire—a realm that once encompassed all of Asia, the Middle East and Europe leading up to the doorsteps of Vienna.




Director: Xuan Liu

Country: China, Running Time: 90 min

An amazing first film from Xuan Liu, BLOOM is a richly layered, poetic love story that takes place in late 1990s Beijing. Uniquely told through conversations between Mu Ke and his younger self, it weaves together memories, disillusions and hope. Gorgeous cinematography and superb acting help elevate this film into the realm of great art.



Director: Ana Katz

Country: Argentina, Running Time: 73 min

Straight from a World Premiere at Sundance, this charming film from Argentina follows Sebastian, a man in his thirties, who works a series of temporary jobs as he deals with life’s curve balls. He slowly transforms as he encounters love, loss and crisis.



Director: Joshua Leonard

Country: USA, Running Time: 74 min

When parents-to-be Elliot and Jackie are confronted with the fear of pending parenthood, they decide to embark on a journey of self-discovery, crossing adventures off their bucket list while they still can. Dealing with the grandparents-to-be is all part of the fun in this hilarious portrait of parenthood in all its iterations.



Director: Loretta Todd

Country: Canada, Running Time: 104 min

Indigenous Canadian filmmaker Loretta Todd has done justice to Eden Robinson’s novel about a complex family story of love, loyalty and spiritual beliefs. Filmed on the coast of British Columbia in the Haisla Nation in Kitamaat, Lisa Hill returns from Vancouver to her family home after visions warn that her brother is in danger.



Directors: Silje Salomonsen, Arild Ostin Ommundsen

Country: Norway, Running Time: 78 min

Two sisters, ages 9 and 5, go on an exciting outdoor hike with their adventurous dad, but he suddenly has an accident and the girls are left to figure out what to do next. They take us on a childlike journey through the wilderness of Norway as they navigate their way to find help, discovering strength in sisterhood along the way.



Director: Niav Conty

Country: USA, Running Time: 104 min

SMALL TIME eloquently mixes the sweet innocence of young Emma growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with poverty, the opioid crisis and “the war on terror.” In a stand-out debut performance, Audrey Grace Marshal takes us on an empathetic and darkly humorous journey through family drama exasperated by addiction and trauma.



Director: Cassio Pereira dos Santos

Country: Brazil, Running Time: 95 min

Valentina, 17, moves to rural Brazil with her mother to start fresh, after being bullied at her last high school. When enrolling with her new name, she faces an unexpected dilemma when the new school requires a second parental signature, exposing the real-life hardships that young trans people must endure as they embrace who they are.




Director: Spencer I. Wilkinson

Country: USA, Running Time: 96 min

A powerful, colorful display of community and culture is showcased in this battle to preserve Oakland’s downtown from the onslaught of gentrification. A mural comes alive, dedicated to the diverse artists that intersect Alice Street. The community rallies to fight a condo that will obstruct the mural and transform the cultural landscape.



Directors: Aurélia Rouvier, Seamus Haley

Country: France, Running Time: 90 min

With Banksy, the prevailing question is not about his art, but something more basic — who is he? How can someone so provocative, and who stirs up so much emotion, manage to stay so hidden? BANKSY: MOST WANTED combines a journalistic approach and love of art in a true modern day whodunnit.



Director: Chelsea Christer

Country: USA, Running Time: 91 min

Told through the eyes of quirky, charming and humble bandmates Shawn, Jon, Matt and Justin, Chelsea Christer’s BLEEDING AUDIO is an intimate portrait detailing The Matches’ promising career, defeating break up, and inspiring reunion, as they reflect on what success truly means for musicians in today’s digital industry. A recent Slamdance 2021 pick!



Director: James Kennard

Country: USA, Running Time: 58 min

What should books become in the digital age now that they’re freed from the burden of fulfilling tasks like encyclopedias and the Yellow Pages? An eclectic group of people are dedicating their lives to answering that question. This film spins a tale of the enduring vitality of the book in a world where physical pages are being creatively reinvented.



Director: Gail Mooney

Country: USA, Running Time: 52 min

A helicopter pilot. A Goodyear blimp pilot. All are women with moxie who are succeeding in male-dominated fields in this inspiring film that includes current and former female deans at Cal Poly. “There’s no such thing as a boy thing or a girl thing,” one woman says. “There’s the thing that speaks to you, and if it speaks to you, go out and do it.”



Director: Paul Michael Angell

Country: UK, Running Time: 96 min

This is the incredible life story of Amazonian cowboy turned U.S. TV star, Stan Brock, who sacrificed everything to bring free healthcare to millions of people in need. It is a heart-warming tribute to the unifying power of volunteerism, and an exploration of a perennial outsider’s search for meaning through selflessness and deep compassion.



Directors: Lisa Molomot, Jeff Bemiss

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

This exceptional documentary takes us boldly into an American border town that has been caught in the middle of the daily life and death situation created by our current immigration system. We meet vigilante ranchers, humanitarian activists, Border Patrol and others locked in an endless battle of human rights and politics.



Director: Zach Carver

Country: USA, Running Time: 127 min

Be Safe. Be Bold. Get Over Yourself — is the theme of this 750-mile boat race of a lifetime from Washington to Alaska. Whirlpools, deadly currents, bears and much more test these intrepid mariners to their very limit. The only rule — no engines. The rest is up to the imagination, from state-of-the-art custom craft to a makeshift paddle board.



Director: Ravinol Chambers

Country: UK, Running Time: 84 min

On a life-changing journey across India, culture and progress collide as a former Krishna monk re-examines traditional gender roles and the barriers girls face in escaping child marriage and rape. With the obvious need to educate girls, there is the cultural challenge: Will education bring them true equality or transform them into caged butterflies?



Director: Laura Naylor

Country: USA/France, Running Time: 92 min

A loyal crew of laborers travels from northern France each year to harvest grapes at a small family-owned vineyard. We are privy to the gritty underbelly to the charmed romantic life of the Champagne region. Despite stunning scenery, endless champagne and great food, this is a story of relationships between owners, workers and family.



Directors: Christopher Boone, Kevin Smokler

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

“Everything old is new again!” perfectly sums up the fascinating history of the vinyl record that seemingly vanished into relative obscurity in the 1980s, but is now one of the hottest trends again worldwide. But there’s just something about spinning vinyl, and VINYL NATION does an entertaining deep dive into what that something might be.



Sponsored by The Coastal Awakening / Shanbrom Family Foundation



Director: Annie Kaempfer

Country: USA, Running Time: 75 min

This is an intimate portrait of master falconer Rodney Stotts on his mission to build a bird

sanctuary and provide access to nature for his stressed community. By weaving Rodney’s

present-day mission with the story of his past, both deeply rooted in issues of social

and environmental injustice, the film reminds us that nature heals.



Director: Sarah Shoemaker

Country: USA, Running Time: 38 min

Dance teacher Lena Forster introduces us to her adult special-needs ballet class in Greenville, SC where we follow five charming students through a year of dance and life. We get a sensitive and very touching glimpse of a community frequently overlooked, listen to voices frequently unheard and witness the joy of dancing and the arts as it impacts the dancers’ lives.



Director: Aimee Long

Country: USA, Running Time: 88 min

After accidentally killing an unarmed Black man when his gun fires off through an apartment wall, a young Chinese American cop deals with his guilt and begins to unravel as he navigates the charged and complicated worlds of media, justice and racial politics in modern-day New York. The film, drawn from an actual event in Brooklyn, explores systemic racism.




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