Opening night at the Highland Park Independent Film Festival: From left, Mark Reitman, Alessandro Gentile and Marita De La Torre (Co-founders of the festival); Danny Trejo (Humanitarian Award winner); April Ibarra (Associate Producer), Kris Bicknell (Graphic Designer/Branding for the festival) - Photo by Tim Karau

Highland Park Filmfest Winners

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Winning an award in the 6th annual Highland Park Independent Film Festival was not easy. The three-day festival in October featured 50 films, four judges and sold-out audiences whose opinions were as varied as the films themselves.

The bar was set high from the outset. The festival kicked off with actor Danny Trejo arriving at the Highland Theater in a procession of vintage low riders to receive the Humanitarian Award, the festival’s highest honor. The award ceremony was followed by a packed-house, big-screen showing of the Trejo film classic, “Machete.” The opening “Night with Danny Trejo” created a sense of excitement that never left the theater.

In the end, 10 films, listed here with their directors, were named the “Best” of the fest:

  • Best Feature: “Cicada Song” / Michael Starr
  • Best Documentary: “Gloria’s Call” / Cheri Gaulke
  • Best Animation: “Boxer Story” / Lance Myers
  • Best Cinematography: “Sleepless/Repeat Until Death” / Sil Van Der Woerd
  • Best Musical Score: “West End” / Joe Basile
  • Best Foreign Short: “2nd Class” / Jimmy Olsson
  • Best “Los Filmmakers” Short: “The Blue Cape” / Alejandra Lopez
  • Best “We Are HLP” Short: “Jeffy’s Day Out” / Kevin Shiramizu
  • Best “LA Stories” Short: “2 Minutes” / Jeff Dolen
  • Best “City of Angels” Short: “Birthday Cake for Dinner” / Damon Russell

“Cicada Song,” the winner for Best Feature and a World Premiere for the Highland Park festival, subsequently screened before a sell-out crowd at the Glendale Film Festival and is now in distribution negotiations. All of the films in the festival have a great shot at wider distribution because historically, the distribution rate is 95% for features screened at the Highland Park festival, said cinematographer Alessandro Gentile, a co-founder of the festival.

The feature films were judged by Connie Zastoupil, a producer of films and film festivals (and the mother of Quentin Tarantino). The foreign shorts were judged by Alci Rengifo, a Los Angeles-based writer, film critic and associate editor of the East L.A. monthly, Brooklyn & Boyle. Luke Rivet, the producer of “Everly” starring Selma Hayek and other features, judged the Los Angeles-themed short films. Kenneth Castillo, the writer and producer of several indie films, including “Counterpunch” featuring Danny Trejo, judged the “Los Filmmakers” and “We Are HLP” shorts.

The 6th annual Highland Park Independent Film Festival was the most successful one yet, in terms of star power, number and variety of films, audience size, industry reach and technical expertise. It will be a tough act to follow, but the date has already been set for the 7th annual festival: October 1 to October 3, 2020.