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The Topanga Film Festival Experience
ArtBeat

The Topanga Film Festival Experience 

I always dreamt of living in an artist community. So in June of 2022, after a decade in New York City, I visited Topanga to give it a go. I committed to a 30-day sublet, and within that timeframe I was invited to a fundraiser for the Topanga Film Festival at The Mountain Mermaid. I expected a fun party with cool people at an epic Topanga location.

As an art lover but not a film buff, I didn’t plan to feel especially connected or accepted that evening; I certainly hadn’t considered donating. Yet hearing the words of TFF founder Urs Baur and MC Adam Roberts changed my mind. Fast forward one year later, not only am I still living in Topanga but I am part of the team that produced this year’s fundraiser a few weeks ago, and next month’s festival.

That summer evening at The Mountain Mermaid, I learned that Topanga is described as a “thin place,” as Adam put it, “where the veil that separates heaven from the Earth is thin.”

This is the magic of the Topanga Film Festival—and Topanga itself.

TFF is a four-day expression of the spirit of this community. Even the theme of this year’s festival, Keeping it Real in an Unreal World matches Topanga’s ethos. Slogans like Don’t change Topanga, let Topanga change you appear on bumper stickers and artwork across town, and these messages both share a common truth: there is no singular definition of ‘reality.’ It is a deceptive concept, a moving target, a fool’s errand. It’s up to us to define our own version of reality in relation to ourselves, our environment and each other.

We use art and film to help us process reality. They offer us new ways of seeing the world. And while good art has an emotional impact, great art captures and inspires the zeitgeist. So, in a world of 24/7 content creation and meme culture, attending a carefully curated film festival in the company of others is one of the best things we can do for our individual and collective enrichment.

Memorable highlights from last year’s festival include the Q&As with filmmakers following select screenings. I specifically recall Run Raven Run, a feature documentary on “the unvanquished” soul” of Gypsy Roma music. Screened at Corazon Performing Arts, it felt like an immersive experience, meant to be viewed in that exact location. We also celebrated Indigenous People’s Day with a special screening of The Territory followed by a panel discussion, which lit a figurative flame under our seats to take action and help protect the Amazon. 

One of the most impactful films from last year’s festival was Solstice, screened in a virtual online space followed by a Q&A. The film deals with a highly sensitive topic—the impact of suicide on surviving family members. After we watched the film separately from our own homes, we met online in a virtual space to reflect and discuss the film. This created an intimate yet very safe space full of empathy, compassion and connection. It was one of the most powerful moments of the festival for me personally because it generated a discussion about a difficult yet critical subject at a particular moment in the timeline of the pandemic, and in the context of the broader mental health crisis.

The dialogue, discussions and panels are worth so much more than the price of entry. And the legendary afterparties at iconic Topanga venues offer opportunities for continued dialogue, new connections, and planting the seeds for the next generation of stories that will need to be told, at future festivals.

This year’s lineup will be equally as compelling and even more timely, set against the backdrop of Hollywood’s writer’s strike and the daily avalanche of economic, environmental and social crises clogging our feeds, screens and minds.

The 18th edition of the Topanga Film Festival celebrates a deep appreciation for the art of filmmaking, impactful storytelling, and social uplift: This is Topanga at its finest.

Join us from Oct 19-22 for screenings at Froggy’s and nightly afterparties at Corazon. Space is limited and the festival sells out quickly, so it’s recommended to buy tickets as soon as they become available, starting September 25th.

Want to get involved and help shape this year’s experience? No contribution of time or skill is too small. For free access to screenings and certain afterparties, become a volunteer through the form on our website at www.topangafilminstitute.org 

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