It was a sweltering late summer afternoon, and I could hear the chatter below: “How long has she been in the attic? It’s pretty hot up there…is Mama ever coming back down?”
I had discovered a box of books and spiral-bound notes from a previous lifetime—i.e. the nineties—when I was a university student studying film theory and production. Memories washed over me, transporting my mind and heart to a time when the life-changing, captivating power of story was everything. Beyond academics, the camaraderie of like-minded undergrads fostered a sense of community and common purpose. Enter Adam Noble Roberts of Topanga Film Festival (TFF), whose goal as newly minted Director of Programming is to give every ticket holder a similar experience with each screening.
You might know Adam from the Topanga Days stage, where he holds court as emcee. It’s a good fit. After two years of film school at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he shifted his focus to acting, a pursuit he is still active in. He says he was working at a raw food restaurant when he had the epiphany that he was front-of-house material. It’s not lost on me that this brand of storytelling laced with subtle humor may be part of what makes him a good improv coach and a good spokesperson for the Topanga Film Institute. The organization was right on the money when they tapped Adam to join their core group, which includes founder Urs Baur, Scott Bremner, William Preston Bowling, and Miranda Robin, along with Young Filmmakers Showcase director Andrea Shreeman and recent additions Phoebe Sarason, Emily Sokolow, and documentary film producer Darius Fisher. Adam’s infectious enthusiasm informs his hybrid role of behind the scenes and behind the mic.
This crew is entirely volunteer based. The festival they put on is a true labor of love. Says Adam, “Everyone making this happen is doing so because we love cinema and its ability to communicate important ideas about where the world is going and what we may be able to do about it.” Certainly, the festival selections have a progressive bent, and the festival itself hopes to provide community outreach and education in its scope. It is important to note that though both screening venues are in Topanga, this is an international film festival.
The committee received entries from all over the world, including films from Australia, Bulgaria, Iran, Kenya, and South Sudan.
“We have such a strong line up of films this year,” Adam continues, “thoughtful programming plus moderated panels, q&a, and after parties, all meant to offer an experience that lights you up and that you take with you.” 2023’s tagline is “Unreel: Keeping it Real in an Unreal World”, a nod to the films that address the often grave sometimes unimaginable circumstances Earth and her people now face. The Topanga Film Institute summarizes: “In these surreal times, the Topanga Film Festival celebrates its 18th edition as a gravitational hub of open-mindedness, dialogue, and storytelling. Under this year’s theme we will explore the unique challenges and opportunities presented by our current moment.”
Another challenge close to home? The strikes (writers and actors, respectively), which have made tricky business of planned programming, like a proposed Bridges family retrospective that would have featured films with Jeff, Beau, Jordan, and Lloyd. Hopefully this idea will be resurrected next fall, as I myself am ready to rally for a late night Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque screening of The Big Lebowski. Though, that’s just my opinion, man.
All that said, a natural consequence of the strike is a documentary-heavy year. There were so many entries in this category that Adam commented, “The truth is, you have to turn away some really good films, because our goal is a balanced and compelling program.”
There simply isn’t room for everything, which means those movies that made it through the selection process are truly exceptional. Among them is Common Ground, the sequel to Kiss the Ground, a Netflix documentary about the regenerative approach to agriculture. Common Ground stars A-listers Rosario Dawson, Laura Dern, Woody Harrelson, Jason Momoa, Donald Glover, and Ian Somerhalder, who incidentally have all been invited to the screening. Rachel’s Farm is another doc, thematically aligned with Common Ground, starring Rachel Ward. Ward, a longtime Hollywood actress, eschewed her celebrity to become a farmer in Australia. She will be present at the festival to promote her film. There’s Waiting for My Real Life, about musician and canyon resident Colin Hay, frontman of the band Men at Work. Hay will treat audience members to a performance after we watch the movie made about him. Another offering: Punk Rock Vegan Movie, directed by Moby, who will also be in attendance. Moby’s movie will be followed by KCRW’s Jeremy Sole doing a d.j. set at Corazon. Which brings me to a very important news bulletin: there are two equally exciting venues, Froggy’s and Corazon. Adam clarifies, “the quality and vibe at Corazon will be on par with what’s at Froggy’s, and in some cases exceed it. We want to encourage people to look at the lineup of films in both locations and choose accordingly, but know that we have truly exciting and compelling films and events at both venues this year.”
Much like the plots of classic cinema, everything has come full circle for Adam Noble Roberts. His old apartment on Avenue D in Manhattan once housed the great Ani DeFranco. This year’s TFF lineup includes the film, Dear Ani, for which I will give no spoilers. As for me, there is an irony to the fact that nearly 30 years after my initial dance with the magic of film, I got a call to re-explore it from a new perspective. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! (See what I did there?) Cinema truly is magic; it is so much more than entertainment. An image on the silver screen, even just a shadow, can create an emotional landscape for audiences to traverse. That image can educate, transform, and birth new thoughts, moods, and ideas. That is why Adam does what he does. He has a passion for storytelling, and a desire to give back to our community, creating a space where we come together in the name of creativity and the arts.
“I’m a big believer in the sacredness of intentional parties,” he states.
Parties and storytelling—two of the most ancient celebrations of life—happening in Topanga October 19-22, 2023.
For more detailed festival information: www.topangafilminstitute.org