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A taste of Hollywood comes to Malibu: Powerful films aplenty at 17th Malibu International Film Festival

Malibu actress and director Annabel Graham (left) and Malibu native Rachel Gray are pictured during filming of “The Ravine,” a short film shot last year in Malibu’s Las Flores Canyon. The film recently earned the Special Jury Award at the 17th Malibu International Film Festival. John Graham/”The Ravine”
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
9:34 am PST November 16, 2016

There were many stories to share, and many viewers eager to see them.

From empowering documentaries to deeply personal short films, the creative passions of filmmakers were on full display Nov. 5 as the 17th Malibu International Film Festival came to Malibu Civic Theater.

Twenty-six-year-old Malibu resident Annabel Graham was among the local filmmakers featured at the event. Graham picked up the Special Jury Prize for “The Ravine,” her first film, “a mystery and a coming-of-age story” which she produced, directed, wrote and acted in. 

The film — based on an event that happened to Graham when she was 17 while driving home through Las Flores Canyon — was personal for Graham in more ways than one. 

While based on a real-life encounter, the short film was also a tribute to her father, William A. Graham, a longtime film and TV director who died in 2013.

“I had always wanted to follow in his footsteps and make a film,” Graham said.

Further, Graham did most of her filming in Malibu itself, and earning this reward in the town that has inspired her all these years had a special significance. 

“The film was not only a tribute to my late father but also to the beautiful, wild and volatile landscape of the place where I grew up, a place in which anything can change in a split second,” Graham expressed. “I wanted to portray that landscape and to give a sense of the way it feels. I also wanted to explore the loss of innocence and the strange and bittersweet rollercoaster of adolescence.” 

Malibu resident and newly re-elected City Council member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner — who is a Level 1 practical special effects operator, a role which requires eight years of education and training — acted as the special effects coordinator on the film. 

Malibu native Rachel Gray also acted as producer of “The Ravine,” bonding with Graham over also losing a loved one (brother, Scott Wells) who was also a filmmaker. For details, visit www.theravinefilm.com.

While Graham was humbled by her personal victory, she said she was also blown away by the talents of others at the Malibu International Film Festival.

“I can honestly say that I was very impressed and really enjoyed every film that I saw,” she said.

Other award winners included 59-year-old Malibu native Chelo Alvarez-Stehle, whose feature documentary “Sands of Silence” took home the Best Documentary and Audience Choice Awards.

“The awards are very important I realized because, first of all, it gives me a big satisfaction that someone is recognizing all the work that has been put into this film,” Alvarez-Stehle said, noting that the film took eight years to complete. “It’s been an amazing, incredible, big journey.”

Alvarez-Stehle said the film, her first feature documentary, was backed by many Malibu residents — including Carol Moss and Julie Carmen, who each hosted fundraisers for the film, and Deirdre Roney, who was the film’s executive producer — and she hopes the recognition her film has received to date will help to push it forward and get it distributed elsewhere over the next two years.

“It’s getting momentum and the more people hear about it ... it really pushes it,” Alvarez-Stehle said.

“Sands of Silence” documents tales of sexual exploitation worldwide and closely follows the transformation of young women in Mexico and Nepal from powerless victims to resilient survivors and passionate advocates. 

Alvarez-Stehle said she hopes her film will encourage others to come forward and break the silence. For details, visit www.sandsofsilence.org.

Malibu native Satie Gossett, 42, also brought his powerful film “Forgiveness” to the fest, and took home the Luminary Award for shedding light on an important subject.

Gossett said the message behind the film was “to start a conversation about the idea of America’s role in slavery and moving forward.” 

After being written and sitting in a drawer for 12 years, the film, which centers on racism and slavery, was eventually funded by Sandra Evers-Manley’s Films With A Purpose (for details, visit filmswithapurpose.net), and Gossett has since heard from various school boards who want to put the film in their curriculums, he said.

“It can be used as a teaching tool to spark conversation about politics and everyone’s role, especially now in these times with the current election and the current climate of America and the world,” Gossett said.

Malibu Film Festival is a nonprofit community event made possible by the generous support of sponsors including Final Draft, Stella Artois, Wolk & Levine, LLP, Variety 411, 90265 Magazine, Mulberry Love and Casa Escobar. For more information, visit MalibuFilmFestival.com.

Malibu International Film Festival award winners

• Grand Jury Prize: “The Bench” directed by Cameron Burnett

• Special Jury Award: “The Ravine” directed by Annabel Graham (also producer, writer and actress). 

• Actor in a Leading Role: actor Michael Keeley in “Death After Pancakes” 

• Actress in a Leading Role: actress Karsen Liotta in “Prettyface”

• Best Documentary: “Sands of Silence” directed by Chelo Alvarez-Stehle. 

• Audience Choice Award: “Sands of Silence” directed by Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

• Luminary Award: “Forgiveness” directed by Satie Gossett. 

• Best Original Screenplay: “The Love Effect” written by Tyler Atkins, Ari Binder and Drue Metz

• Best Comedy Short: “AA” directed by Charles Irving Beale

• Best Action Film: “Two Bellman Two” directed by Daniel Malakai Cabrera