The Magic of Film at the Santa Clarita International Film Festival

The Santa Clarita International Film Festival kicked off its three-day celebration at the Laemmle Theater in Newhall Thursday night as film enthusiasts and industry professionals watched Mexican-produced films honoring Latin American culture.

SCIFF was founded in 2021 by Lisa de Souza and other independent artists after noticing the lack of film-related events in the Santa Clarita Valley, also known as “Hollywood North.” The nickname was given to Santa Clarita after it became a Mecca for film locations, de Souza said.

“I was very surprised by that,” de Souza said. After researching the possibilities of hosting a film festival, deSouza used his technology background and purchased the domains and initially thought of creating something on a smaller scale.

“I’ll do a little something. It will be something only for the directors,” de Souza said. “And what was interesting to me was the hunger for it.”

SCIFF attendees purchased popcorn and snacks to enjoy the movie “Heroes,” directed by Ricardo Arnaiz, followed by a short film titled “Meet the Parents,” written and directed by host and host Joey Medina Thursday night at Laemmle at Newhall. Catherine Quezada/ The Signal

In its third installation this year, SCIFF had a line-up of over 100 films scheduled to be screened at three different locations in the cinema hall. It has also expanded to highlight artists from other disciplines, and attendees will have the chance to enjoy comedy and sketch acts, a live art show, and musical performances by local and out-of-state musicians.

DeSouza said the festival is completely independent and aims to allow young and emerging filmmakers to debut on the big screen.

“I see it as potentially the next South by Southwest right in our backyard,” de Souza said.

The opening night featured a short film titled “Meet the Parents” directed by anchor and host Joey Medina, a veteran of the entertainment industry, and “Heroes” directed by Ricardo Arnais, a Mexican animation pioneer known for “La Leyenda de la Nahuala, a popular children’s film series that focuses on retelling stories from famous Mexican folklore.

“I’ve hosted a lot of things as a comedian before, but to host it as a comedian who’s a director means a lot to me. It means they take me seriously,” Medina said.

Host and emcee Joey Medina officially introduces City Council members and other Santa Clarita individuals who are heavily involved with the Latino community at Laemmle in Newhall Thursday night for SCIFF's opening night.  Catherine Quezada/ The Signal
Host and emcee Joey Medina officially introduces City Council members and other Santa Clarita individuals who are heavily involved with the Latino community at Laemmle in Newhall Thursday night for SCIFF’s opening night. Catherine Quezada/ The Signal

Medina added that when SCIFF made its debut, he attended to see it. Then he had only one of his films in the festival line-up, and this year there will be three.

“For her (deSouza’s) first time doing a festival, I thought it was amazing. It was wonderful, and it’s actually a one-woman show, and that’s really hard,” Medina said. “I appreciate people who work hard, especially in an art form that I love so much … and it’s just an honor to be a part of it.”

“I want people to enjoy the movies that are here because every director … works hard. They put in their own money, their own time, just to make something that entertains people.

Santa Clarita Councilman Bill Miranda was among the many in attendance and shared a few words with the audience before the film began. He shared the history of filmmaking in the Santa Clarita Valley and discussed SCV’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s for Western movies after famous movie actor William C. Hart made Newhall his home. He also discussed what the future holds for the industry in SCV.

“Today we are also a mecca for filming. We have approximately 50 soundstages in our community. We’ve just approved 19 more, so we’ll have about 70 soundstages in the not-too-distant future,” Miranda said. “The latest project we have promises to have about 3,000 film industry workers here in Santa Clarita. We are very excited to start this early next year.”

Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda shared a few words about the importance of expanding film and other arts in the SCV at SCIFF's opening Thursday at Laemmle in Newhall.  Catherine Quezada/ The Signal
Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda shared a few words about the importance of expanding film and other arts in the SCV at SCIFF’s opening Thursday at Laemmle in Newhall. Catherine Quezada/ The Signal

Dozens of people filed into the theater with their popcorn and snacks, ready to dive into new worlds with fresh storylines and plots reinforcing the film’s unique voices.

The festival will continue this weekend. People can watch featured films specializing in categories that include feature length narrative, foreign short, student feature and music videos. There will be panel discussions with industry professionals and a table reading. Attendees will also have the chance to witness a live art show at Old Town Newhall and musical performances will take place at the American Legion Post 507.

For more information about the Santa Clarita International Film Festival and to purchase tickets, visit sciff.org.

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