Coast Film & Music Festival marks its fifth year this fall.
By Julia Clerk
“Come curious, leave inspired” is the mantra of the fifth annual Coast Film & Music Festival, Nov. 8-12 in Laguna Beach. The event screens short and full-length adventure and documentary films with settings ranging from the mountains to the sea, as well as offering live music and speaker panels.
“We continue to focus on creating a positive community experience where people can come celebrate the outdoors and adventure, have fun, learn a few things and walk away inspired about something new,” says founder and executive director Ben Warner.
The festival was started in 2019 when Warner and co-founders Enich Harris and Ben Classen, all local business owners, decided to create a fun event for the community while supporting filmmakers and storytellers from around the world. Classen has remained involved with the Coast Film Foundation, launched last year, while Warner and Harris have continued organizing the festival. “We both believe in the transformative power of film and [we] love film, outdoor adventure and bringing people together,” Harris says.
They also set out to provide a festival that resonates with the soul of Laguna Beach and its legacy as a world-renowned art community, its incredible example of land and ocean stewardship within the larger urban sprawl of Southern California.
“We’ll never forget the first night of the event [in 2019] at Seven 7 Seven, when we had no idea if anyone would show up,” Warner recalls. “But there was a line out the door that wrapped around the building and seemed to never end.”
California filmmaker Dana Frankoff first attended the festival in 2020 to screen “Voice Above Water”—her compelling film about a Balinese fisherman who could no longer fish due to the amount of plastic in the ocean—which captured the MacGillivray Freeman Environmental Filmmaker Award.
Frankoff enjoyed the festival so much she’s been back every year since. In 2021, she screened “Silent River” and had a discussion session about drought and the Colorado River with local high schoolers. Last year, she emceed the Emerging Student Film program in which 10 short films submitted by students in grades 6 to 12 are shown and followed by a Q&A with professional filmmakers.
A Popular Program
And Frankoff will be back this year. “The Coast Film Festival is like no other festival I’ve experienced,” she says. “The first time I attended, I felt like I gained a film festival family. They’ve been the most supportive festival throughout the years and make a big effort to create mentorship and inspiration for students and young filmmakers.”
Events take place around town, including outdoor activities like a group bike ride, hike, kayak trip and yoga on the green, but the main venue is the Festival of Arts grounds. Three theaters are created on-site including The Forum Theater, with 230 classic, red velvet seats for daytime and evening programs; The Lounge, with couches, throw pillows, rugs and bars; and the outdoor Main Stage, with 500-plus seats, for live music and evening filmmaker showcases. Food trucks as well as bars, coffee and popcorn will be available.
The festival will show about 70 films selected from around 400 submissions, host about 50 speakers, exhibit 20 artists and stage eight musical acts. “Curating the content is our favorite part,” Harris says. “The content spans a wide range of topics and types of art and is curated not for the expert, but for the curiosity within all of us.”
Among this year’s headliner films are “Wild Life” on opening night at Hobie Surf Shop, and “Flying High Again” and “Legend Has It” on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Festival of Arts grounds.
“Wild Life,” by filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (who both won an Oscar for “Free Solo”), follows conservationist Kris Tompkins and outdoorsman entrepreneur Doug Tompkins, who leave behind successful outdoor brands they helped to pioneer like Patagonia, The North Face and Esprit to create national parks in Argentina and Chile.
Marking its West Coast premiere at the festival, “Flying High Again,” directed by Mike Hatchett, takes back snowboarding from the “corporatocracy” with a “bomber squad, rowdy soundtrack and pure, unadulterated riding action.” Meanwhile, “Legend Has It” explores the crossroads between ski lore and the athletes who carve out their own legends, as captured by Teton Gravity Research, which has traveled the globe with top skiiers for nearly three decades.
On Sunday, Nov. 12, crowds will be treated to a director’s cut of local Greg MacGillivray’s “Cities of the Future” and a 10-minute “Hans Rey: Once Upon a Ride in Umbria” about the local champion mountain biker’s visit to Italy and technology’s impact on the sport.
The festival will also continue popular events like the youth film program; FLOW, which stands for Fire, Land, Ocean, Water, with Laguna Beach High School; and the school speaker program with Laguna Beach Unified School District; the Follow the Light Surf Photography Grant awards; Coast art exhibit; and popular silent disco, as well as live music, after-parties, outdoor experiences and Do Good Village where young families can engage with fun storytelling and activities about nature and the environment.
“We love working with all artists no matter where they are from,” Harris says.
MacGillivray and another Laguna filmmaker, Richard Yelland, have taken part and won awards in years past.
“The Coast Film Festival is unique in the world of festivals, because it’s truly a community event, where you see parents and their kids attending,” MacGillivray says. “… [They] share, as a family, the love and care of the outdoors. Nature is important to us, and this comes across strongly at the Coast Film Festival. It’s … something that Laguna Beach can be very proud of.”
Yelland appreciates the festival’s priority on storytelling and the director’s point of view, as well as a passion for environmental stewardship and outdoor lifestyle. “As a filmmaker who’s been fortunate to travel to many film festivals with my work, both here and abroad, it’s like a dream to have a film festival like this in my hometown,” he says. “Coast Film Festival is one of the best I’ve participated in year after year.”
The festival has also showcased local musicians Matt Costa, Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew, Morea Arthur, Skeleton Crew, Party Foul and The Great North Special. Charles Adler from Long Beach curates a gallery with art related to film selections and local sculptor Gerard Basel Stripling created the physical film awards last year.
“Many locals have asked how they can get more involved to support the causes they learn about through the films,” Warner says. “In response, we’re expanding the Do Good Village for young family education and we’re adding a symposium called the Coast Summit that’s about impact storytelling and environmental stewardship with filmmakers, professional athletes and experts.”
The festival co-founders are both longtime locals themselves. Originally from the East Coast, Warner moved to Laguna Beach more than 30 years ago to work at surfer publications. He’s a media and marketing specialist and an outdoor enthusiast who launched Laguna Beach Magazine with Steve Zepezauer in 2007 and worked for the publication’s parent company, Firebrand Media Inc. Warner says his work has always focused on building community, purpose and impact to inspire positive change.
Harris grew up in Southern California and moved to Laguna Beach from San Clemente in 1998 after graduating from college. He spent his career in marketing at action sports companies such as Fox Racing; Arnette, which makes sunglasses; and Billabong and, in 2015, he co-founded Caddis Eye Appliances. In addition, Harris has produced 25 films including “Andy Irons: Kissed By God.” He can also often be found at the beach engaging in his passion for surfing.
Warner adds that they couldn’t pull together the festival without their families, sponsors and volunteers—more than 60—including local students who gain experience participating in a major event while learning about filmmaking, event production and the importance of community involvement.
Last year, the Coast Film Foundation was established. In addition to putting on the festival, this nonprofit promotes films and film-related activities year-round.
“Our growth in the short term,” Warner notes, “will be about fundraising for our Coast Film Foundation so that we can support future filmmakers and film projects that make a difference by educating and inspiring the public about social and environmental topics through the transformative power of film.”
By the Numbers
The festival has made a big impact since starting in 2019.
32 awards presented to filmmakers
$32,000 in cash prizes given out
$41,000 in donations to nonprofits focused on film education, environmental protection and outdoor recreation
210 films shown
163 speakers hosted
16 bands performed
62 volunteers in 2022
5,364 audience members in 2022 including more than 3,000 in person, plus school program participants and online viewers
A 2022 audience survey reported: 49% learned about an important cause; 58% were motivated to get outside more; and 92% will attend the festival again.