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by Heidi Clingen

The ninth annual International Family Film Festival was held April 25-May 3, 2003, in Valencia, California. More than 12,000 festival-goers from as far-afield as Florida and the New England states, found their way to the clear and sunny skies of the Santa Clarita Valley, nestled in the hills above the more congested San Fernando Valley.

This year's festival held strong to its mission statement of presenting exceptional independent studio and student-produced films and video productions from storytellers around the world. "Our focus is on the family and the relationships that make up society's most fundamental unit. The thrust of the festival is so right for our times, as seen by a 30 percent increase in attendance," said Chris Shoemaker, IFFF Executive Director/Cofounder. "There was a very positive atmosphere of support among the filmmakers and screenwriters," added Suzanne Shoemaker, Director of Business Development.

I'll Be There was personally presented by Morgan Creek's Brian Robinson, after which it received the best feature film award. The film, about a free-wheeling rock star who discovers the daughter he never knew he had, is scheduled for initial release in Great Britain—where it was shot and the lead actors are well-known. But I'll Be There was guaranteed wider distribution through Warner Bros. as a result of the award. The rugged Craig Ferguson, the cavalier boss on "The Drew Carey Show," wore multiple hats of director, screenwriter and star. Young singing phenomenon Charlotte Church plays his daughter in her film debut and lovely Jemma Redgrave plays his long-lost girlfriend.

Another popular feature film, culled from the 400 submissions, was Lourdes, by writer/director Peter Hoffman. The documentary, which explores the history of the most famous of Marian shrines and the claims of inexplicable cures at the sanctuary, seems well positioned for acquisition.

One of the raison d'être's of film festivals worldwide—the distribution pick-ups—included Earth Stories and Stellaluna, which were courted up by both Porchlight and Tapeworm Distribution companies. Screenwriters also received much-deserved attention, such as the interest expressed in the animation script winner, RAMA by Barbara Aber Jackson and The Secret of Nick, a comedy by Michael Flam. Jeanne McKinney's City of Gold is in development with Morgan Creek's Brian Robinson.

Lifetime Achievement in the art of animation was recognized in the work of Disney's Don Hahn, producer of such classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As recipient of the "Friz" Award, Hahn was honored as one of the most successful animation producers of all time, with his films garnering nearly $2 billion at the worldwide box office and 17 Academy Awards nominations for Disney Studios.

A taped tribute for Hahn of film clips and interviews included remarks by legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, past recipients of the Friz Award. The "Friz" Award was named after the first recipient, Friz Freleng. Past winners of this award include Roy Disney, Charles Schulz, Joseph Barbera, Marc Davis and Chuck Jones.

Besides the awards ceremony, the festival also featured ten roundtables/seminars on the craft of screenwriting and producing, as well as financing, distribution and pitching of completed projects. Children, who make up an integral part of the family, attended custom-designed events and workshops at the festival. In addition to the opportunity to view 61 new family-friendly films on the big screen, more than 5,000 children were offered, free-of-charge, unique experiences ranging from creating their own claymation video to performing a 30-foot high stunt in a professional harness.

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