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OIFF: Second from left are Shawn Hatosy, Carolina Guerra and Rob Benson, stars of TNT’s hit drama “Animal Kingdom,” which is filmed and based in Oceanside, kicked off the 2018 Oceanside International Film Festival on Aug. 1 at the Sunshine Brooks Theater. Photo by Steve Puterski
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‘Animal Kingdom’ stars set stage for film festival

OCEANSIDE — The stars came out the first night, but the budding filmmakers ended up stealing the show at the ninth annual Oceanside International Film Festival.

The five-day event ran from Aug. 1 to Aug. 5 at the Sunshine Brooks Theater, which began with the red carpet featuring actors Shawn Hatosy, Carolina Guerra and Ben Robson from the hit TV series “Animal Kingdom,” which airs on TNT. Attendees were treated to an advanced screening of the Aug. 7 episode, “Jackpot,” which was Hatosy’s directorial debut.

“This year … we wanted to take it to the next level and incorporate some big, splashy events and garner some attention,” said Lou Niles, the festival’s managing director.

For one filmmaker, the event was an unforgettable experience. Eli Benson, a sophomore at Carlsbad High School, won the student audience and jury choice awards for his five-minute submission, “Alana Nichols’ Story.”

Benson followed Nichols during the International Surfing Association’s Paralympic event in December 2017 in La Jolla. Nichols promptly won the gold medal.

While his film details Nichols’ efforts in the surf, Benson also noted she is the only woman to win gold medals in the summer and winter Paralympic games, in wheelchair basketball and alpine skiing, respectively.

She suffered a spinal cord injury when she was 17 attempting a backflip on a snowboard. But Nichols didn’t let the injury slow her down, and Benson was there to capture another milestone for the world-class athlete.

“It was really cool to share my work on the big screen and in front of so many people,” Benson said. “It was my first documentary … so I made it a little shorter. I did the documentary on her because she’s an amazing person, she’s overcome a lot and is super talented, too.”

Another highlight from the festival, Niles said, was the screening of two classics with a twist. The Morricone Youth band did a live re-score of “The Night of the Living Dead” and “Mad Max.”

The New York-based band played live with a new score attached to each movie, Niles said.

“It was received really well,” he added. “They’ve never done those performances on the West Coast before. Those were a couple unique and wonderful events to have.”

As for the submissions, Niles said a lot reaction centered on “Shadow of a Drought,” “Tan,” “The Witching Hour,” “Marisol” and “Rodents of an Unusual Size.” As for the student productions, he said “The Adventures of Lucy,” “One Small Step” stood out for audiences, while “It’s Just a Game” was a prominent feature film.

Next year, though, Niles said he will continue discussions with TNT and Warner Bros. to hopefully build the relationship and have an appearance from the cast of “Animal Kingdom.”

Also, the all-women’s panel discussing the obstacles in the industry was a hit, and Niles will keep it in the lineup. Branching from the panel, another would be a collective of people in the industry discussing the challenges of filmmaking.

Next year, the event will mark its 10th anniversary and runs from Aug. 7 to Aug. 11.