Highland Park Independent Film Festival feels embraced by the community

highland park independent
Courtesy of Highland Park Independent Film Festival.

The Highland Park Independent Film Festival (HPIFF) was in motion Oct. 7-8 at the Highland Theatre. The festival is an annual event that highlights independent filmmakers from Highland Park and beyond. A group of filmmakers, including Marita De La Torre, co-founded the festival in 2014.

“The community has really embraced us,” De La Torre said. “Every year we grow, every year we show more films and this year was the best and biggest to date.”

De La Torre said the festival screened Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic film “Reservoir Dogs” for the film’s 30th anniversary. “Reservoir Dogs” used Highland Park as a filming location, and De La Torre said that filmmakers who showed their work at the film festival were taken on an adventure of the area via bus.

Courtesy of Highland Park Independent Film Festival.

“We took the filmmakers to every single [“Reservoir Dogs” filming] spot, and gave them a commemorative map,” De La Torre said. “That was really special.”

Victor Villa, the founder of Villa’s Tacos in Highland Park, is featured in the “Échale Ganas,” documentary that the festival screened — “Échale Ganas” means to “hustle hard” or “give it your all” in Spanish.

The film tells Victor Villa’s personal journey as a community leader while he perseveres to keep his business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think Villas Tacos is something that a lot of people see themselves in,” Villa said. “A lot of people see me online, or on Instagram, and I feel like most of them think they know me. They feel a sense of family. That’s exactly what I tried to build. I tried to not only start a great business, but to start a great business with a purpose.”

Villa said he hopes the film’s representation impacts the local youth population.

“I went to the local schools, and especially for someone like myself, we didn’t really have someone to look up to growing up,” Villa said. “I didn’t know a young entrepreneur who resembled myself, who spoke like myself, or who looked like myself, and I think that’s another big part of what [Échale Ganas is about].”

De La Torre said there are a lot of filmmakers in Highland Park, and the festival strives to show them that if you live here, you can screen here.

“The community just brings this unique, independent cinema, and I feel that there’s always a learning curve for our community,” De La Torre said. “I don’t get to see this anywhere else because it’s independent film. And we’re bringing this — this is never going to happen again, these films are never going to be put together curated like this for you.”

John Blair is the executive producer of one of the festival’s featured documentaries, “Sound of the Surf, which is about the history and rise of Southern California’s surf culture and music scene beginning in the 50s and 60s.

“Surf music is always glanced over,” Blair said. “That story has never really been told.”

Blair said he was contacted 15 years ago by the film’s director, Thomas Duncan, because of his expertise in the surf music genre, both as a historian and as a musician. Blair said his main role was finishing the soundtrack of the film, focusing on how surf music created a new technological boom in mid-century music.

After Duncan unexpectedly died in September 2021, Blair said he felt a responsibility to complete Duncan’s work.

“I was really the only other person who had worked with him all 15 years on this film, so it was logical for me to pick up the baton and try to finish the film and get it out there,” Blair said. “Here we are. The movie’s finished, and it’s in Highland Park.”

Blair said it is gratifying to see a movie 15 years in the making be enjoyed by people through HPIFF and festivals like it.

Contact Linus Oppenheimer at loppenheimer@oxy.edu