Staying SLO Brew Style – A Weekend in San Luis Obispo

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You’ve likely heard the expression: slow down, relax? Well there’s no better place to do that these days than in the heart of San Luis Obispo – SLO. Staying SLO style allows you to taste terrific beer at a variety of breweries, stroll Mission Plaza, and enjoy small boutique shops. It also means a stay at SLO Brew and Lofts, where great food, drink, and loft space might just mean you never leave the property.

Let’s start with a look at why many visitors come to SLO and SLO Brew in particular: the beer.

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Brewer Luis Lapostol led us through a tasting of some of the best beers in town. Always a home brewer, Lapostol joined the SLO Brew team three years ago,  working with brewmaster Steve Courier. “I was always a home brewer and always interested in craft beer. I came in and asked Steve if he needed help. His first question was what kind of beer I liked. We were expanding, and craft beer was expanding – I was in the right place at the right time,” he attests.

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SLO Brew was the first purveyor of craft beer in the state. “The people who built the original brew system in 1988 built it outdoors,” Lapostol told us. “When we moved to this location, the tanks were jack-hammered out and rolled down the street.”

We started by tasting a terrific Cali Weisse, the California version of a Hefeweizen, an American Pale Wheat Ale, with a subdued yeast character, a little subtle clove, and dry bright hops. We also tried the Reggae Red, a smooth brew with a bright flavor and a dash of hemp seeds, and the Cascade Pale Ale, which is not a year ’round brew but a rotating flavor. “We do have some pale ale all year round,” Lapostol says.

The Cascade is a single hop beer, but many brews on the menu are not. “We use up to eight different types of hops. It’s an art to create the mixtures, to see what a certain hop tastes and smells like. With the Cascade we are using a very old West Coast variety, one of the most widely used hops, a grapefruit and pine needle flavor that Sierra Nevada also uses,” Lapostol explains. 

Next up: the Stein Slammer Oktoberfest beer, which boasted a malty sweeter taste that’s easily drinkable and not too hoppy. We followed that with Barley Champ.

“Barley Champ is a brown ale, and I always wanted see it added to our selection. We had nothing on that color spectrum of beers between black stout and Reggae Red. Steve didn’t initially want to do an English-style brown, but I finally got the go ahead,” Lapostol laughs. “It’s hoppy for brown ale, but what I wanted. The name is mine, too.”

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Lapostol relates that because this beer worked out well, SLO Brew is considering a smaller pilot system to do more experimental beers, present them to a tasting panel, and get notes. “We hope to look into doing that part of the process before offering a beer on tap,” he says.

The seasonal Holidaze that we tasted was born of a “fun idea to try something new – pumpkin pie porter with graham cracker crust, vanilla, and a fresh pumpkin taste. We brought in pumpkins, put them through our pizza oven, roasted the pumpkin, and mixed it in mash. We also added graham cracker flour to the boil,” Lapostol attests.

The rich Nitro Oatmeal Stout presented well with small bubbles and a creamy mouth- feel redolent of caramelized sugar, espresso, and oatmeal.  “You need a beer with substantial body to nitrogenate successfully,” Lapostal notes.

Calling brewing a “definite balance of art and science,” Lapostol says SLO Brew is still known for it’s first brew, The Original Blonde Ale. “It’s an approachable craft beer that showcases a balance of malts and hops.” The refreshing beer has a mouth-feel that’s not too sweet, a beer that SLO Brew calls their “beach and hiking beer. It’s accessible and light, an ale not a Pilsner, a little crisper than a Pilsner.”

Naturally, along with tasting SLO Brew’s beers, we tasted their food, both for lunch and dinner. The menu is fresh and delicious. From a crisp flatbread pizza to perfect fries, we were impressed.

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The pizzas are varied: above is the pizza of the day, with onions and cilantro on a cheese-rich crust.

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Fried but not greasy, a delicious guilty pleasure, the lightly breaded and seasoned calamari and artichoke hearts above go just great with a beer or two. Served with sliced lemon, Arrabiata sauce and lemon aioli, they’re a don’t miss.

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More great-with-a-beer dishes: macaroni and cheese and fries.

For dinner, we went with more refined choices.

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Above, a sweet farmer’s market soup of the day: corn.

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Above, a really wonderful salad: the Complete Greens is a mix of kale, frisee, arugula, French Feta cheese, quinoa, sliced green apple, red onion, and almonds all in a light herbed vinaigrette.

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Fish tacos, above, featuring grilled, marinated mahi-mahi with tomatillo salsa, lime cabbage slaw, pickled red onion, and avocado crema. On the side is hearty serving of peruano beans and a fried jalapeno.

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One has to save room for dessert: in this case, the decadent Beer on Beer Brownie Sundae, a stout chocolate brownie with SLO Brew beer gelato and IPA caramel sauce. Yes, you want that.

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Last but not least, it doesn’t have to always be beer at SLO Brew’s bar. Above, SLO Fashion with Brew Rye Whiskey, house simple, and orange peel on the rocks.

So after a good meal or two and some beer, it might be time to listen to some music – SLO Brew often hosts live acts.

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And then – it’s time to chill out in one of the property’s six luxurious, sleek lofts upstairs.

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Beautifully designed spaces are stylishly modern with urban touches. We were in the one bedroom Castaway, with a record player, classic tunes, a fireplace, and a gorgeous kitchen, with a fridge stocked with SLO Brew cans.

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Our stay was on a rainy weekend, and while we took advantage of the central location to check out the art museum, the Mission, and take a stroll along the swollen, pretty creek, we also just stayed in. Spacious, with hardwood floors and bright colors, the Lofts make a great hideaway.

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Other loft spaces are great for families, and there’s a common room, above, that’s just waiting for a party.

So SLO down – SLO Brew is waiting.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke, additional photo SLO Brew

 

For a Beery Good Time Call: SLO

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There are so many good things to say about San Luis Obispo — a.k.a. SLO – that you’d almost have to sit down and discuss them over a cold brew or two. Lucky for you, SLO is the perfect place to do just that. The home of several annual beer festivals – including the glorious October SLO Brew Week – this central coast town is a beery fun place to visit any time of year.  With beer tours, stellar accommodations, great meals, and top of the line breweries, it’s easy to spend a week or a weekend here.

Above and below, a look at Hop On Beer Tours.  Owner Brant Myers knows his brews and takes guests to the region on a well-curated tour of some of the best breweries in SLO.

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Myers is brewing expert having entered the craft beer industry with a partner, appeared on Shark Tank, sold his business, and bought a bus. A comfortable bus that he hand designed on which SLO-goers can ride and listen to Myers’ insights into beers and the brewing process. “We are still kind of in the Wild West,” he attests. “Every brewery is doing their own thing. These brewers are celebrating their craft. ”

Myers took our group to Tap It, Central Coast, Libertine, and SLO Brew, four fine examples of the regions brewing.

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The largest brewery in SLO and the third largest in the country, Tap It served up ample tasters of 7 different beers. Their IPA, amber, American pale ale, and blonde are their year ’round brews, but seasonals were also on tap for tastings. Among others, we tried the light, refreshing Bierre de table; a Chardonnay-barrel-aged wheat, with a light, fruity character; and the Three on the Tree, a triple IPA with an ABV of 11% and a delightfully hoppy flavor.

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Above, brewmaster Ryan Aikens says “We do so many styles here, why block yourself into a single beer? It’s all about good times with friends and family.”

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Before moving on to the next tasting, we made a lunch stop at Luna Red. This charming restaurant is sleek and modern, with globally inspired food that includes tapas and paella.

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Located in the heart of town at the edge of Mission Plaza, the stylish restaurant offers live music in the evening.

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Appetite sated, it was back to tasting: next up, Central Coast Brewing.

Despite a smaller brew system,  brewmaster Brendan Gough says CCB usually has 15 beers on tap, and produces a variety of fresh, hoppy ales, stouts, barrel-aged beers and lagers. A stint by Gough at Firestone Walker led to a friendly relationship with the larger brewer, located just up the road in Paso Robles, one which allows Central Coast, which calls itself “your neighborhood brewery,” access to a variety of hops.  The brewery propagates their own yeast in-house, and harvests and dries its hops once a year. “Most of the brewing uses hops as pellets to help preserve them,” he says. Freshness is key at the brewery, which has ten barrels and twenty tanks.

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Above, Brendan Gough, below – brewery owner George Peterson offers a taste of the brewery’s GABF Gold medal award winner Monterey Street Pale Ale.

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Sours have never been better than at our next stop, Libertine. Using local organic produce – such as a recent purchase of 800 pounds of persimmons – and an open brewing technique in big stainless steel open tubs, their beer gets flavors from the air and is barrel aged before adding fruit to the brew. Libertine also has small brewery outposts in Santa Maria and Morro Bay as well as in SLO.

“You need good beers to stay in business,” Libertine founder and head brewer Tyler Clark says. “We started five years ago in Morro Bay, and we use hot rocks that retain heat for two to three days for natural fermentation in insulated tanks.”

The SLO brewery now includes a flagship restaurant in a 9000-square-foot facility with 76 taps and a full menu that takes full advantage of the brewery’s relationship with local farms and creameries.

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Above and below, Tyler Clark.

Open fermentation, wild yeast, a charcoal filter for water all add to the intense flavors here. We tasted two awesome sours: the Central Coast Saison with lemony flavor, and Casa de Newton, so called because the grapefruit added came from Clark’s partners’ home.

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Below, SLO Brew, our final Beer Tour stop.

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SLO Brew has been a part of the San Luis Obispo beer scene for 21 years. The brewery and restaurant features a variety of crisp, delicious beers from their original blonde ale, the refreshingly light and hoppy IPA Wave Wrangler, and their popular Reggae Red hemp seed beer.

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Tasty flat bread pizzas and a wide range of appetizers are on the menu here, and the brewery features live musical acts many evenings.

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Below, brewer Luis Lapostol.

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The brewery and restaurant also has another perk: beer lovers need not worry about a drive home. Six stunning, modern loft sites are located above the brewery.

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During the festival, we stayed at the iconic Apple Farm Inn. With canopy bed and elegant, old-fashioned style, this is the spot to relax and enjoy capacious grounds, evening cookies, and warm, friendly service. True to their name, guests can also much on crunchy apples; bottles of crisp cider await in the room.

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One of the signature events of the beer festival is the Somm vs. Cicerone Dinner. Held at the San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza, this was a dining experience to be reckoned with, with beer and wine battling it out for a flavor pairing with a four-course meal. Each dish comes paired with both a wine and a beer, the choices curated by a both a master sommelier and a master cicerone.

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Pours were generous and the food, featuring farm fresh local ingredients, was delicious.

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Above, butternut squash soup, one of the many fresh regional flavors highlighted by exceptional beer and wine.

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Carnivores and vegetarians alike had a host of flavors from the farms of the Central Valley to enjoy.

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Mark Stern of Pomar Junction and Bill Sysak of Stone Brewing did a masterful job of curating as sommelier and cicerone, respectively.

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As a closing event, Holly Holliday offered a terrific selection of breweries to taste from at Best of the Fest on Madonna Field.

 

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Lagunitas offered bottles of Aunt Sally and their refreshing Pils. And of course, there was music.

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The Breury offered a sour blonde pale ale, as well as their awesome Dodie, named after the brewer’s grandmother, whose passion for the classic Manhattan cocktail is paid tribute.  The barrel-aged beer was rich and flavorful, evoking memories of distant urban cocktail bars past in the most pleasant of ways.

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Tap It, Heretic, SLO Brew, and Central Coast Brewing served more stellar brews.

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And the girls from Figueroa Mountain were breezy but unbowed, serving a potent strong Belgian C’est La Viogner.

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Hard to resist: Karl Strauss Brewing’s Peanut Butter Cup. Chocolatey.

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Central Coast’s Peach Krush IPA featured peach pulp infusion and dry hops for an amazing flavor bomb.

The week ended with a beautiful dinner in the romantic patio space at the Granada Hotel Bistro. The only thing left? A strong recommendation not to miss SLO Brew Week 2017.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

 

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Day 4: Sierra Spirit Award Recipient John Sayles and More

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With a triumphant screening of John Sayles’ Baby It’s You, an extended q & a with director Sayles, star Vincent Spano, and Sayles’ life and creative partner Maggie Renzi, day 4 of the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival was packed with film pleasure.  Day 4 also brought  the documentary Olancho and the narrative dark comedy Neighborhood Food Drive.

Olancho tells the story of talented Honduran musicians who perform and record songs for members of a local drug cartel, and songwriter Manuel’s escape to the U.S. Involving footage of life in the Honduran region of Olancho, terrific portraits of Manuel, his band, and his family all make for a fascinating look at a relatively isolated portion of Honduras, as well as its music. First time filmmakers Chris Valdes and Ted Griswold taught school in the region in 2010. According to Griswold, “We taught for over two years, and some of the children we were teaching were kids of the narcos. We knew enough people that when we came back to film, people knew our intentions were good. At first we didn’t realize how important the connections we made were to keeping us safe, such as Manuel’s father  – but these relationships helped us a lot and got us out of situations that would have otherwise been dangerous.” Valdes adds “In Olancho, death is a part of everyday life. I taught 6th graders, and not a day went by without someone saying who they’d found dead on the street. You don’t think about it until you come home, and your mom at Thanksgiving says ‘that’s hairy.'”  Following the travails of Los Plebes de Olancho lead singer Manuel, as well as the wild exploits of accordian player Orlin,  viewers get an insightful look at Olancho’s world.  An elegaic short about life in Havana, Paloma, preceded the film.

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The witty short Crown Prince directed by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik opened for the narrative Neighborhood Food Drive. Crown Prince played with the concept of a prince from Luxembourg set loose in New York City. Burch notes that the cast was “all comedians” and she wrote “character bios but then let the actors do improv based on that.” Shot in a glossy black and white, the piece was a fun crowd-pleaser. The directors are currently working on a feature project. Neighborhood Food Drive, directed by Jerzy Rose and co-written by Rose, Mike Lopez, and Halle Butler, is an exceedingly dry dark comedy about a struggling Chicago restaurant, its deluded owners, a naive intern,  her waiter boyfriend, and their professor/couples counselor hosting a fundraiser.  What comes together is less a charitable event than a disaster. Peppered with in-jokes, a fun/scary synth horror score,  and “hall of mirrors strangeness,” as writer Butler attests,  the film lives up to Rose’s hope that it would be “like nothing anyone would ever have seen before.”

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The screening of John Sayles’ classic Baby It’s You was as enjoyable as it was still cutting-edge after all these years. The film was made in 1983, but its strong performances and tight, smart, emotionally real script by Sayles are still fresh. The high school to college love affair is deftly portrayed, and the direction is emblematic of Sayles as a true “actors director.”  After the screening, co-star Vincent Spano presented the Sierra Spirit Award to Sayles. “John Sayles exemplifies the spirit and dedication of remaining independent. He has a dedication to getting films done his way,” Spano says. In graciously accepting the award, Sayles added “You don’t do these things alone. I write, direct, and edit most of my movies, but you are working with so many talented people – my favorite part of the job.”  Producing partner Maggie Renzi has worked on 14 of Sayles’ 18 features.  “We were very lucky,” Renzi says. “There used to be an art house audience and our movies fit into that niche, and then VHS happened, and you could fund anything. It was a very lively independent marketplace; you could get money for $3-million movies. Now you cant get money for $1 million movies.  It’s much harder for filmmakers today.” Sayles notes that on the positive side, access to filmmaking equipment and skilled filmmaking personnel is much easier today.  As to Baby It’s You,  which was the only film Sayles has ever done screen-tests for “”When Vincent came in, I said that’s the guy. He was just right for the part. A week before we started shooting, Paramount wasn’t sure about their actors and wanted people of their own. But I held my ground.” He also held his ground in regard to story, rejecting a studio re-edit and ending up with the film he’d wanted to make, albeit one that received limited release at the time. Spano  points out “He has a lot of faith in his actors. The character, the story, it’s there on the page, and it was pretty certain who the characters were. He gives you everything you need.” Likewise, Sayles was impressed with the work of cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who recently passed away.  “He was the best operator I ever worked with…I never had to look in the camera after the third day, he got what I wanted.”

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With an after-party at the local nightspot Rafters – and live music by Jelly Bread,  day four of the fest that rocks the Sierras drew to a close, promising more fine films tomorrow.

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

Mammoth Film Fest Does It ‘Strad Style’

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In case you haven’t yet heard of the truly terrific doc Strad Style, you will. The funny, sweet, suspenseful story of believe-it-or-not a self-taught violin maker is the perfect example of the eclectic programming and wonderful filmmaking you can spot at MLFF.

At what marks the first full day of films at the festival, we took in Shorts Block 1, the doc The Challenge, the aforementioned Strad Style, and the visually wild narrative film Space Detective. 

Shorts Block 1 included the fascinating, sinuous claymation of Adam, the spooky dystopian nightmare of Ape Sodom, and the visually beautiful abstract Serpentine, whose creator Bronwyn Maloney notes that “part of the aesthetic of the film came from technical limitations and just embracing them. It began as a narrative film, but I became less interested in that as I went along.” One of the short’s central images, a crocodile with arms and legs, comes from a metaphor she herself embraces as a symbol for self-identity and “feeling fierce.” More abstract cinema:  Fault Lines, an exploration of spatial forms, and Coacinae, the title of which refers to the name of the Roman goddess of the first sewer of modern civilization. This visually lush piece carried a somewhat narrative throughline connecting money and the sewer – the ultimate in filthy lucre. My Gay Sister is a lovely slice-of-life that is both a coming of age story and a tender look at a ten year old’s burgeoning sexuality. Director Lia Hltala shot in the north of Norway and did intimacy exercises with cast and small crew to create the realistic, intimate feel of the film.  “I cast the main character, the ten year old, through street casting. I found her outside a 7-11.” The film employed a great deal of improv; rainy weather kept the cast and crew close.  Boys offers an American coming of age tale. Director Eyal Resh presents a sensitive depiction of the friendship between two adolescent boys and their sexuality. Producer Stephanie O’Neil says their film’s crew also did a lot of work “to get them comfortable with each other. it was a lot about building a relationship with each other, a friendship. Our film was very scripted, but we let our actors riff on it, and we filmed everything they did.”

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The Challenge was a somewhat surprisingly verbiage free documentary filled with strikingly beautiful visuals and a lush score. A dreamy invocation of life in Quatar, the world’s richest nation, viewers see images of a Lamborghini, a gold motorcycle, falconry competition, and SUV races across red sand dunes.  Accompanying the feature length film was the short Hairat. Director Jessica Beshir used a mysterious poem to evoke the mood surrounding her depiction of a man who trains wild hyenas outside the walled city of Harar in Ethiopia.  “It was going to be part of a longer documentary,” Beshir attests, “but it became something eles entirely. I shot on two different nights, the farmer has a real relationship with the hyenas, they have a trust to enter the space he commands.”

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Strad Style is a brilliant piece of filmmaking by director Stefan Avalos, intimately portraying the life of violin maker Daniel Houck, who sets out to make a perfect copy of a famous violin for impressario Razvan Stoica, whom he met over the Internet. Houck, who lived on an isolated farm in Ohio,  had created other violins, but nothing like this. “I was making another documentary about violins,” director Avalos explains, “when I heard about this guy, that he was really crazy and obsessed, and I thought that might be a fun five minutes. But I met him, and even though I already had a lot of footage shot, I made the right decision to go in a completely different direction.” Houck adds,”He had no idea about me, he only saw a few YouTube videos, but I think it was not a coincidence that we formed a trust, that we made this film. It’s not a coincidence when things like this happen.” Since the film came out, there have been many changes in Houck’s life, which is no longer isolated on a remote property. “The house really was in the middle of nowhere, with bad electricity and no heat, it was like going on safari,” Avalos laughs. “It was just the crew of me, I shot it, lit it. It was fun, like going back to film school,  it wasn’t hard to make although there was a lot of stress, cold in winter, hot in the summer.” Avalos says the hardest part of making the story was that he’d shot 70 hours of film and his first cut was “3.5 hours, and it was good. It was painful to chop it.” Houck, who is also an artist and low-rider enthusiast as well as a master craftsman of famous replica violins, says the film, which won best doc at Slamdance earlier this year, was a “once in a lifetime experience. I’m not a filmmaker, it won’t happen again. I’m taking advantage of this. I love and appreciate the opportunity to be here – it gets me out of Ohio.”  Avalos will be showing the film in more festivals, and is currently looking at several distribution possibilities for a film that deserves to be widely seen. An accompanying short, Sleep with Me, is Summre Garber’s sweet portrait of a podcast creator who helps the sleepless find rest.

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Space Detective, the narrative feature we viewed today is zany and inventive, the story of an exiled Terran space detective replete with a femme fatale and space goons galore. Writer and star Matt Sjafiroeddin  says the film took “about a decade” to make with director Antionio Llapur. “We started as a short, and suddenly we thought we had a feature.” The sci fi film which employs live action imagery in surreal fantasy style and uses a palette of vibrant colors as well as black and white, is an homage to everything from Las Vegas – where the filmmakers are from – to Star Trek, yet wholly original.

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Still haven’t made it to Mammoth? It might be time to “head for the hills” and see what’s next at this always surprising, always interesting fest.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke