Filmmakers, Performers Gather For 2023 Burbank International Film Festival

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Melora Hardin walks the BIFF red carpet. (photo by Ashley Erikson)

A variety of talented filmmakers and actors attended the 15th annual Burbank International Film Festival from Thursday, Sept. 21, to Sunday, Sept. 24. 

In addition to movie screenings at the AMC Burbank 16 theater, the festival featured Q&As, red carpets, parties, and more. Upwards of 130 full-length and short films were chosen for the 2023 BIFF, and actors like Melora Hardin, Jane Seymour, Mickey Rourke, and Dean Cain are some of the stars of these projects.

The world premiere of “Golden Vanity” took place on the event’s opening night. For the one-woman film, Hardin gave a riveting performance as movie star Mabel Montgomery-Mayflower, who tape-records herself while reflecting on her life during a 1967 evening. On Sunday, Hardin was given the BIFF Best Actor award for the portrayal, and the movie scored the Audience Award for a Feature Film.

“Golden Vanity” was directed by Max Abram and co-written by Abram and Taylor Minas. The two approached Hardin to take on the lead role with a letter describing their desire to work with the Emmy nominee. Hardin then came on board after reading the script and meeting with Abram and Minas. At a BIFF red carpet on Thursday, Hardin touched upon her delight in getting to collaborate with the filmmakers and play Montgomery-Mayflower. 

“It was incredible,” Hardin said of making “Golden Vanity.” “I like to run a marathon and feel like I’ve done everything I can do and I’ve left it all on the table, so I really did leave it all on the table. And that was super fun for me — to have something that juicy and delicious to chew on that really required everything from me. It required all of my experience, it required all of my maturity, it required all of my craft and all of my talent. So it was kind of a perfect storm for me.”

The multitalented performer went on to detail how she is “so honored” that the BIFF team selected the powerful comedy-drama as the feature to kick off the festival. 

“It’s unlike anything that’s out there. It’s the first one-woman movie,” Hardin said. “People need to take a risk on it, and an audience even needs to be able to sit there and kind of let this wash over them. And so I’m just thrilled that it resonated with the Burbank International Film Festival programmers the way that it did — that they’re using it as their opening film is really exciting.”

Others like director Carolina Espiro, actor and 2023 BIFF presenter Queen Ajima, actor and writer Jaime Zevallos, and screenwriter David Bass also walked the Sept. 21 red carpet.

(photo by Ashley Erikson)

More noteworthy films that were shown in the four-day event were “Replica,” “Priority Boarding,” “Living with a Cereal Killer,” “Ruby’s Choice,” “No Witnesses,” “Hangman,” “Miracle at Manchester,” “The Avon Lady,” and “Solomon’s Mood,” among others. 

“Hangman” writer and star Sarah Rodenbaugh, who participated in Saturday’s red carpet, opened up about her depiction of grief in the short film following her real-life brother’s suicide.  

“I put this idea out there, and it was like, okay, this is a story I want to tell so that people who lost someone to suicide can feel seen and heard because we see a lot of movies about those we’ve lost, but not about those left behind,” Rodenbaugh said. 

The BIFF began in 2009, and the mission of the festival “is to promote and support inclusive and culturally-diverse perspectives and content,” per its website. A range of BIFF awards are offered each year to celebrate select independent films that have been accepted into the festival. In 2023, over 20 awards were distributed to creatives at a closing gala and awards show on Sunday, during which Burbank native and iconic filmmaker Tim Burton appeared and collected a proclamation for “Tim Burton Day” from Mayor Konstantine Anthony.

BIFF President and Festival Director Kurt Patino grew up in Burbank, where he graduated from Bellarmine-Jefferson High School. On opening night, the local spoke about how he and his BIFF colleagues aim to highlight filmmakers who come from diverse backgrounds. 

“We’re so glad to show diverse programming here, and we cover every genre,” Patino said. He added, “There are a lot of films by diverse filmmakers that are nominated. They’re participating more, they’re being recognized more, and there’s room for everyone. And we just love it.”

Visit Burbank, Downtown Burbank, the City of Burbank, and the Hilton Garden Inn Burbank Downtown are some past and present local partners of the festival. Additionally, Patino has recently been meeting with Burbank groups like the local chapter of the Kiwanis Club to further initiate partnerships within the community. 

“This is our 15th anniversary, but not a lot of people in Burbank know of us,” Patino said. “So we’re slowly starting to have more events or visit clubs and organizations that have members in Burbank and speak to them so that they’re more aware… We want to include the community.”

BIFF Director of Submissions and Programming Brad Bucklin has been involved in the event since its early years. Furthermore, the editor and director has worked in Burbank for over a decade. Bucklin said he “love[s]” the city while mentioning how being in the “Media Capital of the World” attracts a wealth of talented artists.

Burbank International Film Festival team members Brad Bucklin and Dr. Larry Thornton chat with us about their history with the festival. (photo by Ashley Erikson)

“I think the festival has grown so much and has gotten so much better over the years,” Bucklin said. “We’re really getting the community, which a lot of film festivals don’t have.” He added, “I just think Burbank has a really special community because it is the media city.”

BIFF Treasurer Dr. Larry Thornton noted that he’s consistently seen the festival advance Burbank’s status in the global film industry throughout his five years of filling this position. 

“I’m in awe each year. I’m just totally blown away and happy and excited about it,” Thornton said. “[The festival is] putting Burbank on the world map — not just the local map, but the world map.”  

Actor Kelly Stables was a guest at the BIFF and served as the 2023 awards show host. After viewing the films in this year’s lineup, Stables praised the artistic execution of these productions. 

“I must say, I feel like this is the best year yet,” Stables said. “And the level of the quality of the films that are in this festival this year; I’m just blown away. They’re heartfelt, they’re funny. Technically, everyone’s done a great job directing, and it looks beautiful. So it’s exciting. It’s the beginning of a brand new festival this year.”

As visitors flocked to the AMC Burbank 16 in honor of the occasion, Patino voiced the significance of film and other art forms in both providing a means of expression and informing viewers. 

“I think art is necessary in society, and I think it’s important for people to fulfill some sort of creative outlet, whether it’s music, or art, or filmmaking, or acting, or anything. I think it’s a part of us, and it helps us express our emotions,” Patino said. 

He concluded, “People can watch something and be impressed by it in an emotional but also an intellectual way where they can do more research. It helps educate us as well.”

Learn more about the Burbank International Film Festival here.