Going Off Script: SDIFF’s Annual Oscar Viewing Party Raises Funds to Bring Educational Films into the Classroom

by Brie Stimson March 1, 2019


credit-ana-fiorodovaFlash bulbs. Couture dresses. Sitting poolside with a glass of champagne and the most delectable hors d’oeuvre. It’s just another day for the San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF) who held their annual Oscar viewing party last month at a private $19 million home in Rancho Santa Fe. “It’s quite an elegant evening and it’s a lot of fun,” Tonya Mantooth, CEO and artistic director for SDIFF says. The exclusive soiree included a red carpet, multiple flat screen TVs and catering from some of San Diego’s best chefs.

The black tie optional evening benefits the San Diego Film Foundation’s FOCUS on Impact education program, which brings festival films into the classroom.

“We’ve developed a partnership and also received endorsements both from the San Diego County Office of Education as well as the San Diego Unified School District,” Tonya tells me. She says the first two films they brought into schools were about homelessness and the environment. “I was able to get [the films] in front of high school students, and really share with them kind of what are some of the really important global topics going on,” Tonya adds. “We bring the filmmaker in so we get a chance to do a question and answer period with them and the students are able to dive deeper into the material.”

Tonya says there are so many things that divide us these days. “Using film as an opportunity to come together and explore a topic is really important cause we feel until we can find our common ground, it’s go- ing to be difficult to solve any problems,” she says. “And we see these high school students as really kind of the next generation. I mean they’re the next generation of change makers. They’re the ones going on to college and eventually making laws, starting businesses, doing urban planning. So they need to start to recognize they have to be part of the solution.” She says the county and San Diego Unified have been very supportive of the program along with SDIFF’s patrons. “That’s what the Oscar party is about, it’s about helping us fund that so we can continue taking that out to more and more schools.”

As far as the Oscars, Tonya says the festival was fortunate in getting to screen several nominated films last fall. “We opened with ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ which is up for three Oscar nominations as well as ‘The Favourite,’” she adds. “We also screened ‘Boy Erased.’ And all are up for nominations.” SDIFF also screened “BlackkKlansman” and “One Small Step,” an animated short.

Starting last month, SDIFF is hosting their annual Film Insider Series that continue through July. The monthly screenings feature not-yet-released films, rang- ing from features and documentaries to foreign films. The films include pre and post-viewing cocktail parties with champagne and dessert and often a discussion with the filmmakers after the showing. “That gives us a chance to keep our kind of film community together,” Tonya says of the series. “It’s our patrons and it’s our VIP pass holders. I’ll curate a film either before it goes out into theatrical release or a film that’s just still in its festival run, so it might have just premiered at Sundance or just premiered in Cannes, but now we have it. Very often I’ll bring the filmmaker down, or we’ll bring a film critic in and talk about the film so it’s a wonderful evening.”

“Something we’re so passionate about is like ‘Let’s get people together and let’s have a conversation. Let’s get back to talking to each other.’ And I know we all love to binge watch Netflix, I do too, but it’s also good to kind of get out and have those intellectual discussions, and I think film really can incite that.”


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