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Apr 29, 2005, Daily Breeze Rave Article

Date:     Apr 29, 2005

      Stephanie Mardesich, director of the LA Harbor International Film Festival, has rolled out the red carpet for nostalgia.

San Pedro's Stephanie Mardesich, co-founder and director of the LA Harbor International Film Festival, won't take no for an answer -- at least when "no" stands in the way of making her festival a success.

That includes her plan to showcase the 1958 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic "South Pacific" during the festival's Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute Night on Saturday at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.

"I love 'South Pacific' and knew it would be the perfect crown jewel for our festival," Mardesich said. "And then I found out that 20th Century Fox, the movie's distributor, didn't have any prints of the film."

Mardesich wasn't dissuaded. She called the company that handles the licensing for Rodgers & Hammerstein in New York City, certain that somewhere there must be a print of the 1958 Academy Award-nominated film. Rodgers & Hammerstein referred her to Samuel Goldwyn in Los Angeles, which directed her to Samuel Goldwyn in New York. The New York office directed her to a company called IDP.

"I called IDP and they said they had to look for it. I kept bugging them and they finally found it," she said.

Mardesich then decided the movie's star, Mitzi Gaynor, needed to be the special guest at the screening.

"Stephanie wrote me a letter, but I lost it," Gaynor said. "Then she wrote me another one and then she called me.

"Honestly, I get lots requests to do appearances and as a rule, I don't do them," Gaynor said. "But Stephanie was so enthusiastic and so determined about me coming that I finally agreed. Now I'm really looking forward to it."

The hoops Mardesich jumped through to get "South Pacific" and Mitzi Gaynor for the LA Harbor International Film Festival is typical of what's been involved in realizing her dream: to see an international film festival in her hometown that would "create a cinematic bridge between the people of the region and the people of the world."

A showcase of films

Running today through Sunday, the festival will showcase nine films, including short- and full-length documentaries, big-budget features, international films and, of course, the Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute with "South Pacific," all screened at the Warner Grand Theatre.

The festival will begin with a screening tonight of "The Hunt for Red October," the 1990 film starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. When the festival reconvenes at noon Saturday, Catalina Island will be the theme. Films will include "Going Home," a seven-minute documentary about Catalina's famous buffalo; "Join Us," a four-minute documentary about the wonder of nature on Catalina Island; and "Hollywood's Magical Island, Catalina," a documentary that chronicles the modern history of the island.

A second program on Saturday, starting at 2 p.m., will honor World War II veterans with a screening of "Price for Peace." This 90-minute documentary from Academy Award-winning director James Molle studies the Pacific Theater, from the bombing of Pearl Harbor through the American occupation of Japan. World War II vets will be admitted free.

Saturday night is the centerpiece of the festival with the Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute to "South Pacific," with special guests Gaynor, France Nuyen and John Kerr. The audience is encouraged to wear 1940s vintage, tropical or cocktail attire. "South Pacific" features the classic songs "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair."

On Sunday, the festival starts at noon with the Los Angeles premiere of "A Whale of a Tale," a 90-minute Canadian film that tells the story of what happens when a large whale bone is found under the streets of Toronto.

The whale theme continues at 2 p.m. with "Whale Rider" (2002) starring Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes. Shot on New Zealand's North Island, this family-oriented film tells a contemporary version of an ancient legend in which a young girl must face her fears and challenge tradition.

The closing event on Sunday begins at 4:30 p.m. with a screening of the 12-minute short film "Birth of A Father." Shot on location in San Pedro and at the Los Angeles Harbor, the film tells the story of an estranged father and son who attempt to heal their relationship.

The closing film, "I Build the Tower," will screen at 5 p.m. The documentary, which took 22 years to complete, tells about Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant who worked in the L.A. Harbor and lived in Watts while creating the Watts Towers in his spare time. The screening will include a discussion session with the film's producers and directors.

Mardesich said that when she selected the films for the festival, she had to go with her gut. Since the festival does not have a competition, there are no film entries and no awards.

"Our festival isn't about that," Mardesich said. "It's about celebrating movies."

A community project

As much as Mardesich has been the driving force behind the festival, she received considerable help to make it a reality.

A group consisting of Gary Cox of Comcast Cable; Jack Baric, editor of San Pedro Magazine; and Adolfo 'Al' Nodal, former general manager of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department met to discuss the festival in July 2003.

"We started to map out everything we had to do -- including setting up a nonprofit organization and all the logistics that go with really doing something like this," Mardesich said.

Nine months later the LA Harbor Film Festival made its debut. Mardesich wanted the festival to showcase the Harbor, historic San Pedro, the importance of literacy and her love of movies.

The educational element, especially near to Mardesich's heart, evolved into an outreach program called "Read the Book, See the Movie." Students at Mary Star of the Sea High School, San Pedro High School, Pacific Lutheran High School, the San Pedro Adult Learning Center and interested members of the community receive free copies of a book and then have a special screening of the movie version.

This year, Ballantine Books-Fawcett donated 500 copies of James Michener's Pulitzer-Prize winning Tales of the South Pacific -- the book that inspired Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Mardesich said without sponsors, the LA Harbor Film Festival wouldn't be possible.

"I started dialing for dollars as soon as we selected the date for our first festival," Mardesich said. "I proceeded with a naive tenacity -- just went out and started recruiting sponsors."

In turn, the festival also helps support its sponsors and the community.

Susan Gail Wilcox, founder of Cinema Grand, a nonprofit organization that promotes the Warner Grand Theatre by planning its year-round programming, said events such as the LA Harbor International Film Festival support the theater and bring revitalizing energy to downtown San Pedro.

"At least 30 percent of the people who come to see a movie also go out to dinner or lunch at one of the local restaurants," Wilcox said. "There are 12 family-themed restaurants within a three-block radius of the theater. None of them are part of a chain. Each has a unique ambiance that you can't find anywhere else in the city."

Mardesich said she hopes festival attendees will take time to discover and enjoy the historic downtown area.

"We want to have a whole interactive thing going on," she said. "Right by the theater there's shopping, cafés, art galleries, the Maritime Museum, boutiques and even some funky bars.

"It's really all part of the festival experience. We want people to enjoy the movies and enjoy the town."

K26 RAVE! Friday, April 29, 2005

Friday, April 29, 2005 RAVE! K27
WHAT: LA Harbor International Film Festival. WHEN: Today through Sunday. WHERE: Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro. TICKETS: $8, $6 seniors and students; available through today at and at the Warner Grand box office thereafter (cash only). INFORMATION: and



Newspaper:     BREEZE
Date:     Apr 29, 2005
Day of Week:     Friday
Edition:     RAVE
Page:     K27
Headline:     Gaynor recounts landing part in 'South Pacific'
Contributed Byline:     NoContributedByline
Published:      Mitzi Gaynor landed the role of Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific" in part because she could sing in a certain key.
Notes:     sidebar to RAV-FILMFEST-APR29

[Go To Best Hit]

Mitzi Gaynor already was an established actress when she was asked to audition for the role of Nellie Forbush in the 1958 movie version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific."

Unlike other leading actresses, she didn't mind the formality.

"Josh Logan, who directed the Broadway show version and also directed the movie, asked me to audition and of course I said yes," said Gaynor.

"I was very excited about it. A lot of the other actresses thought they were beyond the point where they had to do that."

Gaynor will be the guest of honor Saturday at a screening of "South Pacific," a highlight of LA Harbor International Film Festival's Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute and Gala, Saturday at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.

Gaynor chatted with RAVE! about her career-defining role.

Q: What was the buzz like in Hollywood when it was announced that Rodgers & Hammerstein were going to do a movie version of their hit musical, "South Pacific"?

A: The stage version was a huge hit on Broadway so it was something that everyone in Hollywood wanted to do --Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Hayward -- everyone. Their publicists were announcing all over town how they'd been picked for the role -- which obviously wasn't true.

Q: Tell us about the audition. How did it go?

A: I was working on the film "The Joker Is Wild" with Frank Sinatra at the time. Oscar (Hammerstein) and Josh (Logan) wanted me to come in to do the audition on the same day we were filming one of the biggest scenes in "Joker" -- a scene in a casino with 300 extras -- one of the most expensive scenes in the movie. ...

I asked the director if I could get the day off and he said no. But then Frank walked up and asked what was going on. When he heard that I had an audition for "South Pacific" he told me, "Go ahead honey." He had the power to pull the strings. The big scene for "Joker" was rescheduled so I could do the audition.

At the audition I just stood on a stage and sang for Josh and Oscar. Oscar was just great, but afterward he told me I'd been a "wonderful sport" -- which didn't sound very encouraging to me.

The next day I was back on the set of "The Joker Is Wild" and Frank walked up and asked me what happened. The cast was all standing around. I told him I thought I did OK, but Oscar had told me I'd been a "wonderful sport." Frank was like, "Oh well, forget about it then."

Q: Well obviously you did get the part, so what happened next?

A: They called me in for a screen test. The funny thing is, I can't even remember doing it. I know I did -- I have the film from it -- but for some reason it's just a blank in my mind. I think it was just so important to me that I just blanked it out. It was like God said, "You're going to do this role" and no matter what, no one could do anything to change that.

Q: So after the screen test, did they say you had the part?

A: Oh no. I got the news when I was working with Gene Kelly on "Les Girls" at Metro (Goldwyn Meyer). We were on a break and my husband called me. He made small talk for awhile -- he was talking about the weather because it was terrible that day. Then he said, "I wonder what the weather is like in Hawaii in August?"

I jumped up out of my chair and was yelling, "Oh my God, I got it! I'm going to do 'South Pacific'!" George Cukor, the director of "Les Girls," and all the cast were just so thrilled for me. It really was the part to have at that time.

Q: You're obviously very talented, but why do you think you were the one they picked?

A: Well, one of the reasons was that I could actually sing and dance. And I sang all the songs in (Broadway star) Mary Martin's key. The play was enormously popular so people were already used to hearing those songs in her key.

Q: Did you enjoy working on the movie?

A: Oh yes. We had a wonderful time. But it was also kind of kooky. We worked outside most of the time and there were no bathrooms. That's fine for the men but not so fine when you're a woman -- and I was in a nurse uniform most of the time. I couldn't just go behind a tree.

I remember one day when Rossano Brazzi, my leading man, almost got washed away by a big wave. My husband had to jump in to save him. He made quite a picture on the beach in his little Speedo with his gold chains. The natives didn't know what to make of him.

Q: Were you happy with the finished product?

A: Well, it actually took me a long time to sit down and watch the entire thing from beginning to end. I have a tendency to avoid watching myself because I am very critical of my work. But I finally sat down one night with a plate of cookies and a cup of tea and watched the whole thing. And I have to say, it is a damn good film.

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