Film festival returns to Downey, bigger than ever

DOWNEY – Movie lovers of all genres have reason to celebrate the growing maturity of Downey’s burgeoning film festival when it opens its season in late September.  

Now in its fourth year, the Glennfest Movie Festival will offer an unprecedented free screening of 16 art and indie films at three venues in Downey. In addition to select screenings at the Krikorian Theatre, six films will be shown over two days at the Epic Lounge.  The Downey Civic Theatre is the third venue, featuring one film in conjunction with an art exhibit. 

For 10 days, local film fans will not have to drive to Long Beach or the west side to see what’s new in cinema besides the latest commercial blockbusters.  Glennfest screenings this year include two inspiring foreign documentaries about music, a block of Animé films, including one which reflects on post-Fukushima Japan, two films exploring LGBT themes, and the classic Rocky Horror Picture Show.

An added bonus is that Glennfest follows the AFI movie festival model – there is no charge for tickets. Theater rental and expenses are funded by sponsors (and the festival is still seeking sponsors). However, those interested in attending are urged to get reservations from the website to guarantee a seat. 

Festival founder Glenn Stephens says there are compelling reasons to see some of these films besides the free tickets. Certain films have restricted distribution and can only be seen at movie festivals.

“Champ of the Camp,” a remarkable documentary about an annual music competition among the Indian labor force in Dubai, can only be obtained through its French distributor. This is its first showing in southern California. Likewise, “Landfill Harmonic,” an inspiring story of a community orchestra with instruments fashioned from items found in a nearby landfill, has no US distributor and can only be seen at festivals.

Serving Children

The festival’s first screening at the Krikorian Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 9 a.m., serves a segment of the community often overlooked in public events –  children and young adults with special needs. Theater modification for this service has been part of Glennfest since its inception, and it is especially welcomed by families of children with autism says Stephens. 

“We accommodate children who can’t take loud sounds or vivid colors,” he explains. “The sound in the theatre is turned down and the lights are kept at a more normal level. This allows children and young adults with these issues to experience an outing to the movies like everyone else.”

Recalling one family with a boy who looked to be about twelve years old, Stephens said they thanked him afterwards and told him that it was the first time their child had been able to attend a theater.

Stephens praises the Krikorian’s assistance and flexibility with this event. The terms of the film rental prohibit Stephens from publicizing the name of the movie, but he assures people the film will be something that families will like.  The special screening one year featured “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and the gift bag included a poster and pencil kit. Children will receive free popcorn and drinks this year.

The Krikorian will open its doors at 8 a.m. on Sept. 26, and families who come early will be entertained by young dancers with Danza Folklorica Amor Eterno.  

“We do this as a service to the community,” says Lourdes Ninette Aguilar, a parent with the dance group, “and it also gives us an opportunity to publicize what we do.” This is the third year that Amor Eterno will be volunteering for this special screening.

Most of the patrons who need this accommodation are referred by county organizations and facilities, but Stephens says that individual families can contact him for tickets through the website The tickets specify “One Child or Young Adult + one Caregiver.”
“To date, no one has been turned away,” says Stephens.

Downey Civic Theatre

The Spanish-language documentary “Landfill Harmonic” will show at the Downey Civic Theatre on Oct. 4 at 3 p.m. This screening is featured with the special art exhibit in the lobby organized for the symphony concert scheduled later in the month. The public will be able to view the art on display from 1-6 p.m. 

Referring to the movie, exhibit curator Pat Gil said "Landfill Harmonic" is the perfect complement to the symphony art show. 

“This movie shows the power of music, the power of community, and the power of hope,” exclaims Gil.

The movie’s subject is the orchestra of Cateura, an impoverished community near the landfill of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital city.  The community is surrounded by drugs and crime, and forty percent of the children do not finish school.

Hoping to give the children a positive activity, a music teacher and a talented craftsman fashioned instruments with scavenged trash from the Cateura landfill. String and wind instruments were made with oil tin cans, forks, bottle caps, and other discarded items. Old x-rays were used for drumheads.  As more people heard of their story and accomplishment, the children performed to large audiences at big concert halls.

The story of the Cateura orchestra has been featured across the media, including Fox News, 60 Minutes, NBC, Time Magazine, People, and The New York Times.  Because it does not yet have a US distributor, this feature-length documentary can only be viewed at film festivals. The movie trailer can be seen on the internet.

According to people who’ve seen the movie, the music is inspiring. Gil, who is also on the board of the Downey Symphonic Society, sees the Oct. 4 event as the perfect opportunity to promote Downey’s own symphony orchestra.

Maid’s Cafe

Audiences at the four Animé films on Oct. 3 will have the opportunity to enjoy an added feature that has become quite popular in Japan – a Maid’s Café.  “Customers” who come early for breakfast (7:30 a.m.) or for lunch at the Epic Lounge will be able to purchase various snacks and refreshments. 

Members of the Folklorico Dance group at Cal State Fullerton will be serving as “maids” and two “butlers.” The event is a fundraiser, and whatever people “tip” will go towards maintaining the costumes required for each dance.

Jellyfish Eyes, a sci-fi fantasy showing at 1:15 p.m., is not strictly an animé film since it combines human and cartoon characters. It serves as a base for exploring the emotional fall-out from the massive earthquake and Fukushima disaster in 2011.

This evening at the Epic Lounge will end with an American cult classic – “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Patrons must be 18 years or older to attend, and audience participation is welcomed. VIP seating is available through the website.

Another special event at Epic Lounge is a free dinner for seniors, Oct. 2, 6 p.m.  The dinner will be followed by a free screening of "Before You Know It," a documentary about the inevitability of growing old and its impact on three gay seniors. 

Festival Origins

Festival Organizer Glenn Stephens says that his involvement with event planning and producing came about as complete serendipity. His “day job” is clerical supervisor for Los Angeles County.  

Volunteers at last year's Glennfest.

Volunteers at last year's Glennfest.

Several years ago he was asked to put on an information faire for his union, SEIU Local 721, and given a budget of $500. He succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, with over twenty vendors and restaurant booths on the lawn at Norwalk City Hall, and over one thousand people in attendance. A friend told him he should be doing event planning. 

Stephens continued helping at union events. He created the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, an event that is not open to the public, and managed it for fifteen years. He also assisted the Cesar Chavez Walk in Los Angeles, an outreach program, for six years, helping to put it on a better financial footing.

Stephens began learning about movie festivals when he was recruited for audience participation.  For various purposes, movie promoters often pay for people to attend a screening. When Stephens went to film festivals, he asked questions about the events, learning how to negotiate with theaters and to contact directors and distributors. 

Four years ago Stephens decided he wanted to do a film festival himself. From the beginning, he knew he wanted to follow the AFI model with free tickets, and he wanted to accommodate children and young adults with special needs. 

The first Glennfest Movie Festival, with only four films, was definitely modest, but Stephens recruited sponsors and made arrangements with the Krikorian in Downey and the AMC in Norwalk. 

At the first screening for children with special needs, Stephens says, My heart just grew and I forgot about all the money and work. All I remember is the kids laughing and enjoying it.”

The second year Stephens had six films.  Last year Glennfest presented seven films, including Pride, a movie with a lot of buzz about a miners’ strike in England, and the gay community that raised money to support it.

Stephens works with a committee to select the films, using nine criteria. The committee considers all of the technical aspects, such as image and visuals, audio, and editing, as well as artistic elements that include story and acting.  They also consider whether a film contributes to the community.

The over-arching consideration, explains Stephens, is presenting “movies with a positive message.”

With 17 films this fall, the Glennfest Movie Festival has more than doubled in size. Stephens says it is now a mid-sized festival.

Asked why he has taken such a big step, Stephen’s explains, “This is my baby bird. I want to nudge it out of the nest and see if it can fly.”

When asked how he’ll measure success, Stephens has a quick answer – “If we get more distributors requesting to be in our festival next year.”

Interested people can see the full schedule and reserve free tickets on the website at


Krikorian Theatre
(Children and Young Adults with Special Needs)

Krikorian Theatre

The Kikorian Theatre
(in Japanese with English subtitles)
(in Japanese with English subtitles)

OCTOBER 1  (World Ballet Day)
Krikorian Theatre
(in Norwegian with English subtitles)
8:00 PM   MATCH

Epic Lounge
6:00 PM    Senior Dinner (free)

OCTOBER 3   (Anime Block)
Epic Lounge
7:30 AM    MAID’S CAFÉ (Snack Bar)
          (In English)
                    (In English)
12:00 PM   MAID’S CAFÉ  (Snack Bar)
(in Japanese with English subtitles)
(in Japanese with English subtitles)
(Retro-Participation 18+)  VIP  Seating Available

Downey Civic Theatre
(in Spanish with English subtitles)

Kricorian Theatre
7:30 PM    THE GOOB

Krikorian Theatre

Krikorian Theatre
(in Hindi with English Subtitles)
8:20  PM  100 BLOODY ACRES

Krikorian Theatre
Epic Lounge  -  After Party