San Diego Film Festival opens with 'Marshall', a film with Rancho Santa Fe connections

In the film industry, it’s all about who you know. Rancho Santa Fe women in film Lena Evans, Annette Caton and May Zawaideh rely on their friendships built on loyalty and trust to create successful projects and grow the film scene in San Diego.

Caton and Evans, two longtime industry veterans, were production consultants for “Marshall,” which has been selected to open the San Diego Film Festival on Oct. 4 at the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego. The film is already receiving Oscar buzz and features the “fantastic” Sterling K. Brown, who is coming off back-to-back Emmy awards for “This is Us” and “The People vs. O.J. Simpson”.

“Marshall” is the story of one of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s earliest court challenges. Played by Chadwick Boseman, Marshall fights alongside young attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who has no experience in criminal law, in the case of a black chauffeur (Brown) accused by his white employer (Kate Hudson) of sexual assault and attempted murder.

“We are beyond excited,” said Evans, who will walk the red carpet with Caton for the Los Angeles premiere of “Marshall” on Oct. 2 — the film is scheduled for wide release on Oct. 13.

Rancho Santa Fe’s May Zawaideh is the honorary chair of the San Diego Film Festival’s Variety Night of the Stars on Oct. 5 at The Pendry San Diego.

The gala will honor Sir. Patrick Stewart with the Gregory Peck Award of Excellence in Cinema. The Auteur Award will also be presented to Kumail Nanjani, who recently co-wrote and starred in “The Big Sick”; Heather Graham will receive the Virtuoso Award and Taran Killam (best known for Saturday Night Live and wrote, directed and starred in “Killing Gunther” with Arnold Schwarzenegger) will receive the Visionary Filmmaker Award. Blake Jenner (“Edge of Seventeen”) will receive the Rising Star Award.

Both Caton and Evans have been in the film industry since the 1990s, but they didn’t meet until their sons were in Cub Scouts together in Rancho Santa Fe.

“We enjoy working together, and we get on really well,” Evans said. “We recognized quickly that each of us are the type of people who get things done.”

Caton worked in offices on two major studio lots. She took a long hiatus when she moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 2000 and returned to the industry in 2013, forming Tin Roof Media, a film marketing and financing company, and Tin Roof Entertainment, which specializes in development, production and distribution of TV projects.

She has also appeared in TV and films, and recently executive-produced the film “Day of Days” that premiered at the Women’s International Film Festival in Miami in 2016.

Evans has worked as a media host, actress and model since she was a teenager. Her career includes working as a senior executive in the film entertainment industry and founding Global Entertainment Strategies, a media consulting firm focused on connecting technology visionaries with industry leaders. Through her Jade Phoenix Entertainment, she has partnered with investors in creative projects, specializing in film financing, development of film, TV and stage productions.

She said she is currently working on an English adaptation of the French stage production “12305 Fifth Helena” about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe.

“That’s the one I’m most excited about,” said Zawaideh, who said she has been interested in film “since I opened my eyes.”

Zawaideh moved to California from Jordan as a teenager with Hollywood dreams, but she said her heavy accent got in the way of landing any speaking roles. If she couldn’t act, she could produce — she has dabbled in independent feature film production and is an Academy Circle member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). To help her daughter Lena’s musical career, she has also produced several music videos.

When Caton and Evans look to take on a project, their first step is reading the script to see if it has hope. They then consider the talent attached, if the story resonates and if it is a film that can be distributed. When it comes to the filmmakers, Caton said it’s important that they are passionate, that they work hard and have shown consistency in their career.

“I want to see that they can carry their vision though,” Caton said.

Evans became aware of “Marshall” first, when old friends director Reginald Hudlin (former president of Black Entertainment Television and producer of “Django Unchained”) and producer Jonathan Sanger were seeking finishing funds. Distributor Open Road Films was already attached.

“Finding film projects and matching opportunities with investors is hard work,” Evans said. “The film had A-List everything. It was like a gift.”

Evans brought Caton in and she was able to take it to a local Rancho Santa Fe investor, pitch and close the deal before Evans even had a chance to hit up her list of potential investors.

“It’s very rewarding…to actually bring a story to life through film and even more so when you can produce distribution to share the story you’ve put so much of yourself into,” Caton said.

All three Rancho Santa Fe women are ambassadors for the San Diego Film Festival, which has grown over 500 percent since 2012.

“I’m loving watching the film festival grow and one day we’re going to be just as important as festivals like Sundance or South by Southwest,” said Zawaideh, also a festival patron. “There’s no reason why not.”

The women would also love to see San Diego become more of a film destination — the city’s Film Commission office closed in 2013 and there are continuing efforts to reopen a local film office.

“Filmmaking is an integral part of the city’s potential for growth,” Evans said. “Working together, we are doing everything we can to ensure that San Diego gets its Hollywood comeback.”

The San Diego Film Festival, Oct. 4-8, is five days of over 100 films screened at the Balboa Theater, Regal Cinema and the ArcLight La Jolla. For information and tickets to the San Diego Film Festival, visit sdfilmfest.com

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