Hitchcock Festival
Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carruba (far right) is interviewed during the Hitchcock Festival in Scotts Valley. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

One day, during journalism school up in Canada, I headed down from my dorm to catch a glimpse of rising star Orlando Bloom on his way into a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. I encountered a gruff tabloid photographer with a mustache who warned me how rough-and-tumble things would get. I remember the excitement of managing at least one shot of the “Lord of the Rings” star I could salvage.

But more than anything I recall the feeling of being part of a cultural event so powerful it seemed the entire world’s eyes were fixated upon it. I’ll never forget that sense of gathering with other moving picture aficionados to take in cinematic creations deemed worthy of what many consider the best film festival in the world.

The second annual Alfred Hitchcock Festival, held at the Scotts Valley Performing Arts Center had more than a little of that feeling—of being part of a community of people who care about quality films, and who revere the masters who came before.

For all of its more amateur aspects, the volunteer-run festival held March 8-10 displayed a surprisingly high-brow tone that was light on fluff and heavy on educational authenticity.

Like so many local activities, it had a best-kept-secret feel to it. It was a unique and engrossing experience. The inaugural edition had highlighted how Hitchcock was a longtime resident of Scotts Valley who got inspiration for many of his masterpieces from the surrounding areas. This year’s incarnation went over these factoids again, but aimed to delve much deeper, with an expanded three-day offering.

The more ambitious approach was certainly admirable, but it came with some growing pains. While last year, the $30 opening night sold-out (with good response for the $60 Saturday festivities), this year’s $150 three-day pass resulted in around an average of perhaps 40-60 people at each of the four screenings.

Hitchcock Festival
John Billheimer gives an in-depth but quite engaging lecture on Hitchcock’s ability to negotiate with the censors. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

The plush theater seating—originally from the Bellagio—and the recently-added bar décor—an assortment of vintage audio equipment from Broadway by way of Las Vegas—made the experience feel less like the community theater production it was and more like you’d wandered into a Hollywood theater just off the beaten path (akin to Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema). Or perhaps a Brooklyn warehouse pop-up.

Unfortunately, the past life of the venue as a roller rink meant that, despite curtains flanking the audience, during quieter moments, the whistle of the percolator and conversations in the wings above a murmur were audible.

By the end of the festival, organizers seemed to have imposed a strict silence policy and said they were already dreaming up a workaround for the future. In fact, the persistence with which organizers pushed comment cards on festivalgoers was heartwarming, as they demonstrated a genuine interest in perfecting the project for 2025.

Anyone who might’ve bemoaned the low turnout as a disastrous turn of events compared to the initial fanfare of Year 1 would be flat-out wrong. The truth, the Press Banner has learned (according to the Scotts Valley Community Theater Guild), is that Brown Paper Tickets never paid-out a dime of the $13,000 or so it was supposed to remit from 2023. The company was acquired by Events.com, which has refused to shell-out what rightfully belongs to the nonprofit. 

Seen from that lens, what the Guild managed to pull off is nothing short of remarkable. In response to an inquiry from the Press Banner, a Brown Paper Tickets spokesperson forwarded a press release suggesting the money may finally be forthcoming by the end of the month.

The Guild established a new ticket portal on their website and are confident they’ll raise at least some money during the event—which is a fundraiser to support local arts and culture. After the screening rights-granting company suddenly pulled permission to show one famous film, in the lead-up to the fest, organizers quickly adapted and slotted-in another beloved title. 

The GoFundMe connected to the festival has already brought in a couple thousand bucks. None of these challenges were dwelt-on or even mentioned publicly by the organizers, who, like everyone else, still seemed in awe of the fact that little ole’ Scotts Valley was holding a celebration of celluloid to rival that of Cannes or Telluride, albeit on a smaller scale (and without the traffic and parking nightmares).

Hitchcock Festival bar
Volunteers helm the bar, which was decorated with an assortment of vintage audio equipment. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Hannah Thompson, 50, volunteered with the festival both years.

“There’s a lot of hard-working people putting this event together,” she said. “It’s wonderful. It really is all about teamwork.”

Thompson was involved in the all-important roll-out of the new ticketing platform.

“I know that there’s a lot of determined people behind the theater here in town,” she said. “I’m just grateful to be part of that group.”

There’s nothing quite like getting to watch “The Birds,” just up the hill from Capitola where a curious incident involving a disoriented flock helped inspire the movie. The “Santa Cruz” story is even mentioned in the film’s dialogue.

Scotts Valley is not only the very community where the director lived, but is also the place one of the animal trainers from the film calls home. The interview filmed with the man by local historian Jay Topping in advance was straightforward, but compelling. Even the Britain-set 1941 film “Suspicion,” shown Sunday, uses the Central Coast shores of Big Sur as a stand-in for Tangmere-by-the-sea.

The fashion show put on by Christina Cree showcased Hitchcock-inspired and remixed works. This wasn’t just a collection of local retailers slapping fabric choices together in a kitschy manner. Instead, it came across as the work of a designer with reverence for classic cinema who also isn’t afraid to freshen up the collection with an avant-garde flair.

This followed a history lesson about costumer Edith Head’s indelible influence on the great director’s films. We were all the richer for knowing about the selection of Eau de Nil green and Head’s ability to channel the desires of starlets, even in the face of a sometimes-overbearing studio system.

After the show Cree spoke with a woman who noted they shared something in common—they both had grandparents who’d worked with Esther Willams. And this was 17-year-old Scotts Valley High School senior Maya Bensen’s fourth time walking the runway. 

“I feel like it came together really well,” she said. “It’s just really awesome to appreciate the clothing and show it off.”

Cree said few alterations were needed for the garments.

“They did a really good job,” she said, commending the models, many of whom were participating in a fashion show for the first time.

Hitchcock Festival fashion show
A fashion show put on by Christina Cree showcases Hitchcock-inspired and remixed works. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Sure, there were moments where the festival dragged—where there was either no food to be found or too much all at once (and the cold coffee on Saturday morning was a personal disappointment). But all this was washed away by the cohesive nature of the programming—such as a celebration of the mimosa, the brunch staple that Hitchcock has been credited with inventing.

The presenters were all fantastic, including John Billheimer giving an in-depth but quite engaging lecture on Hitchcock’s ability to negotiate with the censors, and author Aaron Leventhal describing his own current battle to get studios to let him to rerelease “Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco” with added actor quotes for a reasonable price.

And you probably won’t get to hang out with Hitchcock’s granddaughter casually over lunch at Sundance, an experience attendees were treated to unexpectedly here.

As organizers analyze feedback from this year’s festival (and hopefully collect their payday from 2023), a big challenge for next time will be how to maintain the caliber of the syllabus without sinking into repetition.

In the dwindling moments, Scotts Valley resident Jayme Cooper, 69, a Guild donor who came with her sister Lane Maloney, gave a glowing review.

“I thought we got our money’s worth,” she said. A favorite memory? The way “The Birds” inspires strong reactions to this very day: “It was still scaring the bejeebers out of people in the audience who hadn’t seen it.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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