A Film Festival For The Community

Ziggy Mrkich and Renee O'Connor, co-directorsof SPIFF (photo by John Mattera)

It was founded to celebrate the diverse culture and community of San Pedro, and after its successful inaugural event last October, the San Pedro International Film Festival is back for its second annual event.

San Pedro has always had a rich film history, in fact, several movies — the original King Kong, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, Pearl Harbor, and (500) Days of Summer — and television shows — NCIS, Mad Men and Dexter — have been shot on the streets of the city.

It’s the films, and the community of San Pedro, that the San Pedro International Film Festival was founded to celebrate, and founder Ziggy Mrkich proved last year that she is up for the job.

Mrkich is no stranger to the film festival circuit, she has more than a decade of festival involvement on her resume, and after a successful inaugural event, she is “very excited,” for this year’s festivities.

“We had a very successful first year,” she says. “And I am dedicated to continuing this festival and continuing to showcase films, really good films, from the festival circuit.”

“San Pedro has a long and rich history in the cinematic arts. With dozens of feature films, television shows and commercials shot here every year, it’s fitting that we now are host to a festival that celebrates the city’s diverse culture and community, and its contributions to film,” says Los Angeles City Councilman, Joe Buscaino.

Last year’s event, which drew more than 700 people, was the Los Angeles premier of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film went on to win several major awards, including Lawrence’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

“I was very surprised, but extremely happy to acquire the film as part of our first year,” Mrkich says. “We were very proud to have had the opportunity to be the first in the area to screen it.”

This year’s festival will feature screenings of both documentaries and short films. Mrkich says they received more than 550 submissions. One of the hardest parts of the festival planning is securing feature films for the weekend, she says.

“I handpick the feature films based on the attention the films are getting at other festivals, namely the Toronto Film Festival,” she says. “In addition, I really try to include films that are already getting Oscar buzz.”

She says oftentimes it is difficult to secure the films, but it’s this that makes her job “exciting.”

“It’s actually really very hard to secure feature films,” she says. “I do get a lot of ‘No’s,’ but programming isn’t easy at any festival, but it all works out in the end, you just have to know going into it that you will not get to screen every film you want.”

The workload lightened a bit this year for Mrkich when she brought Renee O’Connor on board.

The duo says the goal of this year’s festival is to “provide a service to the community by attracting new visitors to San Pedro, and exposing them to films they may otherwise not see.”

O’Connor, a director, producer and actress best known for her role as Gabrielle in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, is facilitating the filmmakers for various panels. She says the panels will include information on producing small and large budget independent films.

“I am passionate about helping fellow filmmakers,” she says. “These panels will allow for future filmmakers to be in the same room as current filmmakers — it’s oftentimes hard to get into the industry, and this will provide an opportunity for people to share their experience of how they did it.”

The San Pedro International Film Festival is featuring screenings at the historic Warner Grand Theatre, as well as new outdoor screenings, pop-up screenings and a special screening aboard the newest addition to San Pedro, the historic Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.

In addition, Mrkich and O’Connor will be paying tribute to legendary filmmaker Tony Scott, who died in San Pedro last August.

Scott, a renowned presence in Hollywood, spent over 40 years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. Top Gun, arguably his best-known film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $350 worldwide.

Scott also directed Days of Thunder (also starring Tom Cruise), Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide (starring Denzel Washington), and Spy Game (starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt), among many others.

“The tribute will include a brief retrospective of Scott’s work and his contributions to the San Pedro community,” O’Connor says. “Tony Scott shot several films in San Pedro, and has a very strong tie to this community and we want to honor that, and thank him for his contributions to the city.”

Scott’s family, including widow, Donna Scott, is expected to be in attendance.

O’Connor and Mrkich say they are “overly excited” about this year’s festival. “This is the community’s festival,” Mrkich says. “We have an open door for people who want to volunteer or be involved — this is a festival for the community, and that is why we are including a local program.”

O’Connor says that anyone who has never been to a festival should experience it just once. “This is a great opportunity to come and experience what a film festival can create,” she says. “You can come in off the street and sit down and be right next to the person who wrote and directed the film you are about to see — it’s wonderful.”

Mrkich adds, “The San Pedro International Film Festival is a win-win for audiences and filmmakers. We support filmmakers by providing an audience and platform for films, and the audience can see films they otherwise might have missed.” spt

The San Pedro International Film Festival will take place the weekend of October 4-6 at various venues in downtown San Pedro. This special edition of San Pedro Today includes the complete program and schedule for the festival. For more news and info, visit www.spiffest.org.

Life & How To Live It

Harry Hall, photographed at his home on May 10, 2013 (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Harry Hall has lived through both World Wars and the Great Depression. He was already an adult when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. He’s bore witness to the modern motion picture and the advent of air travel, and was alive before the first transcontinental telephone call between New York City and San Francisco ever occurred.

The same year Hall was born also saw the completion of the Angels Gate Lighthouse, the opening of the Panama Canal and introduction of Ford’s modern assembly line.

To say that Harry Hall has seen a few things in his lifetime is an understatement.

The son of Charles and Christine Hall, Hall was born on June 7, 1913, in San Pedro, and is the youngest of eight children. He would go on to attend Barton Hill Elementary School, Bandini Street School and San Pedro High School, where he was the humor editor for the school’s Fore ‘n Aft newspaper and the yearbook.

Today, nearly a century later, Hall is healthy and happy and living a treasured life in his home in San Pedro; in the same house he’s lived in since the 1950s. You know, when he was in his 40s.

“Well, hello there,” Hall says as he welcomes this reporter into his home. He has a slow yet steady gait as he navigates his way through his living room, settling down in the middle of his couch. “Have a seat,” he says.

For someone approaching a century in age, Harry Hall shows no signs of slowing down. Sitting in khaki pants and a Hawaiian shirt, with his silver mane slicked and well coiffed, the man many people know as “that guy who plays the violin” is all too happy to discuss his life as he nears such an amazing milestone.

“My daily routine, you know, for a 100 year old, it’s not much,” laughs Hall. “I have nobody here to do the housework, you know. But I’ve got a gardener and I’ve got friends next door.”

It’s surprising to realize that Hall is as independent as ever. He still drives around town and lives on his own (though relatives drive him when he needs to go outside of San Pedro). He’s constantly entertaining the multitude of guests that stop by to make sure he’s doing ok on a daily basis. It’s safe to say that entertaining has been his life’s work.

A Lifetime Love Affair

Hall is never too far from his trusty violin. It’s the instrument that has come to define his life. The way he explains it, his introduction to the violin came in the form of a door-to-door salesman who was selling violin lessons in town.

“My folks thought it’d be nice if I studied some music,” he recalls. “It didn’t matter what it would be. If the guy who came to our door was selling pianos, maybe I’d have taken piano. But no, I started the violin. I found out I enjoyed it very much. And that I was capable of doing it.”

Since Hall didn’t own his own violin, he would pay a dollar a week to his teacher for a year, after the year was up, he could keep the violin he had been practicing on.

“It was a violin and a bow,” he says. “Then you’d pick the music up every week. That was a 10-cent sheet of music and it was gradually getting harder and harder as you went. But if you did it for one year – and it was a dollar a lesson – one year, the violin was yours.”

That one year turned into a lifetime love affair with music.

Eventually, Hall joined the Navy Seabees and served during WWII. While stationed at Camp Peary in Virginia, Hall called to have his violin shipped to him.

“I was entertaining the kids, you know, the fellows,” he remembers. “Somebody would have a guitar and they’d sing and if there was a piano, they had a pianist too. So we had a little group that we could get together.”

After the war, Hall joined the faculty of the National Institute of Music and traveled around the western United States teaching violin to students and teaching teachers, as well. In 1948, Hall would experience one of his life’s highlights as he conducted an orchestra of 2,000 violins at the Hollywood Bowl.

In 1950, Hall married his first wife, Muzelle Davis. Sadly, Muzelle would die of cancer in October 1961. Looking to move on, in December 1963, Hall would marry Eda Cortner. They would be married for 32 years before Eda’s passing from a stroke in 1995. Both marriages never spawned children.

Even through those difficult times, Hall always found solace in music. While he could read music, he claims he was a better learner by ear.

“My ear is pretty good,” claims Hall. “So, you know, I could actually play tunes that a lot of kids can’t play. They can’t play tunes that they’ve heard.”

Home

Even though he has been around the world with the Navy and traveled across the country as a violin teacher, he still calls San Pedro home, where he’s taught countless San Pedro kids (and adults) the art of the violin. From the bay window in his living room you can see the Angels Gate Lighthouse, two San Pedro stalwarts, both approaching a major life milestone.

When asked about all the changes he’s seen just in San Pedro, the first thing he mentions is the razing of Beacon Street in downtown, even though he was in his 60s when the bulldozers came through in the 1970s.

“There were a lot of changes here that I’m not too crazy about,” he says. “The fact that the downtown district is gone. You know, we used to have great clothing stores here.”

Hall will tell you how he remembers when the Palos Verdes hill was nothing but farmland, or how a dime could buy you a burger and soda on Pacific Ave. “Those were good days,” he says.

Today, as Hall approaches his 100th birthday, you can still find him playing violin at The Whale and Ale in downtown or entertaining the residents at the Harbor Terrace retirement community. Every Saturday night, his neighbors come over to his house and bring wine and snacks as they sit around the coffee table telling stories to each other. “We talk about old times,” he says.

Even though his active lifestyle may be a clue, when asked what his secret to reaching 100 is, Hall pauses to think for a second. He may have been asked this before, but his answer takes some thought.

“Study music because you’ll live longer,” he says. “Oh, and chardonnay.”

He has a glass of it every night. spt

San Pedro’s Living Treasures

On March 1, the San Pedro Historic Downtown Waterfront District will host the Living Treasures Dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown San Pedro, kicking off the year-long celebration of our port town’s 125th anniversary. While there are plenty of living treasures in San Pedro who could be on this list, the following select few are being honored for their contributions to our community.

(photos by Joleen D'Rage)

Jean Wilder

Jean Acalin Wilder has lived her entire life in San Pedro. She was born in 1928 to Italian and Dalmatian parents. She lives in a beautiful 100-year old Craftsman house built in 1913 that has a spectacular view of the Cabrillo Beach breakwater. The home sits on two lots in the Point Fermin area that was given to her husband’s family by George H. Peck, one of San Pedro’s notable real estate developers. Jean and her husband, Charles Wilder Jr., had six children together – five boys and one girl, all of which were born at the old, brick, San Pedro Hospital.


Joe Marino

Joe Marino moved to San Pedro with his family from Rockford, Ill., at the age of 13. Marino, a Sicilian, has lived in town now for more than 72 years, and says he’s “in love with the town of San Pedro and the community at large, as the community has come together to make this a great place to work and live.” Marino spent 48 years as an educator and worked as a local elementary school teacher for 10 years –at Leland, White Point, and Crestwood – and as a school administrator for 25 years. After retiring from the LAUSD, Marino mentored college students studying to be schoolteachers at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1992, and did so for 13 years. Marino was honored as LAUSD’s Principal of the Year in 1987 and was Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1988-1989. Joe is married to his lovely wife, Marian. Together they have two children and three grandchildren.

Harry Hall

Harry Hall will celebrate his 100th birthday this June, which makes Harry and the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse the exact same age. Born and raised in San Pedro, Hall’s parents came from Swedish immigrant families that settled in Minnesota. Hall made it to San Pedro when his family moved there in 1905. At age 9, Harry fell in love with the violin after a salesman knocked on the family door selling violin lessons. This love would lead Hall to become a professional violinist and teacher, teaching lessons at Vine’s Music, Compton College and a private studio in Palos Verdes Estates, just to name a few. He even conducted a 2,000-violin orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 1948. Hall married two times, and is twice widowed, but says he feels blessed to have had two wives who both shared his passion for music and his love of San Pedro. Amazingly, Hall is still playing the violin around town. You can find him at such as the Harbor Terrace Retirement Community, First United Methodist Church and a downtown favorite, The Whale and Ale.


Anne Gusha

You can still find Anne Gusha behind the counter of Williams’ Book Store on 6th Street in downtown San Pedro. At 93-years-old (and still counting), the Seattle-born Gusha is best known as the current owner of the historic, and historically independent, bookstore. Soon after she was born, she moved to San Pedro from Washington with her Croatian family in 1920. Gusha first stepped foot in the bookstore when she was eight. In 1941, Gusha began working at the store for then-owner Ethel Williams. When Williams retired in 1980, Gusha and her son, Jerry, took over the store, calling it their own. Gusha has spent much of her time on philanthropic causes, such as Soroptomist International, Los Angeles Harbor, and has worked hard to promote literacy and women’s issues. Anne was married in 1945 and has three children.


Muriel Olguin

Muriel Olguin says that San Pedro “was the best place to raise kids and build careers while living in one of the most beautiful places.” Born in our port town in 1923, Olguin, 89, bounced around the Harbor Area before settling in San Pedro, where she’s lived for the past 65 years. Her life with her late husband, John Olguin, was the stuff of legend and romance novels, and was chronicled in San Pedro Today columnist Jack Baric‘s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, where the couple’s love of sleeping outside under the stars and rowing their 15-foot rowboat to the Isthmus at the West End of Catalina Island was featured. An artist and philanthropist, Olguin completed a Master of Arts degree in 1958, at a time when “mothers didn’t go to college with children and a husband at home,” she says. She was a founding member of the Angel’s Gate Cultural Center, the Rembrandt Crew that started the Palos Verdes Art Center, and with other artists, The Loft in downtown San Pedro. Both Muriel and John Olguin, for the majority of their lives, have immensely and unselfishly contributed to San Pedro and the surrounding communities. Together they had three children and a very active home life in San Pedro.


Matty Domancich

Kuzma Domancich, best known around town as “Matty,” is as true a San Pedran as they come. Born of Croatian parents and raised in San Pedro for the past 90 years, Matty remains one of San Pedro’s greatest, active, goodwill ambassadors. Domancich founded and became the first President of San Pedro High School’s Pirate Booster Club in 1958, an all-volunteer, fundraising organization originally established to provide moral and monetary support to some of the high school’s athletes and their needs. Today, it has expanded its support to include all SPHS sports, academic clubs, theater arts and many other campus-sponsored activities. It is also believed to be the LAUSD’s oldest booster club. Domancich also served as a past Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1989-1991 and is a past “Exalted Ruler” of the San Pedro Elks Lodge. If you’re old enough, you may remember Domancich’s two Shell Gas Stations – one on Gaffey St. and the other on Pacific Ave. After Shell told him to stop providing full-service to his customers, Domancich became angry, immediately closed-up shop, and went on to open the Bike Palace. Today, you can find Domancich selling historic photos of San Pedro with the proceeds going to the San Pedro Elks Lodge, who in turn funds scholarships for local students. Domancich was married to his late wife Mary and they had one daughter.


Goldeen Kaloper

Goldeen Kaloper turns 96 this month. Born in Zlarin, Croatia, Kaloper came to the United States with her family at the young age of 12, first settling in Seattle, Wash. In 1942, Kaloper met her second husband and they moved to San Pedro. Both were widows with small infants at the time, and built a long and happy marriage of 65 years. Together, they had five children. She was one of the “cannery girls” and worked there for 24 years. The Kaloper home was a center for hospitality, especially for fishermen whose families were still back in the “old country.” God and family are the two most important things in Kaloper’s life. She believes this is what makes San Pedro great – as long as people have a deep faith, and love for their families, problems can be solved. She says the secret to a long life is, “Eat healthy, wish good for everyone, and God bless my children who take care of me!”


Thelma Gatlin

Thelma Gatlin was born in Shreveport, La. on July 15, 1924. Born Thelma Johnson, she was one of 18 children. Gatlin moved to San Pedro in 1942 to work in the shipyards during World War II. She soon married John Gatlin in 1944 and had they had children. At 88 years of age, Thelma is still very active in the community and serves on several boards, including the Toberman executive board and First Neighborhood Council in San Pedro. In the past, Gatlin served on the first board for the Central Neighborhood Council, and was one of the first recipients of the YWCA’s “Racial Justice Award.” She has also served as the President of the San Pedro YWCA board, President of the Women Church United, Vice President of the Republican Club in San Pedro. Today, you can find Gatlin as an active member of Ocean View Baptist Church.


Helen DiMaggio

Helen DiMaggio is 94-years-old and the wife of the late Neno DiMaggio. Half Mexican and half Croatian, she is the daughter of Andrew & Mary Fistonich who founded Star Fisheries Inc. in 1921. After her father Andrew passed away, her husband Neno assumed leadership of the company. With her husband at the helm, DiMaggio worked behind the scenes for 39 years, along with her sister, Anita Mardesich, who continued in the family business with subsidiary, American Fisheries. DiMaggio has been active in many community groups including San Pedro Peninsula Cancer Guild, Little Sisters of the Poor Auxiliary, the Assistance League of San Pedro, Mary Star of the Sea Church and Holy Trinity Church. She is past president of the prestigious Rotary Ann’s and was an active member of the former Women’s Chamber of Commerce.


Nicoletta “Nikky” Troy

Born in San Pedro on January 12, 1924, 89-year old Nicoletta Troy grew up with four siblings, speaking both Greek and English. Nikki was born at one of the Papadakis family homes, by the help of a midwife, and is cousin to San Pedro community leader, John Papadakis, former owner of Papadakis Taverna. She began working at the age of 12 at her father’s restaurant on Beacon Street, known as the City Hall Café. At just 4′ 10″ tall, she fondly remembers standing on a box in the kitchen to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for their customers. She worked side-by-side with her father until she graduated high school and continued working as a waitress throughout her adult years, at restaurants such as The Fireside, a carhop located on the corner of 6th St. and Gaffey, Cigo’s Restaurant on 9th St. and Pacific, and the legendary Ante’s, from which she retired at age 75.

 

Florence Collins
(no picture available at press time)

Ninety-eight-years-old and still going strong, Florence Collins was born in San Pedro to Italian/Ischian parents on May 28, 1914. She attended Fifth Street School, San Pedro’s original elementary school, which was located where the San Pedro Courthouse sits today. Florence was also in the first graduating class of Dana Middle School. A young wife and mother during the Great Depression, she and her husband, Bill Collins, lived on 9th St., which at the time was referred to as “Dago Flats.” Her husband was a sailor stationed with the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro, which was eventually moved to Pearl Harbor before WWII. His ship, the USS West Virginia, was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For two weeks, Collins did not know whether or not her husband had survived. It turns out Bill was knocked unconscious below deck, but was carried up top by a fellow crew member and thrown overboard, which saved his life. Collins has been a lifelong member of Mary Star of the Sea Church, and has several dozen grandchildren, great grand-children and great, great grandchildren, almost all of whom still reside in San Pedro.

Historical San Pedro Poems Still Ring True on 125th Birthday

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th birthday, I’m offering a couple of historic poems that speak volumes about our town and, despite their age, haven’t lost relevance.

The first is “To Their Memory,” written in 1924 by Minna Irving as a tribute to the 48 sailors who died in an explosion aboard the battleship USS Mississippi during gunnery practice off the coast of San Pedro on June 12 of that year. As part of the Pacific Battle Fleet, the Mississippi called San Pedro home from 1919 to 1940; when the rest of the fleet relocated to Pearl Harbor, the Mississippi went to the Atlantic and escaped that disaster.

The funeral for the Mississippi crewmen at San Pedro’s Trona Field was one of the largest events in town up to that time. In a sad postscript, an almost identical accident occurred during the war off the Gilbert Islands; another explosion in the same turret killed 43 sailors on Nov. 20, 1943.

The poem has added poignancy today with the addition of the USS Iowa to our waterfront. The Iowa suffered an eerily similar peacetime tragedy in 1989 when an explosion in No. 2 turret during gunnery practice off Puerto Rico killed 47 sailors.

I don’t know where the poem first appeared, but this version comes from Harvey Beigel’s classic Battleship Country, which details the long history of the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro.

The “Missy” is the proudest ship
That rides the billow’s crest,
In gunnery she’s unexcelled,
Her skippers are the best.
Five years she’s held the “Iron Men”
For athletes none can beat,
And in efficiency but few
Approach her in the fleet.

A greater pride is hers today
Though it is dimmed with tears,
For in her log a list of eight
And forty names appears —
Her seamen, unafraid who met
Man’s ancient grisly foe,
And passed with steadfast shining souls
To join the watch below.

Calm were the blue Pacific swells,
Clear was the azure sky,
Peace spread her wings above the world,
No enemy was nigh,
The Mississippi’s mighty guns
At target practice roared,
When Death, a silent visitor,
Unbidden came aboard.

Through hatches battered down he went
In Turret No. 2,
Where round the giant guns they served
Stood all the gunner’s crew,
Some thought of home and little ones
Beyond the ocean’s rim,
Some thought of service-stripes to earn,
But no one thought of him.

Within that chamber wrought of steel
He grimly took command,
And turned its deadly forces loose
On that devoted band.
They saw him then—a dreadful shape,
They felt his scorching breath,
And knew him by his shroud of flame
And veil of smoke as Death.

They died as men in battle die,
Each sailor at his post,
Fit mates of Lawrence, Hull, Paul Jones,
And all that hero host,
With Skrynas at the telephone
His last report to give,
While Ensign Erwin stepped aside
That other lads might live.

Horatius at the bridge, El Cid,
Great Charlemagne of old,
Rustem the peerless Persian—they
Were men of god-like mold,
The crew of Turret No. 2,
Who perished at their guns,
When Glory calls the roll reply
With these illustrious ones.

Oh! It is not her battleships
That makes the Navy strong.
The thickness of her armor-plates,
Her batteries in song,
Her might is in her sturdy tars
To flag and service true,
Like those immortal men who died
In Turret No. 2.

Sounds Familiar

I can’t even remember where I got the following poem. It was published on a little notecard, the title simply “San Pedro,” with the copyright 1920. Earl Ihme is the author, and at the bottom it gives his address as 730 W. 21st Street. San Pedrans love their town, but as this poem amply demonstrates, it is not a recent phenomenon. San Pedro was only 32 years old and already affectionately called Pedro.

You ought to live in San Pedro,
Where the ships and the railroads link,
For the pulse is as throbbing in Pedro
As on anywhere else I can think.

Oh, we want to live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the ocean meet,
Where the khaki and blue as “our hero”—
They are manning our fort and our fleet.

We are happy! — We live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the sun is a smile,
Where the folks have the aim and the ether
O’ the works that are worthy of while.

Oh, we like to live in San Pedro,
At the door of an opening world;
For the future and flag of our Pedro
They shall yet to be fully unfurled.

Oh, we love to live in San Pedro!
We may move, we may roam everywhere,
We will always be longing for Pedro
For our home and our happiness there.

Some things never change. Happy birthday, San Pedro. spt