Ahmad Amir – President
Ahmad Amir is a co-founding member and managing partner of Pacific Eye, an eye care practice in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties. Ahmad has always had a fondness for all genres of film. He particularly enjoys foreign movies and studied Italian Cinema during his undergraduate education at UCLA.
Gary Harkins – Vice-President
Gary was born in Phoenix, AZ. He graduated from the pre-med program at Occidental College and medical school at the University of Chicago, followed by post-graduate training in medical oncology at UCSD. He met his wife Muriel in high school and they have been married 45 years, moving to SLO in 1977 with their two young girls. He was the only Oncologist in the county for over 2 years and had positions as Chief of Medicine at Sierra Vista Hospital in 1988 and Chief of Staff in 1989. He was the Chairman of the Board of the Tri-Counties Blood Bank from 1993-1995. Muriel was the Office Manager for the last years of his practice and they both retired in 2007. Both long-time film buffs, they decided to organize the SLO Movie Group. The group meets monthly at different hosts’ homes or other venues and discuss a film recommended by that month’s hosts. There are 35-45 attendees on average—each pays to attend the meeting and the hosts pick a local charity to donate the proceeds to. Gary also sits on the Cuesta College Foundation Board of Directors, Wilshire Health and Community Services Board, their Home Owners Association Board, and has a position rating golf courses for the Northern CA Golf Association.
Bruce Ekmanian – Treasurer
Bruce is a CPA in Pismo Beach, specializing in tax and accounting services for small businesses and individuals and is very active in many community organizations. Bruce joined the SLOIFF board in 2010. He is also, currently, the Treasurer for the Exchange Club of SLO. He is also a member of Strategic Alliance-Five Cities, a business networking group and a member of the Grover Beach Rotary Club. Growing up in Culver City, whose motto is “The Heart of Screenland,” Bruce remembers that the main back lot for MGM Studios was right down the street where many movies and TV shows were being filmed and visiting the old Hal Roach and Desilu Studios located in the downtown area. He has always enjoyed the movies and has three cousins in the industry. Bruce has been here on the Central Coast for over 14 years and enjoys all the diverse activities here.
Joette Eisengart – Secretary
Originally from Santa Monica, Joette has lived in San Luis Obispo County, and been an active community member, since 1973. For more than 20 years, she and her husband owned and operated several garden center businesses throughout the County, during which time Joette had the honor of becoming personally acquainted with legendary filmmaker King Vidor, who had been a frequent patron of their Paso Robles business. Because of her love of movies and filmmaking, getting to know Mr. Vidor during this time was nothing short of nirvana to her. For the past 27 years, Joette has worked at Cal Poly State University, currently serving as executive associate to the vice president for Student Affairs. In 2006, she received the Division’s prestigious Chandler Award for outstanding service to students and the profession. Naturally drawn to the SLOIFF because of her passion for film, she served as a 2008 Festival volunteer, helping to coordinate the King Vidor Retrospective, “The Man Who Was King.” This year will be Joette’s 8th year as a member of the Board.
Denise Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 11 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in 37 states. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, and a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities, including our very own Cal Poly, USC, UC Irvine, and UCLA, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.” Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, time management, stress management, communication, and personal relationships. Denise says she loves people, animals, lively audiences—and the SLO Film Festival!
A 25 year resident of SLO County, Dawn Legg is a Community Affairs consultant for First Solar, a global provider of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy solutions. She coordinates external relations with local communities for First Solar’s utility scale projects located on the central coast of California. Legg has a keen understanding of the importance of balancing social and economic development with environmental protection and quality of life. Dawn is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Cuesta Sustainability Resource Center, the San Luis Obispo County Economic Vitality Corporation (EVC) and recently joined the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival board. She holds a Masters in International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) with a focus on climate change and technology. Dawn is the proud mom of 20 yr old Georgia Gaydeen Legg.
Paul Metchik is an attorney in San Luis Obispo, specializing in real estate and business transactions and tax planning. He loves film and has supported the performing arts in SLO County for many years, through his family’s involvement. Sons Aaron and Asher have performed in numerous plays, and his wife Robyn is the former drama teacher at Paulding and Mesa Middle Schools and Nipomo High School in south county. Paul has done everything from promoting the shows, to loading scenery, to buying pizza for the cast. Paul also recently experienced the ‘art of filmmaking’ as the Executive Producer of 10 YEARS LATER, an independent feature film, written and directed by Aaron, which was shot entirely on the Central Coast of California. This is Paul’s 10th year with the SLO International Film Festival Board.
Susan hails from back east (born in Manhattan, raised in Queens) but has gradually and gratefully worked her way to California. After graduating from Brown as an English major she spent a year in India on a Fulbright and a year in Amsterdam teaching at an international school. She returned to New York and was assistant editor of Evergreen Review (Grove Press) until moving to Boston to attend medical school. After completing her training in diagnostic radiology she moved to Tucson where she was the only female partner in a 30-”man” group. She and her (now late) husband Allen retired to the Central Coast at the end of the last millennium. She has served on the county Health Commission and on the boards of the SLO Symphony and Hearst Cancer Resource Center, but says this (SLOIFF) is the BEST! She lives with her two standard poodles in Los Osos and San Francisco.
Brigetta Walsh earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from UNC Charlotte, and then ventured to San Luis Obispo from the east coast in 1997. She obtained an MBA from Cal Poly and worked in the Energy Industry in management and consulting. Active in local events including Mardi Gras, Brigetta had the pleasure of presenting Morgan Freeman the King Vidor Award at the 2006 SLOIFF! After relocating back to San Luis Obispo from Kauai in 2012, she picked up where she left off, volunteering at the SLOIFF event “ACCIDENTAL ICON: The Real Gidget Story” and was hooked. She was thrilled when approached by the Board to take over the Treasurer position. Brigetta lives in SLO with her husband and young daughter where she enjoys running, surfing, traveling, and all things film!
For the past 20 years, Tom has worked as a writer, producer and director on numerous internationally distributed documentary and educational films. His most recent, the award-winning “Botso”, became the Critics Pick of the New York Times. After graduating from Cal Poly, he received additional training at the Sony Institute and at the American Film Institute in Hollywood. In 2014, Walters was awarded an Artist In Residence position at the Napa Valley Film Festival.
Josh Brolin has roots in the Central Coast area, having grown up in Templeton, CA before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager. In a high school production there he caught the acting bug, which led him to his feature film debut in Steven Spielberg’s GOONIES. That role led to many more in movies and television, including a long-lasting TV series, “The Young Riders”. While on hiatus from that show he co-founded the Reflections Festival at the GeVa Theatre in Rochester, NY, giving him the opportunity to act and direct. More movie roles came his way and he honed his craft in film, TV and theatre. In 2000, Brolin made his Broadway debut in Sam Shepard’s TRUE WEST (some of the cast wore caps from Templeton Grain and Feed in the show.) His appearance in GRINDHOUSE marked the beginning of a career rebirth that saw Brolin landing roles worthy of his untapped talents. A small but memorable role in IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH followed and the next two films, AMERICAN GANGSTER and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN launched Josh Brolin into the spotlight. Roles in Sean Penn’s MILK and Oliver Stone’s, W ensure that he will be in the spotlight for many years to come. He has recently begun directing and appeared at the 2008 SLOIFF for a screening of his first short film, X, starring his daughter Eden Brolin and Vincent Riverside.
Born in Los Angeles, actor and activist James Cromwell is the son of Actress Kay Johnson and John Cromwell, a blacklisted director who served as one of the first presidents of the Director’s Guild. An early activist himself, went south after the Freedom Rides to join the Free Southern Theater; an integrated company that toured the south. Cromwell has directed at resident theatres across the country and was the founder and Artistic Director of his own company, Stage West, in Springfield, Massachusetts. After returning to Hollywood, Cromwell received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar ® nomination for his memorable performance as Farmer Hoggett in the smash-hit, “Babe.” Cromwell’s recent motion picture work includes “L.A. Confidential,” “Space Cowboys,” “The Green Mile,” “The General’s Daughter,” “Snow Falling on Cedars,” “The Bachelor,” “The Sum of All Fears”, “The Queen,” and “W.” He has earned Emmy nominations for his work on the HBO original series, “Six Feet Under,” the HBO movie, “RKO 281,” and the NBC drama, “ER.”
Cromwell continues to be very active in theatre, in many of the country’s most distinguished theatres, including the South Coast Repertory, the Goodman Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, the American Shakespeare Festival, Center Stage, the Long Wharf Theatre and the Old Globe. In addition to his work with countless charities, and initiatives, Cromwell has served as a board member for both S.A.G. and A.F.T.R.A. and as Secretary Treasurer of S.A.G. He received the King Vidor Award from the SLOIFF in 2007 and has been a supporter of the Festival ever since, attending almost every year as an avid filmgoer, workshop instructor and/or a competition judge.
Jim was born in Hackensack, NJ and lived for short stints in Nevada, New Mexico and southern California, before ending up in San Luis Obispo in 1965. During Jr. High, High School and as a journalism major at Cal Poly, Jim spent 90% of his time at Cal Poly’s radio station, KCPR. As a college student, he started an on-again off-again film club called The Cinema Zoo with artist (and current SLOIFF board member) Paul Karlen, who went on to design the Rainbow Theatre and Palm Theatre logos. Jim opened the single-screened Rainbow Theatre in 1979 in San Luis Obispo and owned and managed it until it closed in 1989. He opened The Palm Theatre in August 1988, and since them it has become the home of the SLO International Film Festival, and is now one of the only solar-operated movie theatres in the world. Jim was one of the original founders of the SLOIFF and we are delighted to have him on the Advisory Board.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Norman Jewison graduated from the University of Toronto, and then moved to London, England, where he gained valuable experience not only writing scripts, but acting in BBC programs. Upon his return to Toronto in 1952, he began directing TV shows for the CBC. His outstanding work caught the eye of bigwigs in New York, and in 1958, CBS signed him to a contract. He worked on The Judy Garland Show as producer and director from 1962 to 1963, before making his film directing debut with “40 Pounds of Trouble”. Since then, he has taken little time off from making movies, with hits such as “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming”, “In the Heat of the Night”, which won the Academy Award® for Best Picture; “The Thomas Crowne Affair”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Rollerball”, firmly establishing him as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished and respected directors.
Jewison not only directs, but he also writes screenplays and produces many of the films he has directed, as well as those of other directors. In 1986, he established the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies in Toronto, to help upcoming filmmakers and actors get their start. Not one to be satisfied to rest on his multitude of laurels, Jewison has continued to produce and direct highly acclaimed films, including “Agnes of God”, “Moonstruck”, which earned him an Academy Award® nomination for Best Director, “Other People’s Money”, and “The Hurricane”. A winner of awards from film festivals and film societies around the world, Jewison has been nominated personally for four Oscars® and his films have received 45 nominations and 12 Academy Awards®. In 1999, he received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Award at the Academy Awards®. In 1988 he received an honorary Genie for founding the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies; in 1998 he received the Canadian Film Centre Lifetime Achievement Award; and he has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. In 2007, he received SLOIFF’s King Vidor Award and has been a guest of the Festival several times since then, including coming back to San Luis Obispo to present the 2010 King Vidor Award to friend and colleague, Alan Arkin.
Raised by two film-loving parents in various California towns, Steve Leone moved to the San Luis Obispo area in 1998 from Fresno to take a job as a full-time English instructor at Cuesta College. Before then, he enjoyed work as a disc jockey, a weekly columnist, a concert promoter, a radio music director, and a facilitation trainer. Since receiving tenure at Cuesta in 2002 teaching composition, film and literature, Steve has found the time to learn surfing and travel abroad. Steve also co-edits Cuesta’s annual student literary journal TELLUS and is the co-organizer of a monthly film and discussion series for Cuesta faculty and staff called “Flex Flicks.” Steve brings to the Festival a passion for independent, character-driven films, and he considers himself a life-long learner and a student of world cinema. He was on the Festival Board for six years and was President of the Board for three of those years.
Anthony Peckham – Screenwriter (bio coming)
John Sorgenfrei is the owner and president of Tom Jones & Associates. TJA is one of the oldest and largest full service marketing firms on the Central Coast. John graduated from the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California and has been involved in the advertising agency business for over twenty-eight years. John has served as a Branch Manager for several national and international advertising agencies in Southern California.
Wendy Eidson – Festival Director
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Wendy got her first job at 14 as a production assistant on a television series, and that was it . . . she was hooked. After graduation from college and a short stint at art school, she began working full-time as an assistant director, working on many film and TV productions, including A CHRISTMAS STORY, SUSPECT, A NEW LIFE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and many more. Wendy met her husband, Tim, while traveling in the South Pacific and in 1989, they moved to San Luis Obispo to start a family and a mail-order food business called Mo Hotta – Mo Betta. They successfully grew the business, selling it in 2000. They also successfully grew the children – Jonathan (26) and Hanna (22). From 2001-2004, Wendy was the Executive Director of the SLO Little Theatre, and a year later became the Artistic Director of the SLOIFF. In 2007, she became the festival’s full-time director. Wendy finally had the chance to write, shoot, and edit her first short documentary, “Real Men Knit” in 2007 and hopes to have time for more creative pursuits in the near future.
Nancy Ross-Joynt – Assistant to the Director
Chris Aho – Development Director
Originally from Santa Barbara, CA, Chris graduated from UCSB and Pepperdine University. He successfully completed his “first career” in the electronics industry, which also gave him the opportunity to live in four different countries and travel the world. Since relocating to beautiful San Luis Obispo County in 2001, he has found his true calling in the area of charity fundraising. Working for local agencies like Hospice of SLO and the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County, he has been heavily involved with fundraising events, grants, and public and donor relations. Besides reviewing films, he also enjoys hiking all around our beautiful area with his partner Nora and their two dogs.