Oh, ANDY!

Andy Garcia goes indie at the La Costa Film Festival.



Andy Garcia sat across from me at the patio table outside his suite, where a party gathered of supporting actors, writers and friends—people who had collaborated on the film “At Middleton,” starring Garcia and Vera Farmiga. The indie film would make its La Costa debut in just a few hours, as a low evening mist gathered around the La Costa Resort and Spa in what Garcia described as “an emotional setting” for the festival. He liked it.

I may have been a little star-stuck. He is, after all, cinema royalty—known for his notorious Mancini character and numerous A-list pairings in major blockbuster hits. As he swirled his red wine and puffed a cigar, his demeanor left a ring of relaxed energy about him.

From a distance, Hollywood and its regime of CG robots and raunchy-humored Romeos looks more like a pop standard and less like an evolution of big talent on the big screens. It’s left some critics exhausted and nostalgic. So when I got a chance to sit down with Garcia to pick his brain about making films, that was exactly where I wanted to start.

“The great curiosity is why doesn’t a script like [‘At Middleton’] ever get picked up by a studio immediately,” Garcia said. “I think everyone’s opinion was that it was too ‘small.’” Clearly he meant without the robots.

“But the microcosm of a relationship could be a very big movie,” he continued.

Enter independent film festivals. These multi-cinema, screening events have been around before Hollywood was…well, Hollywood. The first took place in Venice in 1932, a fest that’s still one of the largest and most prestigious in the world. There are approximately 3,000 documented festivals happening annually, in every language, celebrating every genre—from the impact of music in film to horror fests—and now, North County San Diego joins the ranks with an emphasis on sport documentary, a genre that fits the Carlsbad lifestyle, yoga studios and all.

“It’s hard to know what [Hollywood executives] say behind closed doors, Garcia said. “They say ‘thank you,’ ‘good luck’ and ‘have a nice day,’ and you have to ask yourself, ‘What are you prepared to do to make this movie?’”

The conundrum of creative liberation during the digital era is widely due in part to these “doors” becoming increasingly more commercial. The importance of independent film festivals—whatever genre or size—has never been greater, providing a platform for local, national and international voices to impact audiences the world over.

So how does someone like Andy Garcia, get involved in an indie film? What kind of luck did the writers have on their side?

“I read the script and had an emotional reaction to the charm of it. I saw the character and got stimulated by him,” Garcia explained. “I knew the writing would attract a good cast, and that’s the key when you’re making an independent film.”

Garcia got up and introduced me to Glenn German, the film’s co-writer, who had plenty of hilarious anecdotes about Garcia preparing for his roll as George, a bowtie wearing heart surgeon. Imagine Andy Garcia inside a Brooks Brothers clothing store, taking pictures of himself on his iPhone. That’s exactly where the pictures on German’s phone came from, as Garcia attempted to discover his character internally.

“For me it was more like Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd that kind of throwback,” Garcia recalled. “When Adam and Glen came to me, what they had was passion for the piece and the script, but there was nothing else. There was no financial backing or structure. We just had to shake hands and try to produce it.”

“At Middleton” was shot entirely in 20 days using only available light, less a few interior shots. “It’s not trying to be glossy,” Garcia said. “There’s nothing artificial about it. Whatever you see is natural, and it grounds the movie. The real thing is in the script. The writing was right on point. Always moving forward—beautifully constructed.”

Whether or not the growing popularity of film festivals will beg reconsideration from the powers that be is undecided. But as Garcia and his colleagues squeezed together on the red carpet for photos, it’s clear that it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.