Zac Efron – Shining Star Award (Wednesday, June 16, 8pm, Celestial Cinema) Depending on whether you’re a preteen girl or everybody else, your response to this one will likely be, “OMG! OMG! OMG!” or, “huh?” Not to disparage Efron; he’s clearly good at what he does–being a likable, inoffensive teen idol, lucrative Disney marketing tool and ubiquitous pop culture force. Even if you haven’t seen High School Musical, you’ve seen High School Musical. But for a festival that has, in the past, generally chosen its honorees based on acting or directing ability rather than star wattage, this is a bit of a head-scratcher. Then again, here we are talking about it, so maybe that’s the point. Perhaps we should just embrace our inner 12-year-old and roll with the OMG.
EDIT: After posting this, I posed the question via Twitter: Was I too harsh on Efron, or not harsh enough? @sleepforfun thought I was “Wayyy too harsh” and “could’ve at least mentioned the films he did BESIDES high school musical.” Fair enough. Here they are, per IMDB, in chronological order (leaving off some early bit parts): High School Musical 2, Hairspray, Me and Orson Welles, High School Musical 3: Senior Year and 17 Again. Not sure if that bolsters his case as a serious actor–Me and Orson Welles was well-reviewed but not always because of Efron; as the critic for the Philadelphia Weekly put it, “the only problem is the me [Efron].” But it certainly draws a more complete picture of his career arc thus far.
Taylor Steele – Beacon Award (Thursday, June 17, 8pm, Celestial Cinema) Steele is at the festival because he directed Castles in the Sky, but this honor goes much deeper than that. For nearly two decades, Steele has been riding the lip of the surf doc world, churning out award-winning–and genre-stretching–films that embrace the dreamy essence of the sport and celebrate the hardworking slackers who populate it. And he’s maintained his indie cred, with his own production company (Poor Specimen) and a commitment to showcasing undiscovered or up-and-coming talent, both on the waves and on his soundtracks (he’s credited with featuring the music of Jack Johnson before it was blaring out of every tiki hut and ABC Store). A recent review of Castles in the Sky in Surfer magazine summed up the appeal of Steele’s films: “The lack of inscribed clutter frees the viewer to focus on the beauty of the landscapes, people, and surfing…people who know nothing of the industry, and don’t care what the surfers’ names are, can still appreciate the film for is visual elegance.”