Danville Express

Column - March 2, 2007

Diablo Views: The envelope, please

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Newspapers reported Monday morning that the Academy Awards on Sunday evening were a drag. Perhaps for anyone watching it on TV at home. But for those of us at the Danville Village Theatre it was a fun evening, with stars bigger than life on a 15-foot screen, friends to chat with, and a food table to visit during the slow moments. Not to mention a wine bar.

The Danville Oscar Night was a fundraiser for the fourth annual Danville International Children's Film Festival, which will take place May 18-20. Tickets for $25 included food, wine and soft drinks, and watching the awards on the big screen with a great sound system. As my friend Maria and I approached the theater, we could smell the popcorn and were greeted by representatives from sponsor AT&T who gave out pens and other goodies. We each drew the name of a nominee so we had a chance to become a winner, too. A red carpet was rolled out to one side, and there were huge cardboard cutouts of stars.

But don't think the Danville event was lacking live celebrities. The Queen of England herself - aka Stephanie Petermeier - was there in honor of the nominated movie, "The Queen." Petermeier is the volunteer coordinator for the California Independent Film Festival, which produces the Children's Film Festival. But most of the audience was dressed casually, and I was thankful not to have to put on an evening gown or get my makeup done.

Another celebrity in attendance was young Stephanie Brock, who won top honors last year at the Children's Film Festival for best young animation with her entry, "Fiddley Cat." She stood and waved after being introduced by festival director Tim Neeley.

Neeley came onto the stage during each commercial break to give out prizes based on that segment's winners. Mayor Mike Shimansky won the prize for best cinematography because he had drawn the winner's name. Neeley also had trivia contests, as well as drawings, and gave a grand prize of a huge gift basket at the end for the person who had predicted the most Oscar winners. He kept us well entertained during commercials.

Neeley also told stories about when he lived in Los Angeles and attended the Academy Awards as a member of the press. It's a long day for reporters, he said. "We had to get there almost five or six hours before the celebrities arrived on the red carpet." Then the press had to stay in one room with a TV monitor, and the winners were brought to them one by one. "Hundreds of the press were in there, screaming out questions," Neeley recalled. Then he went to the Oscars in 1995 as a guest and had a seat upstairs. "We had a great time," he reported. Upstairs, the guests party hearty while the nominees on the main floor are on display and not allowed to drink, he explained.

My mother-in-law Juanita still remembers stumbling onto the Oscars during a vacation to Los Angeles with my father-in-law and another couple in the 1940s. They saw a crowd gathering on some bleachers by an entrance and were told it was for the Academy Awards. They took seats in the bleachers and watched as the stars made their way out of limousines and down the red carpet. "We saw all the movies stars but the only one I remember now is Joan Crawford," Juanita reminisced recently. "Everyone was calling, 'Hi, Joanie! Hi, Joanie!' She waved."

It's definitely more fun to watch the awards with a crowd. We laughed at Ellen Degeneres' better lines and applauded at many parts. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was us and what came from the loudspeakers. During the less riveting moments, we talked among ourselves. The event was run casually, with occasional announcements being made: "There's more pizza in the lobby." Everyone made themselves at home.

Neeley estimated about 150 people attended the Danville Oscars, so hopefully the event raised a few thousand dollars to help the Children's Film Festival continue its exciting work for the fourth year. If the evening was a little long, blame the Hollywood organizers, not those in Danville. Now I have some catching up to do with my movie viewing - I'll see you at the movies.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.


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