SLO Film Fest: Katharine Ross and Hollywood Dynasties
Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 1:16PM
NATHANIEL R in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, California, Katharine Ross, Maria Newman, SLO, The Graduate, concerts, film festivals, parties and events

by Nathaniel R

The opening night event about to begin

Film Festivals are a joy so we rarely pass up the opportunity to discover a new one. We're here in sunny but brisk San Luis Obispo (it's March in California) for the 25th annual edition of their film festival. San Luis Obispo was once named "the Happiest Place in America," by Oprah Winfrey, and at least four locals (kid you not!) tell us this within hours of our arrival! Does it live up to the title? It's hard to say but we did meet a gorgeous super nice 30something couple (hi Connie & Michael) who invited us to sit at their table at the opening night party and they seemed pretty happy to be there. Everyone else did, too. The fairly universal thing about film festival gathering is that everyone seems happy to be right there. Films were meant to be seen in groups, something we hope we don't lose with  'watch it on your phone / at home' ease of streaming.  It's the primal sitting 'round the fire' to listen to stories instinct. 

Speaking of old forms of storytelling, the opening night festivities went way back, pairing spoken word with music...

The beautiful Fremont

The festival staff, introducing the artists, implied that they didn't know what to call this form but I think it would fit neatly in the old school format of the radio play. We all gathered in the beautiful Fremont Theater on Monterey Street (San Luis Obispo is a small enough town that all the festival venues are within walking distance of each other downtown) for a performance by the Malibu Coast Silent Film Orchestra, headed by composer Maria Newman with her viola. Along with the normal musicians introduced (piano, cello, violin, viola) we also got two young men introduced as "storm percussion" and "train whistle." Ha! That's the sound effects don'cha know since the story being told was an adaptation of "Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express" recited by Oscar-nominated actress Katharine Ross (The Graduate); Alas, dear readers, I regret to inform that Katharine's recently celebrated husband Sam Elliott was nowhere to be seen. Trust that I did look for him!

Butch Cassidy's famous bicycle sceneRoss & Hoffman in The Graduate

After the performance, there was a short conversation with Ross and Newman before a screening of the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), one of Ross's four iconic films (the others being The Graduate, The Stepford Wives and Donnie Darko) and four is more than a lot of actors get! The conversation mostly centered around Butch Cassidy's bicycle scene (largely improvised by Paul Newman and she -- she was in pain because riding on handlebars all day aint comfy!) and The Graduate. Ross believed it was Dustin Hoffman who suggested Simon & Garfunkel since the cast was asked to bring in music they love but after saying so she immediately second-guessed her memory given how many years had passed  'I might be making this up!' And the elderly crowds and festival talking heads were feeling thirsty. Ross was introduced by a male festival organizer with an "I had a crush on her -- we all had a crush on her in the late 60s" style intro and later the female director of the fest' was marvelling to Ross with envy "Paul Newman AND Robert Redford... not too shabby!"

Katharine Ross and Maria Newman (and Maria Newman's son) at the eventWhile they didn't mention this in the conversation, we learned later that Maria Newman is part of that musician dynasty that began with nine-time Oscar winning Alfred Newman (of All About Eve, How Green Was My Valley, Black Swan and many other classics fame) so frequently Oscar-nominated  Thomas Newman and Randy Newman are her brother and cousin, respectively.

Why do we mention this last bit? Well, San Luis Obispo is kind of an odd population mix. It's a college town so there are a lot of students but due to the ideal weather and being nestled inbetween big metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco, some festivalgoers told us that a lot of Hollywood types retire here as well or in neighboring towns. In short, many film legends or their descendants populate the Central Coast. It's probably the ideal weather but we're choosing to believe that all that magical Hollywood DNA is why SLO is one of the happiest towns in America. 

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
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