William Randolph Hearst wouldn’t be happy to hear that Orson Welles’ groundbreaking film “Citizen Kane” is screening at his own private theater at Hearst Castle.
But for film buffs, the chance to see Welles’ 1941 thinly disguised — and scathing — account of the newspaper magnate in the historic screening room is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On Friday, the 21st San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and the Friends of Hearst Castle are screening the film in the 50-seat Hilltop Theater where Hearst used to entertain his famous friends, including many Hollywood glitterati.
The $1,000-per-person screening, which is a fundraiser for the festival and the Friends of Hearst Castle, will also include a VIP tour of the historical landmark and a reception. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, who is the grandson of “Kane” co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, will introduce the movie.
“We actually showed ‘Citizen Kane’ in the Visitor’s Center theater in 2010, and that sold out in half an hour,” said festival director Wendy Eidson.
Screening the masterpiece in the historical theater, Eidson said, “sounded like something that might be a little bit more elusive.” Fortunately, Stephen Hearst, the vice president and general manager of Hearst Corp.'s Western Properties, gave his blessing to the festival to screen “Citizen Kane” in his great-grandfather’s theater.
The festival, which opened March 10 and continues through March 15, has changed dramatically in the last decade.
“The first 10 years of the festival were almost all old films,” said Eidson. “It was like the Turner Classic Movie Festival now.”
The festival, she said, is now “much more cutting edge with new films that haven’t been released yet,” she noted. About 10,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event.
“What has been encouraging is the attendance within the county has been growing in the past couple of years,” said Eidson. “We are starting to reach into the younger market now. For many years, I wanted to get Cal Poly [San Luis Obispo] involved in the festival, and now we are involved with them in different ways.”
The documentary “Fear No Fruit” will be screening at the university, noted Eidson. “Their design class did our festival poster. It’s nice to be able to tap into that younger audience.”
One of the most popular events of the festival is “Surf Nite at the SLO,” which celebrates its 10th edition March 11 evening. This year, the festival is presenting Greg MacGillivray and Sam George’s documentary “Hollywood Don’t Surf!,” followed by the presentation of the festival’s Spotlight Award to writer-director John Milius and a screening of his 1978 film “Big Wednesday.”
“Our first ‘Surf Night’ we did as an experiment because we knew there were surfers around here that might really enjoy something like that,” Eidson said.
“It has become a very kind of fun and exciting event for surfers and cinema lovers on the Central Coast,” said Lincoln Forrest Phipps, a producer of “Hollywood Don’t Surf!”
The documentary, which is having its California premiere, chronicles some 50 years of surf movies and features interviews with Milius, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg and the real-life Gidget — Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman.
“Big Wednesday,” which was a flop in 1978, has become a cult classic, noted Phipps.
“It was rediscovered by surfers and filmmakers even to the point that Quentin calls it the most beloved surf film ever made. It was a phoenix rising from the ashes and now is considered the closest and best representation of the sport to date.”
The festival also will present Peter Bogdanovich with the 21st King Vidor Award for Excellence in Filmmaking on Saturday evening followed by a screening of his 1971 masterpiece, “The Last Picture Show.”
Other highlights include a 30th anniversary screening of “The Breakfast Club” and a tribute to its late writer-director, John Hughes, and a presentation of Vidor’s 1928 silent classic, “The Crowd.”
21st San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
Where, when: Various locations and times through March 15.