Lunafest spotlights players — and filmmakers — who've got game

Angela Alford spent three months, silently, on the sidelines.

The former professional athlete, who is 6-foot-5 and played for Vanderbilt University and USA Basketball in the 1990s, had a hard time believing the scene unfolding in front of her. A senior women's amateur basketball team from Raleigh, N.C., her hometown, was battling it out on the court.

"I thought they must be genetic anomalies to still be playing in their 70s," she said. "Surely they just didn't age like the rest of us."

What started out as giving advice on a shot or calling out encouragement from the bleachers led to her coaching the Fabulous 70s at the National Senior Games in Texas in 2011.

With that experience, the now-38-year-old Alford, who went on to direct a short and full-length movie about the players, both titled "Granny's Got Game," believes she blurred the lines between filmmaker and subject. She wouldn't have it any other way, though.

"It turns out that they have the same aches and pains as we all do, but they love the game and they love each other, so they keep playing together," she said. "I still check on them in practice. I sell them Girl Scout cookies from my daughter. They are like grandmothers to my kids."

Alford's 10-minute version of "Granny's Got Game" will screen Saturday as part of Lunafest. The event, established in 2000 by the makers of the Luna Bar, advertised as a nutrition bar for women, is a traveling film festival that highlights shorts "by, for and about women."

Between October and June, Lunafest travels to more than 150 locations in North America. In recent months, it has made stops in Florida, Ohio, Kansas City, Connecticut and elsewhere and expects an estimated 250,000 viewers to attend its 2013-14 season. The program attracts 950 submissions every year and pays $1,000 to each filmmaker who makes the cut.

Also, 100% of the net proceeds go to charity, with 924 organizations that assist women having been aided to date. Eighty-five percent of Lunafest's earnings, which have so far translated to $1.25 million, is channeled toward causes local to each hosting city, such as the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma, YWCA of Missoula and Theatre Workshop of Nantucket. The remaining 15% — roughly $656,000 — has been donated to the Breast Cancer Fund, the festival's main beneficiary.

In Orange County, Soroptimist International Newport Harbor Area and the Zonta Club Newport Harbor have teamed up to host Lunafest from 6 to 9 p.m. at the St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.

"Lunafest resonated with who we are as a club," said Dalia Badajos, president of Soroptimist International's local chapter. "They are focused on supporting women filmmakers, directors and producers, which is a minority group in the film industry, who are making movies focused on women, locally and globally."

Badajos' group, which works to improve the lives of women and girls socially and economically, will present Lunafest for the fifth time on Saturday. Last year, nearly 100 people turned out to view the films, and she estimates that this year's turnout will exceed that number. Attendees can also look forward to some auction items and a taco dinner.

Venetia Taylor's "Date with Fate," about the perils and pleasures of blind dating, "First Match," a film by Olivia Newman that features a female wrestler on the verge of her first co-ed high school tournament, and Alexandra Liveris' "Maria of Many," spotlighting a Mexican immigrant, activist and mother by the same name, are on tap for the night.

Alford, the only first-time filmmaker at Lunafest, is a software engineer who decided not to return to the cubicle after her second child was born. She began toying with video editing and homed in on an interest in documenting people's experiences.

She heard about the senior league players through a friend who previously trained them. They started as the Fabulous 50s, then became the Fabulous 60s and so on — changing their name as they moved up in age divisions and even faced breast cancer and heart arrhythmias along the way.

"I'm coming up on 40, my knees are getting creaky and I was wondering how much longer it's appropriate for me to keep playing," Alford said, laughing. "I just never thought I'd find people in their mid-70s playing basketball."

The women were introduced to basketball in the 1950s — a time when they weren't allowed to play by the same rules as their male counterparts. They stayed active by coaching their children and picking up tennis and softball and, 20 years ago, heard of senior leagues and created one of their own.

Since then, they've played at the county, state and national levels, winning a multitude of awards. They're currently in the 75-and-over category, Alford said, and plan to stick around long enough to be part of the 80-plus group.

"This is really a story about how they've become a family and have really supported each other as they've gone through health problems, and one even lost her husband," she said. "They're still very competitive, and the games get rough. They have a great ability to play and can even make jump shots and three-pointers."

In developing "Granny's Got Game," Alford, who at the time was enrolled in a course at Duke University, appealed to the players' grandmotherly side. She asked for help with her homework, since she needed to complete a video project to earn her certificate in documentary studies — which she did with their support.

When the film debuted at Lunafest in San Francisco in October, viewers started out laughing. But 10 minutes later, their mouths were agape, she said, out of sheer respect for the women.

When Alford's acceptance letter arrived from Lunafest, it landed in her spam folder. Her initial disbelief was replaced quickly by overwhelming joy over the opportunity to share "Granny's Got Game" with people across the country, all while supporting social initiatives.

"I certainly feel that it's a great story, but my selection is more a reflection of how people fall in love with these women than of my filmmaking capabilities," she said. "It's not just about basketball — it's about friendship."

If You Go

What: Lunafest

Where: St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 2200 San Joaquin Hills Road, Newport Beach

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $40 and includes dinner

Information: http://www.lunafest.org

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