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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

The Outside the Box Bakersfield Film Festival planners included: front row from left, Scott Fieber, Rob Meszaros, Cynthia Lake, Joe Brown, Melanie Farmer and Dale Oprandy. In the back are Bob Bender, Rick Davis and Lili Marsh.

They're hoping for a blockbuster, will settle for a receptive audience and -- no matter what the box-office returns yield -- there will be a sequel.

In fact, the creators of the inaugural Outside the Box Bakersfield Film Festival, whose three-day run kicks off Friday, are thinking franchise in their quest to make the city a destination for serious filmmakers in search of audiences looking to be inspired, moved and challenged.

But first festival co-founder Rick Davis has to laminate a bunch of badges, proof the programs, figure out how to get his Mac Playback server to debug a stack of videos and about a jillion other tasks, big and small, all vital to pulling this thing off.

"I'm kind of a busy guy," said the gregarious Davis, with uncharacteristic understatement, just a week and some change shy of opening day.

Considering the scope of the movie marathon, it's understandable why things are so hectic for Davis and the dozen or so others working on the event, not the first film festival in Bakersfield but by far the largest and most ambitious.

Film fans will have the opportunity to see 44 "official selections" -- or 21 hours of film total -- over the course of three days. All the films fall into one of four categories: spiritual, veterans, mainstream independent or special needs, meaning the films were made by or about people with disabilities.

And that's just during the day.

The evening programs emphasize Hollywood-style glitz, with red carpet, "credentialed" paparazzi from Los Angeles, gala receptions, screenings of high-profile movies and at least one confirmed legit celebrity: Joe Mantegna, of the CBS series "Criminal Minds." The actor is promoting the documentary "Choc'late Soldiers from the USA," which will screen Friday night, as will "Through the Heart of Tango," a film made by Inclusion Films, owned and operated by festival co-founder Joey Travolta (brother of John).

Saturday evening highlights the veterans track of the festival. On the slate of special screenings are the movies "National Honor Flight," "Honor Flight Kern County" and "Wounded Warriors," a salute to troops serving overseas starring Jonathan Davis, lead singer of Korn (and son of festival co-founder Rick Davis).

"There will be a red carpet and cars pulling up and dropping people off," Rick Davis said. "Others might want to rent a limo and get dressed up. Judges will be arriving, our filmmakers will walk the carpet. Attire will be everything from evening gowns to jeans. This is Bakersfield. Someone asked me about a dress code and I said, 'Wear clothes.'"

The festival will conclude Sunday with a ceremony that will award the top filmmakers -- based on the opinions of seven industry judges and two local experts -- with a combined $5,000 in prize money. In the special needs category, an award will be presented in honor of Jett Travolta -- the late son of John Travolta and actress Kelly Preston -- who was autistic. Though the celebrities will not be present for the festivities, Davis said they will have a hand in selecting the first-ever recipient of the honor.

"They will pick the person they feel in the disability track who shows the most vision and potential. It's a family award."

Here we go, but will they come?

It was December of last year, in his capacity as president of the nonprofit Fox Theater Foundation board, that Davis got the nudge he needed to get going.

"I'm sitting here retired, thinking I could put on a dandy film festival. I left that at the back of my head and ran into Joey Travolta last year, and he wanted to use the Fox for his own special needs film festival.

"After we had that great success, we looked at each other and said, 'You know, we can do this on a bigger scale.'"

At that point, the two cast the net wider, contacting Joe Brown, who organizes a Christian film festival, and Bob Bender, who worked in the music business in Nashville for many years.

"We knew to do it right, it would be a major endeavor," Davis said.

The committee eventually grew to include Scott Fieber, Rob Meszaros, Cynthia Lake, Melanie Farmer, Lili Marsh, Sharilene Yonan and Dale Oprandy.

The first order of business was money and, more specifically, where to get it.

"We have raised $42,000 in cash sponsorships from the community and raised another $21,000 in in-kind support," like the loan of vehicles from Porsche of Bakersfield, rooms at the Marriott, snacks from Paramount Farms and other similar donations, Davis said.

But all the ambition and effort in the world will be for nothing if the festival can't draw an audience, an unknown variable that is Davis' biggest concern.

"If you smile at a person and say, 'You wanna come to a film festival,' they'll say, 'Great. What's a film festival?'" said Davis, the retired director of the county's Board of Trade, which oversees the local film commission.

In answer, Davis points out that while most festivals share the basics -- hours and hours of film with a competitive component -- the Bakersfield version stands apart in the niche organizers are emphasizing: mostly inspirational films, all of which fall into the G-to-PG-13 range.

"This is a family-focused event," Davis said. "There's very little sexual content, even in the sense of innuendos."

The screening committee pored over nearly 70 films to get to the 44 they chose for inclusion. About half the selections are local, while the others come from as far away as New York and Florida.

"I am extremely pleased with the mix we have. Putting my old film commissioner and champion of Kern County hat on, you always need to provide a stage for local creativity.

Davis said he was moved by several of the films, including:

"Six Days on a Raft," about a World War II vet "and his relationship with his Lord."

"Milwood," about a young man who loses his parents and is forced into a home for wayward kids.

"Walking in my Sleep," which follows a man with cerebral palsy. "I almost get choked up thinking about it," Davis said, his voice husky with emotion. "When you see him say it takes him 10 minutes to put his pants on, it reminded me and I think it will remind other people how good some of us have it. These are people with disabilities who don't let that stop their vision."

"Wheelchair Diaries," shot in Paris, about a man's futile attempt to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. "It shows what a six-inch curb can do to a person in a wheelchair."

"That's the power of movies," Davis said. "The purpose of cinema reminds you that there's so much more out there than what you've seen over the last 24 hours in your life."

As for next year's festival, Davis already has learned a thing or two -- like that he needs to start planning for it about 10 minutes after this one is over. He and his committee also see potential to expand the event beyond its primary location of the Fox Theater, though the idea is to keep the action downtown.

"Great stories can be told without a million dollars or $100 million budget. For a $20 ticket, to come see seven hours worth of incredible, fresh creativity is a heck of a deal."