Freestyle: ‘CSI’ star jumps in at HIFF

Oct. 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

'CSI' star Jorja Fox, in Honolulu for the screening of animal-advocacy documentary 'Lion Ark,' posed for a photo at the Halekulani during the Hawaii International Film Festival's Opening Night reception on Oct. 10. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

“CSI” star Jorja Fox, in Honolulu for the screening of animal-advocacy documentary “Lion Ark,” posed for a photo at the Halekulani during the Hawaii International Film Festival’s opening night reception on Thursday, Oct. 10. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

The 33rd Hawaii International Film Festival started off with a buzz of energy on Thursday, Oct. 10.

A cheery crowd of filmmakers, actors, producers and staunch film fans mixed over stylish small bites, wine and cocktails at an opening night party at the Halekulani in Waikiki, as organizers flitted about and dignitaries, including Mayor Kirk Caldwell, greeted the fest.

33rd Hawaii International Film Festival

» Where: Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18, Consolidated Koko Marina 8, Doris Duke Theatre and Hawaii Theatre
» When: Today, Oct. 11, through Oct. 20 on Oahu; Oct. 24-27 on Hawaii island and Kauai
» Cost: $8-$12; $20 for “The Haumana”
» Info: (808) 447-0577 or hiff.org
» Note: “Lion Ark” screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 and 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Consolidated Koko Marina 8; Jorja Fox, Tim Phillips and Jan Creamer will be at the Oct. 12 screening at Dole Cannery along with the Hawaiian Humane Society’s Natalie Lukashevsky and Maria Glidden

The evening was especially fantastic for me, as I was able to sit down for an animated and uplifting talk with Jorja Fox, who plays Sara on “CSI,” one of contemporary television’s most popular and long-running series. The actor, who also appeared on “ER” and in a story arc on “The West Wing,” seems to have a knack for connecting with popular television dramas.

Fox was in Hawaii to promote the documentary “Lion Ark,” along with producers/filmmakers/activists Tim Phillips and Jan Creamer, founders of Animal Defenders International.

The film depicts the rescue of 25 African lions from Bolivian circuses, in the wake of a 2010 law prohibiting the use of animals in traveling shows. Phillips and Creamer, who’ve made their first full-length film with “Lion Ark,” were right there every step of the way.

The subject matter is dramatic and gripping — the quest brought the filmmakers into remote parts of Bolivia, and often circuses were not cooperative. In the film’s opening scenes, a circus operator, waving a knife, slashes their tires to try to prevent a rescue.

It also has a happy ending, as Fox and the filmmakers take pains to point out: All of the lions at risk were airlifted out of Bolivia, finding a home at a sprawling sanctuary in Colorado, where a giant (80-acre) protective enclosure was custom-built for the lions to help them adjust to the colder climate.

“I like to think of it as an action-adventure-dramedy,” Fox said, partially joking. “There are some funny moments in it, but there is epic drama. To get to be a part of it was fantastic.”

Fox was there as the lions were being taken to shelter in Colorado, as is seen in the film.

“To be surrounded by 25 roaring lions — that real, raw power was an experience I’ll never forget,” she said.

Creamer can speak passionately about the mistreatment imposed on animals in traveling circuses, while Phillips emphasizes their work is based on strictly factual findings — often uncovered by working surreptitiously to gather evidence on the scene, as the filmmakers did for years in Bolivia.

Animal Defenders International's Jan Creamer, left, and Tim Phillips helped airlift 25 circus lions out of Bolivia after that nation banned the use of animals in traveling shows. (Photo courtesy 'Lion Ark.')

Animal Defenders International’s Jan Creamer, left, and Tim Phillips helped airlift 25 circus lions out of Bolivia after that nation banned the use of animals in traveling shows. (Courtesy photo)

FOX HAS worked with Phillips and Creamer for more than seven years, beginning with a collaboration on the short documentary film, “How I Became an Elephant.” Fox served as producer for that film, which exposes the treatment of elephants as “performers” in traveling shows and in movies.

Fox was involved with “Lion Ark” from the beginning, consulting with the filmmakers on the eye-witness approach and stepping in front of the camera during scenes films when the lions arrive in Colorado.

She’s also supporting the film by appearing at HIFF. She’ll be at Dole Cannery on Saturday, Oct. 12, for the screening of “Lion Ark.”

“I’ve been passionate about the environment, marine protection and wildlife, all my life,” Fox said, explaining why she got involved. Born in New York City, she lived in Melbourne, Florida with her family as a child. Now based in L.A., she’s a surfer.

“I was very familiar with Hawaii, but I wasn’t that familiar with the festival until Jan and Tim got invited to come,” Fox confided.

As she spoke, a stylish woman with close-cropped hair leaned over our table to say, “Sorry to interrupt, but we love your show. I just had to come over and tell you that!”

Jorja Fox, Tim Phillips and Jan Creamer at the opening reception of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Phillips and Creamer are Co-founders of Animal Defenders International. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Jorja Fox, Tim Phillips and Jan Creamer at the opening reception of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Phillips and Creamer are co-founders of Animal Defenders International. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

THE SHOW, of course, is “CSI,” which is about to reach a huge milestone: the airing of its 300th episode.

The episode has already been filmed, Fox said.

“It’s going to be amazing, that’s all I can say,” she said. “We didn’t really think it was that big a deal until we started shooting it, and then we started realizing that it’s pretty rare.

“With the new shows especially, so many of them are doing 13 episodes a season instead of 24 — it’s going to take them 26 years to get to 300 episodes! I don’t know that that many new shows are going to get there.”

“We tried to enjoy every minute” of filming, she said. Special care was taken in writing the scenes, and some pieces of the episode pay tribute to the series’ long history, including “faux-back” segments that recreate characters storylines reaching back to the show’s first year. Original cast member Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows) is also back for the 300th show.

I asked Fox how long the wild ride that has been “CSI” can last, and she responded that it’s up to viewers.

“I hope my favorite episode is yet to come,” she said. “It’s lasted far longer than I ever anticipated. … Now, I think I’ll do it as long as the fans want us to do it.

“I can’t even imagine leaving at this point. It would seem foolish.”

Guests on the lawn at the opening reception of the Hawaii International Film Festival. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Guests on the lawn at the opening reception of the Hawaii International Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 10. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

IN THE MEANTIME, Fox is hoping for big audiences and international impact with “Lion Ark.” The film was just awarded the Audience Award at the San Diego Film Festival, where it sold out its screening. Screenings also sold out at London’s Raindance Film Festival, an offshoot of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in Colorado.

Asked what she learned from working on “Lion Ark,” Fox said, “Anything is possible. If you put your heart and soul to it, you can move mountains.”

The Hawaiian Humane Society has teamed up with Animal Defenders International to promote “Lion Ark” at HIFF. For more on efforts to improve conditions for captive or domesticated animals here in Hawaii, go to hawaiianhumane.org.

Click here for more coverage of the 33rd Hawaii International Film Festival, including pics from Thursday’s Opening Night party.
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Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

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