San Ramon resident Derek Zemrak wears many hats—film producer, theater owner, concert promoter, festival coordinator—and that’s after he finishes his day job as senior vice president of a Danville-based real estate holding company. Zemrak organizes the California Independent Film Festival, which runs August 23 through August 31 at the Orinda Theatre and San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.
Q: You’re about to launch the 22nd annual California Independent Film Festival. Why did you start this festival in the late 1990s?
A: There wasn’t a film festival in the East Bay at the time. We started with a 55-seat screening room at the Pleasanton Hilton. We had just over 30 films submitted that year, and almost everybody got in. This year, we had about 870 films submitted, and we will screen somewhere between 65 and 80, including short films.
Q: What types of films can we expect at the festival this year?
A: We’ll be including more international films than we’ve ever had. There’s a real audience for these films in the area; they want to see films that are more challenging than most Hollywood blockbusters.
Q: You’ve had many Hollywood legends in attendance over the years. Any favorites?
A: Getting to know Martin Landau was one of the great thrills of my life. He was such a gentleman and would call me every year to ask how the festival was going, even when he wasn’t involved with a film that year.
Q: You own and operate the Orinda Theatre. So many classic movie palaces like it have been closing. What keeps the Orinda going?
A: It truly is a landmark—anyone who has driven by on Highway 24 has seen the beautiful neon marquee. One nice attraction at the Orinda is its diversity, with two smaller screens and one large auditorium. We don’t have to have all the blockbusters all the time. We can have a foreign-language film, or a documentary, or an independent film in one of the smaller theaters.
Q: You have been bringing in Broadway stars to perform cabaret-style shows at the Orinda. How did that start?
A: I was one of the donors for a series of cabaret shows in San Francisco. I told the producer to come look at our theater, and he wanted to do something right away. The series has been a huge success. It’s a special treat for the community: You get to see all these award-winning performers, and you’re at most 14 rows away.
Find out more about the California Independent Film Festival at caiff.org.
For more about the Orinda Theatre, go to orindamovies.com.