Satya and Sejal Kharkar with new friends Deborah and Jonathan Flora. (Courtesy of Satya Kharkar © 2011)

Independent filmmakers and actors who attended the Life Fest in Los Angeles, Hollywood’s premier pro-life film festival, say it was a huge success because it united them in the beauty of human life, truth, love – and apparently surprises.

It included a filmmaker who had worked on Al Gore’s blockbuster “An Inconvenient Truth” and, as WND previously reported, the makers of a major motion picture screened their film.

The picture is “Doonby,” starring John Schneider as a drifter who shows up in small-town Smithville, Texas, and captures everyone’s attention.

During turbulent times, “Doonby” couldn’t be more relevant as millions of Americans feel like drifters seeking work, affordable homes and, ultimately, purpose.

This September, “Doonby” opens in U.S. theaters with the cast of Robert Davi, Joe Estavez, Ernie Hudson, Jennifer O’Neill and Jenn Gotzon as the leading man’s love interest.

Gotzon, who stars in four features due out this year, encouraged the independent filmmakers at Life Fest.

“It was great to finally screen ‘Doonby’ for an L.A. audience and take questions from the viewers,” Gotzon told WND. “It was very inspirational hearing a world share the love of life through cinema. I also enjoyed meeting up with my ‘Frost/Nixon’ cast-mate Clint Howard at this wonderful event.”

“Doonby” writer and director Peter Mackenzie couldn’t attend Life Fest but shared his leading lady’s enthusiasm.

Brian Johnston, Life Fest director, with “Doonby” leading lady Jenn Gotzon (Courtesy of Brian Johnston © 2011)

Mackenzie told WND, “When we heard about a film festival that celebrated the notion that each life has value and meaning, we realized that that was exactly the message of our film and we were honored to be a part of it. Another film that’s being shown, Mira Sorvino’s ‘Like Dandelion Dust,’ has a similar message and we were pleased to be in such good company.

“Sam Doonby, our lead character, is in many ways the outsider, the loner – and yet his life makes such an incredible difference when he comes to Smithville,” said Mackenzie. “You will leave the theater after seeing ‘Doonby’ realizing how powerful your one life is and that you can truly make a difference in the world.”

Jonathan Flora enjoyed positive reactions to his indie film “A Distant Thunder,” which features wife Deborah Flora.

The industry insider dared to release “Thunder” while the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was under scrutiny in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Conventional wisdom will tell you that you won’t necessarily get ahead in Hollywood by making a film that addresses partial-birth abortion,” Flora told WND. “And that’s why we put it in a good story, like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. Because we did it that way, so many doors were opened to us.”

Indeed, doors were opened across the country, from official Capitol Hill screenings to schools, but minds and hearts were opened, too. Time after time, mothers and fathers write to Flora telling him that their babies are alive because of his film.

Eric Matthews is the young indie filmmaker who worked on “An Inconvenient Truth.” He’s a staff executive assistant on “CSI NY,” and he plans to produce a film for next year’s Life Fest.

“I was not able to spend as much time as I would have liked at Life Fest, but I really enjoyed the film ‘A Distant Thunder’ by Jonathan Flora,” Matthews told WND. “I’ve known Jonathan for years but had never seen his film, so I was pleasantly surprised by the message and the strong performances. His Q and A was fantastic too.

“The issues in the film tend to be polarizing in society, but these issues in the film are very real and true. … When the facts change, your opinion changes.”

Flora said, “What I’m really happy about is that a lot of filmmakers were there and they’re being encouraged by what we’ve done a few years ago, the work that’s being done right now, and there’s more to come.”

Actors Ty Gutierrez and Charlie Holliday at Life Fest. (Courtesy of Brian Johnston © 2011)

Actor Ty Gutierrez said Life Fest is the best film festival he’s ever attended, and he’ll be telling his friends about it for days. Fairly new to Hollywood, he has appeared in major TV shows such as “Desperate Housewives” and “CSI NY.”

Gutierrez explained, “It’s really hard to get noticed in Hollywood. I don’t really want to be famous, I just want to be a working actor – to make a living at my passion – because I have five children and one the way.

“I can’t express how grateful I am for the people at Life Fest and the films I saw. Everyone was so friendly – Jenn Gotzon, Clint Howard, the Floras, Charlie Holliday – they took an interest in me. Even casting directors wanted to help me get good roles.”

At Life Fest, Charlie Holliday, the actor and casting consultant, reportedly got along famously with the struggling actor and offered to help him.

One of the more exotic filmmakers at Life Fest was Satya Kharkar, whose film “My Dad My Hero” was chosen the finalist in two categories: Best Short Film and Audience Favorite.

Ten years ago, Kharkar and his wife Sejal moved from steamy India to blustery Chicago, where he works as a software engineer. Yet tender love and heartache inspired his new role as an indie filmmaker.

“Unfortunately, last year our baby daughter was born prematurely and we weren’t able to save her after five months,” he said. “It was in her memory that I decided to start making films. We just want to get some good stories out in her memory – we intend to make films that support family values and pro-life. Anmol Movies is named after her. ‘Anmol’ means ‘precious’ in Hindi or Marathi.”

Brian Johnston, director of California ProLife Council and founder of Life Fest, was delighted to announce the award-winning films to WND.

“Faith Happens” won Life Fest’s Best Feature Award and “Permanent Scars” took the Best Short Award.

“Eggsploitation” was awarded for Best Feature Documentary; “Sacred Spaces” received the Best Short Documentary Award; and “The Dancer” walked away with the Best Foreign Documentary Award.

In the Dramatic category, “Elsa Letterseed” stood alone and received the Best Feature Award; “Fragile Hearts” was chosen the Best Short; and “A Small Awakening” won the Best Foreign Award.

The animated film “I Want to Call Her Stacey” wowed Life Fest judges, thus earning the Best Technical Achievement Award and the Spirit Award.

And, finally, the Audience Favorite was a comedy called “Knock Knock (Who’s Dead?).”

“The first Life Fest was more than my expectations,” Johnston said. “The caliber of films was stunning – from all over the world. We were so happy and honored to collaborate with everyone.”

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