MORAGA -- The California Independent Film Festival is on the move again.

After just one year in Orinda, the event is heading a few miles down the road to Moraga and The New Rheem Theatre.

Cost was the driving force behind the decision, said festival founder and President Derek Zemrak. Whereas festival organizers had to pay to use the Orinda Theatre, they operate the Rheem themselves.

"We're still in the Lamorinda area," he said. "It's going to be great for the area and we're happy to remain in Lamorinda."

The festival moved to Orinda last year after seven years in Livermore, citing financial reasons.

Unlike Orinda, Moraga does not have direct freeway access or a highly visible movie theater. The Orinda Theatre's neon marquee is a local landmark; the Rheem is tucked in a corner of a struggling shopping center.

But Zemrak said he is not worried about Moraga's relative isolation. The festival puts on a number of special events, such as an international film series and a documentary series, which draw visitors from beyond Lamorinda, he said.

"We've been having great turnout and people from all over the Bay Area have been coming," Zemrak said. "They're finding us. It's only three miles off the freeway."

Festival organizers have also expanded the event from three days to seven and moved it to January so it does not conflict with another film festival in San Francisco.


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Zemrak would not reveal any details about the festival lineup and celebrity guests other than to say actor Lou Diamond Phillips will be present as an honoree.

It has been a roller-coaster year for the Rheem. The more than 50-year-old theater closed in April, only to find new life when the film festival took over in June.

In addition to showing movies, festival organizers have put on special events including sold-out teen dances and screenings of the World Cup and World Series.

Town leaders are thrilled about the festival's potential to boost both Moraga's economy and name recognition.

The event "is a huge opportunity for the town to show people coming in to watch the films what Moraga is all about," said Town Manager Jill Keimach. "It's also good for local businesses here because we're going to be having quite a few people coming to Moraga that normally wouldn't, so they'll be shopping in our stores, eating in our restaurants and also perhaps coming back after the film festival."

Community members met with festival organizers this month to learn what they could do to help, said Edy Schwartz, president of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce, and a number of people have already volunteered.

Much like the success of the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team in March, the festival will put Moraga on the map, said Mayor Ken Chew.

Chew said he did not make it to the festival last year in Orinda, "but now that it's in my backyard I definitely will attend. There's no excuse to not do it."

Contact Jonathan Morales as 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/sosaysjonathan.

If you go
What: California Independent Film Festival
When: Jan. 28 to Feb. 11
Where: The New Rheem Theatre, 350 Park St., Moraga
Details: www.caiff.org