Auto-Oriented Film Fest in the West

If you love cars, great scenery and movies, an upcoming event seems to have it all. West coast car enthusiasts and racing fans are gearing up for the 2007 Southern Yosemite Automotive Film Festival. The festival is scheduled for March 21-25, in Oakhurst, California, the southern gateway to Yosemite National Park. Featuring automotive-related films from the 1940s through today, the film festival offers something for everyone, including such hard-to-find films as Mickey Rooney's 1949 racing epic "The Big Wheel," the original "The Fast and The Furious" from 1955 and more than 20 others.

Film legend James Garner will be the recipient of the "Southern Yosemite Lifetime Achievement Award" for his work in automotive films. Both the feature film "Grand Prix" and Garner's documentary "The Racing Scene" will be screened, and drivers from his racing team, Scooter Patrick and Davey Jordan, will be on hand to sign autographs and tell stories about their racing careers. One of their original Corvettes, now restored by Jim Herlinger of Santa Clara, California, will also be displayed.

Among the rare films being screened is "The Sound of Speed," a short film about Lance Reventlow and his Scarab racing project. Director Bruce Kessler, who premiered the film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962, will be at the festival to discuss the making of this film and his own racing career. Pontiac fans will appreciate 2004's "The Last Ride," starring Dennis Hopper and featuring a variety of Pontiacs. Its director, Guy Bee, will be in attendance, speaking about the making of the film. The critically acclaimed "Dirt," a documentary about stock car racing at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Texas and a winner at the Austin Film Festival, will be one of the featured films. Director Jeff Bowden will introduce the film and describe all that went into making it. From "Cannonball Run II," Richard Kiel, who portrayed a Mitsubishi engineer in the film, will attend, signing autographs and talking to fans.

For Corvette buffs, Dick Guldstrand, known as "Mr. Corvette" for his long involvement with the marque and success in racing, will also sign autographs, showcase his latest book and show off his special edition Corvette ZO6. Harold Osmer, best known for his definitive book on long-gone race tracks of Southern California, will not only sign books but also give a brief talk about Southern California racetracks. Speaking of long-gone California tracks, a Riverside International Raceway retrospective will be presented, with a short film of the 1965 Times Grand Prix and stories of racing at the famous track from veterans who ran the first event in 1957 to those who ran the last in 1989.

The recent death of Formula One great Clay Regazzoni has prompted a brief remembrance program, with a special showing of the film of the 1974 Grand Prix season, where Regazzoni, driving for Ferrari, finished second in the world championship to Emerson Fittipaldi. Speaking about the Ferrari racer will be Chuck Jones, former partner in the Ensign Formula One team, and Howden Ganley, former BRM Formula One driver.

The film festival week also includes displays of racing, vintage, antique and exotic cars, automobilia and souvenir vendors, an auction of racing memorabilia, celebrity autograph signings featuring stars and well-known racers, exclusive cocktail parties and wine tastings. And when you can't watch any more movies, tours of Yosemite National Park, ski outings, golf tournaments, train rides on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railway, hosted trips to the local Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino and a variety of family-oriented events are available.

One of the best things about the film festival is that the proceeds all go to charity. From the Lee Iacocca Foundation to the Children's Miracle Network to worthy causes in the Oakhu rst area, everyone benefits from the event. Tickets are now available online at the Southern Yosemite Automotive Film Festival Web site or through the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce at 559.683.7766. Ticket quantities are limited as only a few hundred people can be accommodated. Special accommodation packages with local hotels are also available.

Based in Villeperce, France, Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about automobiles, the movies and the human condition.