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November 22, 2016

Spotlight shines on movies made in Conejo Valley

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Two events this month and another in December will celebrate the history of moviemaking in Ventura County and just over the county line, beginning with the fifth Conejo Valley Classic Film Festival.

The festival will begin Friday with a free screening of the 1948 film “Jungle Jim” with Johnny Weismuller at 6 p.m. at the Grant R. Brimhall Library, 1401 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks.

At 7 p.m. Saturday at California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road in Thousand Oaks, professor Herb Gooch will discuss Douglas Fairbanks' long history of filmmaking in Ventura County, and there will be a screening afterward of Fairbanks' 1921 "The Three Musketeers." According to festival founder and organizer Billy Martin, some scenes of the silent film were shot locally.

The movie is based on the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novel, and Fairbanks' swordfight is still considered one of the great cinematic moments. A year later, Fairbanks would become partially responsible for the naming of Lake Sherwood after shooting some scenes for “Robin Hood” in the area.

The festival will end Sunday with a 7 p.m. screening of “Sleepless in Seattle” at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks.

On Nov. 20, an eight-mile hike will be a walk through film history as it crosses three canyons of open space, beginning with the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, formerly known as Ahmanson Ranch.

And on Dec. 4, retired ranger Mike Malone will lead a hike at Ahmanson Ranch to discuss movie-making in that specific area.

Leading the Nov. 20 challenge will be ecologist Dan Cooper and film historian and author Harry Medved. The hike will begin near an area known as Lasky Mesa, location of the 1925 silent film "The Thundering Herd.”

“Lasky Mesa is a beautiful flat area that is beloved by filmmakers because it has a 360-degree panorama of unobstructed views of nature, and it’s easy to build your set up there,” Medved said.

Lasky Mesa was part of William Randolph Hearst’s Agoura ranch. His land extended from Chatsworth Lake, today an empty reservoir, to Newbury Park.

“Hearst Ranch encompassed that whole area including the Simi Hills, north of the 101,” Medved said.

In that first canyon, Medved will discuss the 1936 “The Charge of the Light Brigade," 1939's “Gone With the Wind,” how the locale was transformed into Oklahoma for 1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and, more recently, how it became home to a marijuana barn house for the climax of 2008's “Pineapple Express.”

It's almost unrecognizable, but Medved said a scene from “Mission: Impossible III” was filmed there in 2006.

“There’s a huge action scene with Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Maggie Q and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman that takes place at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and director J.J. Abrams built that bridge on Lasky Mesa at Ahmanson Ranch,” Medved said. “They shot portions of the bridge battle there because there’s so much wide open space with blue skies above, and it’s relatively remote. Plus J.J. Abrams likes shooting in Southern California whenever possible.”

From there, hikers will venture into Cheeseboro Canyon, which Medved said does not have an abundance of filming locations.

“It does have a little bunkhouse that appeared in the TV show ‘The Rifleman’ with Chuck Connors and ‘The Tin Star’ (1957) with Henry Fonda,” Medved said.

In Palo Comado Canyon, the group will discuss “Back to the Future III.”

“At the top of Palo Comado Canyon is China Flat, which is where the McFly Ranch was located when Michael J. Fox meets his great-great-grandfather, according to (director) Robert Zemeckis,” Medved said.

Medved said that while he discusses moviemaking history, Cooper will highlight the flora and fauna of the open space.

“Part of our goal is to draw attention to the open space and the women and men who helped preserve it,” Medved said, “and the rich film history where the landscape remains unchanged and you can identify local landmarks.”

The hike will wind up in Oak Park with a view of Eagle Peak, which can be seen in such films as “Of Mice and Men” (1939), “A Walk In the Sun” (1945), “The Red Pony” (1949), “The Man From the Alamo” (1953) and “Poltergeist” (1982).

Hikers should meet at 7 a.m. at Victory Trailhead, located at the western end of Victory Boulevard in West Hills/Woodland Hills. Medved suggests ridesharing with a friend, with one person dropping off a car at the end of the hike in Oak Park at the Doubletree/Sunnycrest trailhead.

Medved said the hike will take about four hours. Participants should bring a lunch, as a picnic stop is planned in Cheeseboro Canyon.

Hikers are asked to RSVP to Dan Cooper at dan@cooperecological.com or by calling 323-397-3562.

For the Dec. 4 event, hikers should also meet at the Victory Trailhead. That hike will begin at 10 a.m. For more information, email malonem77@gmail.com.

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