We asked individuals who shape the festival what really goes into putting together this annual festival celebrating independent film and storytelling and what makes the SLO International Film Festival unique.

Explore behind the scenes of the SLO International Film Festival with Skye McLennan, the SLO International Film Festival Executive Director. Below are the questions we asked and her responses:


The SLO International Film Festival celebrates its 30th festival in 2024. Let’s take a look back at where it all began and learn how the festival will roll out the red carpet to celebrate film in SLO CAL for years to come!

Q: How did the SLO International Film Festival (SIFF) get its start?

Skye McLennan: The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival was founded by Mary A. Harris, a local attorney who was inspired to bring a film festival to San Luis Obispo after attending festivals in Los Angeles and Telluride.

The inaugural Festival was launched in 1993 with the support of a special grant from the City of San Luis Obispo, along with the key involvement of Jim Dee and the Palm Theatre. The Festival began with a focus on classic and restored films, with Harris as the Executive Director, and Cathy Peacock as Artistic Director.

Q: What is the festival doing to celebrate its 30th Anniversary?

SM: As we've spent this year looking back on the last 30 festivals, we thought it was important to get a few of the festivals influential members involved. The festival wouldn't be what it is today without these key people, so we asked each to choose two films that were meaningful to them throughout their time at the festival or that were impactful to them in their film journeys.

Each person interpreted the prompt differently, resulting in a wide array of retrospective films we're sure you'll enjoy.  Films include Pursuit of Equality (2005), Riding Giants (2004), Double Indemnity(1944), Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick(1995). Big Night (1996), Dersu Uzala (1975) and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert(1994) Muriel’s Wedding (1994).

Q: Tell us about your favorite SIFF story or memory from the last 30 years?

SM: For me, it was my first festival ever attending, I was eighteen years old and a passionate film student. I attended a short film screening with my childhood icon Melissa Joan Hart. I got to ask her a question after the film and after that I became a die-hard film festival fan. Ultimately leading to where I am today!

Note: Other SIFF iconic guests include Morgan Freeman, Bob Mitchell, Stanley Kramer, Norman Jewison, David Crosby, Norman Howell, Nat Young, Zac Efron, Jeff Bridges, Leslie Iwerks, Josh Brolin, Ann-Margret, Katharine Ross and more!

Q: How do you see the future of the film festival evolving?

SM: We want to continue to champion independent film, but year-round. We believe that San Luis Obispo County can be an epicenter of filmmaking and collaboration.

Film Selection Process

Submission categories include the primary International Film Competition, Independent Film Competition, Music Video Showcase, Central Coast Filmmaker Showcase and Filmmakers of Tomorrow.

Q: How do you approach the selection process for films to be showcased at the SLO International Film Festival?

SM: We know our audience well and that our audience enjoys an array of topics. We tend to try to program an assortment of films that met different age demographics and interests.

Q: What strategies do you use to attract filmmakers to the festival?

SM: We attend a number of industry festivals through the year, and we continue to raise the bar in terms of our programming. We also value transparent communication, and we treat our filmmakers with care and consideration. Also, filmmakers just love to visit SLO CAL!

Q: How do you incorporate emerging trends and development into the film programing?

SM: We work closely with our peers to make sure that we are keeping current with film trends and generally have a good pulse on the landscape.  We also work closely with local non-profits and organizations.

Q: What measures do you take to ensure diversity and inclusion in the film programing?

SM: We have made a concerted efforts to increase the diversity of our filmmakers and overall have more representation at the festival. We believe in people having ownership over their own stories and this is largely who is making the films. We have also made efforts to make our festival more accessible and to see more disability on screen.

Festival Events

Film screenings, Downtown SLO Walk of Fame, Indies + Eats, Surf Nite in SLO, Community of Skate and more!

Q: Describe the typical events that take place during and around the SLO International Film Festival.

SM: There are film screenings at various venues across the county which include filmmaker Q&As. We also have film screenings that involve live music and special guests. You can also head to our VIP Lounge where there is behind the scenes panels and networking!

Q: This year’s festival will include a Surf & a Skate night. What role do these events play into the overall festival success?

SM: These events are centered around our community while also highlighting sports that are very successful on the Central Coast. The introduction of Skate Night is long overdue as many great skateboarders have made way through the county. These events are family friendly and a great way to connect film and sport.

Q: How do you integrate elements of local culture or community involvement into your festival events?

SM: So much of SLO CAL is our amazing community of people, we hear this from our filmmakers and visitors alike. We put them at the forefront our festival, to not only highlight the festival but highlight our amazing town.

Additionally, all our food and wine events feature the bounty of the county's amazing products, and we also partner with local non-profits who are doing important work. We work closely with Cal Poly who presents their short films every year and with local high school and elementary schools. We also are staffed by over 200 local volunteers who greet visitors, filmmakers and attendees with the SLO CAL charm we’re known for.

Q: Can you discuss any particularly memorable events from past editions of the festival?

SM: Last year we hosted Garrett and Nicole McNamara of 100 Foot Wave for Surf Nite. It was an honor to have such a legendary big wave surfer and also have a meaningful discussion around surfing and family and risks we take.


Venues for the 2024 SIFF include the Fremont Theater, Palm Theatre, Downtown Centre Cinemas, Park Cinemas, Bay Theatre, Hotel San Luis Obispo, Kreuzberg California and EDNA Contemporary Fine Art.

Q: What factors do you consider when selecting venues for the SLO International Film Festival?

SM: We look for places that are memorable and also are experts in art of film presentation and can present the films with high quality audio and visual capability. 

Q: In what ways do you create a unique and memorable atmosphere at the festival venues?

SM: We always make sure there is popcorn! We also are staffed by incredible volunteers who make the experience feel special.

Q: What strategies do you employ to decide which venues should host each individual screening/event?

SM: Usually, it comes down to size and space and what we think the demand might be for a certain film. All our George Sidney films play at least three times, so we’ll tend to pace them out in different venues that offer different capacities. We also juggle filmmaker availability. It’s basically a big puzzle that we slowly piece together.

Q: Can you discuss any unconventional venue choices you’ve made in past festivals, and what lead to those decisions?

SM: We have screened film at Avila Beach Club, Octagon Barn and Santa Margarita Ranch and more! Most of our unconventional locations had to do with specific films or groups that we felt might suit a particular film.

Setting SIFF Apart

Q: What do you believe sets the SLO International Film Festival apart from others?

SM: We’re in the most stunning and beautiful San Luis Obispo County for one but I also think it’s our down to earth vibe. Filmmakers have an authentic experience at our festival and are met with engaging and intelligent audiences and real people We also cater to so many different interests, so you’re bound to find something you can relate to or enjoy.

Q: Can you describe any unique initiatives you’ve introduced to the festival to enhance the experience?

SM: Free programing, partnerships, virtual festival, Encore Festival in Paso Robles, Food & Wine experiences, Central Coast Filmmaker Showcase.