Coronado Island Film Festival ...

From left, Tisha Cowmeadow, Dean Cundey, Merridee Book, John Toll, Lois Burwell, Andy Friedenberg, Dina Michelle from the Coronado Island Film Festival.

With Memorial Day upon us, Coronado Island Film Festival invites you to journey back to 13th century Scotland for a spectacular three-hour reminder that war is hell and freedom is never free. Mel Gibson’s 1995 tour de force, “Braveheart” tells the story of young, kilt-wearing Scotsman William Wallace as he leads the quest for independence from England’s brutal ruler, King Edward I, aka “Longshanks.” (Amazon Prime for a small rental fee.)

Directed by, produced, and starring Gibson, this epic stunner was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography (John Toll), and Best Makeup (Lois Burwell). It’s a movie about a savage time, not a family film by a long shot, but oh my, it is brilliant in every way!

John Toll and Lois Burwell began dating during the “Braveheart” filming, and were married two years later. If their names ring a bell, it’s because they were honored at our festival last November at Leonard Maltin’s Celebrity Tribute - John for his Cinematography and Lois for her Makeup Artistry. They embraced the entire festival experience, attending everything - participating in panels, introductions (i.e. “Almost Famous,” which they worked on together in 2000), the Veterans Day Salute (Burwell showed clips of her “Saving Private Ryan,” directed by Steven Spielberg) popping in at every party, and walking all up and down Orange Avenue, taking it all in. Take a bow, Coronado: They loved us, and it was completely mutual!

When approached by a TV reporter, Lois, who serves as first Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, looked straight into camera and said, “If you haven’t been to Coronado Island Film Festival, then you’re making a huge mistake, because it’s wonderful! This is our first time here, and we can’t wait to come back!”

In “Braveheart,” Toll’s cinematography captures both Scotland’s misty beauty and serenity and the bloody, up-close-and-personal horror of battle, while Burwell, as head makeup artist, provides the bloodied bodies and painted faces of the enormous cast. Up to 1600 extras were used on a given day for the battle scenes.

Mel Gibson was on location shooting for 105 consecutive days, and claims that “Braveheart” was harder on his body than all three of his “Lethal Weapons” movies. He also acknowledges that the film is only loosely factual, as very few details are available on the actual life of William Wallace. He calls it part history, part mythology, and all action-adventure. The result is a compelling tale of a brilliant military strategist and savage warrior, his quest for freedom, and his willingness to fight and die for it. Ready to tackle oppression head-on, he is frustrated by his fellow countrymen’s creature-comforts complacence and their reluctance to rock the boat.

A New York Times reviewer called this movie one of the most spectacular entertainments to come along in years. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again and notice some of the fine filmmaking details; if you haven’t seen it, lucky you, for the thrilling new wild ride that awaits.

Meanwhile on this Memorial Day, the board and staff of Coronado Island Film Festival offer hand-to-heart gratitude for the generations of brave men and women of our own Armed Forces, many with ties to Coronado, who paid the ultimate price – their lives - for the freedoms so many 21st Century Americans take for granted. We will never forget you.

We hope this finds you all healthy and strong, and we look forward to the time when we’ll be watching movies again together in our beloved Village Theatre! Until then, we’re moving forward with plans for a very special fifth anniversary celebration of Coronado Island Film Festival, Nov. 11-15. Visit for pass package information and year-round festival activity updates. We will get through this!

Doug St. Denis is the founder and chairman of Coronado Island Film Festival and can be reached at

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