Jo Moulton is the personification of the American Dream.  

From much of what I had read, I already knew she was a creative powerhouse, but had no idea of how really amazing she is until I sat down with her for what turned out to be a five hour chat in Temecula.  In the immediate paragraphs that follow, is the standard stuff of her bio, impressive enough, and worth a good read.  Following that will be a Q&A section that will reveal much of how Jo operates and causes her magic to happen..

Jo Moulton is the Founder and Festival Director of the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival.  A Mass Communications graduate, Moulton began her Television Production career as Production Assistant and rose through the ranks to head up the Entertainment Division of KBS-TV, Channel 9 in Manila, Philippines  as TV Program Director before relocating to the US for American Broadcasting Co., KABC-TV, Los Angeles where she coordinated the 4, 5 6 and 11PM Eyewitness News and Assistant Film Editing work for a combined total of 8 years.

She branched out from television to line producing motion pictures and commercials production in 1992 when her family relocated to the quaint enclave of Temecula.  Inspired by its rolling hills, vineyards, Historic Old Town, and its close proximity to Los Angeles, she established the Temecula Valley Film Council in 1992 - promptly marketing Temecula as Southern California's West Coast location filming destination alternative.  In 1995, she founded the Temecula Valley Int’l Film Festival (TVIFF) as a grassroots affair primarily because of her desire to improve the cultural and artistic landscape of then fledgling rural Temecula town. Fast forward to 2011, TVIFF is recognized as one of a highly regarded small regional ‘film and music event’ in the international festival circuit. The City of Temecula and its business community acknowledge TVIFF as a cultural, educational and economic asset with consistent cash and in-kind support from 1995 to present.

The festival has attracted hundreds of leading figures in the entertainment industry to its community. To date, they have honored with Lifetime and Career Achievement awards significant film and music icons as William Shatner, Carl Reiner, Ray Charles, Gena Rowlands, Etta James, Leonard Maltin, Smokey Robinson, Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Madsen, Dennis Haysbert, Hector Elizondo, USC’s Elizabeth Daley, UCLA’s Robert Rosen.

In 1998 she helped start the San Diego World Film Festival.  In 2002, she was hired by Harold Matzner, chairman of the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), specifically to assist his office, develop and maintain major corporate sponsorships and benefits fulfillment for PSIFF. In addition, under Matzner’s leadership, she also helped manage and coordinate logistics for PSIFF’s crown jewel event, the Black Tie Awards Gala from 2002 to January 2010.  Work involved high level coordination with PSIFF’s major donors and honorees/celebrity guests’ travel, accommodation and hospitality needs,  Honorees include Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway, Mariah Carey,  Sean Penn, Ron Howard,  NIcole Kidman, Shirley MaClaine, George Clooney. Kevin Costner, Kate Winslet, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirren, to name a few.

October 2010, she co-founded and executive produced the Anaheim Int’l Film Festival (AIFF), sponsored by Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim/OC Convention and Visitors Bureau. For AIFF, Moulton reached out to her veteran film festival professional friends to help produce what turned out to be a respectable first time event, in a very challenging year, economically.

The AIFF festival featured 127 films, including 47 features and 80 shorts representing 30 different countries, two of which won the Academy Awards at the 2011 Oscars (God is Love and he Lost Thing, Best Short Animated Film and Best Live Action Short Film).  She credits Derek Horne for curating an amazing short film program and Festworks team of Robert Koehler, Matt Bolish and Matt Kaszanek for the eclectic and diverse narrative features and documentaries presented at AIFF.

Editor’s Note:  OK, now let’s see the back story of this truly remarkable person.

OCS:    When you got married in the late 1970s and moved to the U.S., even as the TV Program Director of the Entertainment Division of KBS-TV in Manila, essentially you needed to start all over again, having no contacts in U.S. broadcasting.  Tell us about that.
Jo Moulton:     I couldn’t even get an interview at the networks in those days given the political climate that didn’t yet have Asian Americans in any executive positions.  So I signed up with a temp agency.  They helped me land a job at ABC Television in L.A., in the accounting department!  What was really ironic was that I so hated math in college that I took Mass Communications because it needed so little math!  But the accounting temp placement was a way to get inside.  I was disappointed but I knew coming from a third world country trying to enter a very competitive Los Angeles television market was ambitious and a very long shot.

Within a few days of my starting, I was assigned to the data processing department and almost immediately got a call from the news department.  One of their news coordinators had to leave for a family emergency.  Someone had actually read my resume and gave it to then ABC TV News Director, Dennis Swanson.  I credit Dennis for giving me my first real break in American television.  He asked if I could pitch in and coordinate the 5PM Eyewitness News.  Having done all aspects of production work in the Philippines, I knew I could and I just needed a chance to prove it.  I guess I did a pretty decent job.  That was the beginning of my eight wonderful years as part of the Eyewitness News production team, until I had a baby-which led to another amazing life-changing stage for my husband and me.

OCS:    After some 16 years as a television network production professional in Manila and L.A., you started a family.  This will lead to you moving to Temecula, then a small town 90 miles southeast of L.A.  How did that happen?
Jo:    I’m what you would describe as a ‘challenged’ housewife and homemaker.  I didn’t even know how to cook.  So, when my husband asked me ‘diplomatically’ what I think we should do, what with the new baby and all-- I told him I would quit the network, stay at home and take care of him and the baby.  With the loss of my income we decided we needed to move somewhere more affordable.    We moved from Los Angeles to what was then branded by real estate developers as Rancho California in April, 1989.  Rancho California became a city and re-named to its original name of Temecula that same year we moved.  So to say the least, we went through a lot of changes moving to Temecula.  We did not realize how ‘rural’ Temecula was until we were there for a week.  There was only one traffic light and even then, sometimes, we had a human directing what little traffic we had. It seemed everyone shut down for the day after 4pm.  There was no nightlife to speak of.  I was climbing up the walls!!

But one day, with no curtains yet on the second floor of our house, I was taking a relaxing bath when a heard a “psshew ..psshew” sound.  It was a gorgeous hot air balloon passing by!  I was so mortified I had to scoot all the way down… I must say, that was an AHA moment for me.  It was then I realized, from a producer’s perspective, Temecula had possibilities.  That same day, I drove around with my daughter in her car seat, to see the hillsides, the acres and acres of vineyards, orange groves, the windy, one lane roads, the farm houses with nearby estate homes.  Temecula, definitely had possibilities.  On that first week, the idea of Temecula as a location for film and television productions was already ‘cooking’ in my brain.

OCS:    OK, so you are in Temecula, 90 miles outside of L.A., a town of 9000 at the time, one traffic light, and the biggest event to date was an annual tractor race.  How does this lead to a well respected film festival?
Jo:    My neighbor introduced me to Eve Craig who used to be a fundraiser for the  AhmansonTheatre in Los Angeles.  Eve invited me to be part of the newly formed Temecula Valley Arts Council.  I did and became a volunteer.  I produced for the Arts Council their first ever professionally produced Temecula Showcase –this was Temecula’s early version of Star Search/American Idol!!  Anyway, this was about the same time that I decided to put into action what I had first thought on that first week.  I did my research regarding film location shoots, called my friends in the business, talked to the well heeled people of Temecula, rallied their support and created the Temecula Valley Film Council.  I created a 4-color postcard touting Temecula as West Coast’s best location, cost effective filming alternative.

The first people who responded to my promotion were Rita Rudner and her husband Martin Bergman who had a script called SONOMA,  a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a wine country.  I invited Rita and Martin to come and check out Temecula.  They came with Rita’s parents one weekend and before I knew it, over a period of three weeks, I was busy looking, negotiating, and coordinating the prep work for the filming of a movie, Rita and Martin had re-titled TEMECULA. They used 14 different locations.  They brought 15 production vehicles.  Principal photography for what would eventually become Weekend in the Country was 32 Days shooting - 500 extras.  The production company spent $495,000 locally.  The cast included Jack Lemmon, Betty White, Dudley Moore, Christine Lahti, Faith Ford, John Shea, Rita Rudner, and Richard Lewis.   That was in 1994.  By 1995, we established our first Temecula Valley International Film Festival.  A very good friend of mine gave me the idea of starting the film festival as the most effective vehicle in attracting filmmakers to Temecula.   He asked me, “Who are you trying to attract to come and use your community for their film projects?  If you do a film festival, it would be like having a department store sale and getting the right buyers to come in and shop at your store!”

OCS:    Tell us about the first film festival.
Jo:   Having worked for a major television network in the Philippines and a mainstream production entity here in the US, I naturally thought ‘mainstream’ –so was I in for a major shock when I realized Temecula was not even in the radar of  the mainstream thinking.  Temecula is not exactly what you would call the glamour capital of the world.  People could not even pronounce the name, much less spell it.  At that time film festivals mainly happened in metropolitan cities of the world.

People thought I was in for a very big disappointment calling it the Temecula Valley International Film Festival.  But I think the fact that I didn’t know any better than to start everything from a major network production perspective is part of the reason why even on our inaugural year, with only 25 films, we were able to attract films from England, Canada, etc. and had an awards gala, with our first Lifetime achievement award honoree, the highly respected Paramount Studios executive and producer (of the Academy Awards, among others), Howard W. Koch.   Luck was on my side. Mr. Koch was a thoroughbred horse owner.  Temecula is thoroughbred horse country.  He knew Temecula and so he accepted my invitation.  Mr. Koch’s acceptance and attendance helped legitimize and gave the first ever Temecula Valley International Film Festival, much needed credibility.

On our second year, we screened over 100 films and had the good fortune of honoring the legendary West Side Story and Sound of Music director, Mr. Robert Wise.  Mr. Wise brought with him his good friend, legendary actor, Karl Malden, whom we also awarded two years later.   And so it just evolved from there.  We’ve had producers, directors, film composers and the last ten years, along with Carl Reiner, Gena Rowlands, we’ve had music legends like Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, David Foster, Kenny Loggins, etc.

People ask me how I am able to get these people to come and participate, considering how small our Festival or city is.  I simply say, it takes a lot of luck, persistence, knowing the right people to ask and knowing how to work with their layers and layers of gatekeepers.   A good reputation also helps.  I crafted and tailored our festival to reflect our city’s personality and was realistic enough to not attempt to be like a Cannes or a Sundance or a Toronto.

OCS:    I first met you due to your involvement with the Anaheim International Film Festival which you co- founded.  How did that come about?
Jo:    Josh Bednarsky, a then 22 yr old actor from New York, approached me in Temecula on Sept 10, 2009 to help him produce a film festival in Anaheim.   His then girlfriend’s father, Bruce Sanborn owned the Movie Experience theater at GardenWalk in Anaheim and the theaters in Temecula that I hold the festival at, at the time.  Bruce suggested that Josh talk to me.  I was really busy and didn’t have time to talk with him but Josh was persistent.  I told Josh to come back and talk to me when he secures the City of Anaheim’s support.  I thought I would not hear from him again.  January, 2010, he shows up at the Palm Springs Film festival (where I was again, busy working) and tells me he had an appointment for me with the President of the Anaheim/OC Convention and Visitor Bureau, plus a meeting with then mayor of Anaheim, Curt Pringle plus a possible chairman in charge of  AIFF fundraising, OC entrepreneur Sinan Kanatsiz.   Josh Bednarsky got my attention then.  I created a festival template for him, gathered all the necessary film festival personnel, etc. It was a very challenging festival to produce but we managed.  We went through management changes of venues.  But the new owners of Gardenwalk and UltraStar Cinemas with support from the Anaheim/OC Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Disneyland Resort, Larry and Kristina Dodge, City Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, volunteers from Temecula/Anaheim, The AIFF Founders, staff and other contribution sponsors - they helped make 2010 AIFF happen.  

Josh has since married Brianne Sanborn.  They now reside in Hollywood. A re-branded, re-structured Anaheim film event is currently in the works.

OCS:    How did the music component of the Temecula festival come about?
Jo:    With so many festivals all over the world, I needed something to differentiate us.  Temecula is Southern California’s premier wine country.  Jazz is pretty big with the wineries.   In 2001 I was not aware of any event that showcased music artists.  So I thought, why not create a music component within the film festival where emerging music artists are given the same forum as emerging filmmakers, thus creating an environment where filmmakers and music artists are able to network, bond and hopefully collaborate on each other’s projects.  Filmmakers are always looking for music for their film projects.  Musicians need to be educated that sometimes a soundtrack deal can be just as lucrative, if not more, than a recording deal.  To put this into motion and make sure that it has an impact right away, I invited Ray Charles to be our first Lifetime Achievement Award honoree for music.   Mr. Charles liked the whole concept, he accepted and showed up to accept his Lifetime Achievement award, Sept. 13, 2001 (two days after Sept. 11).  Mr. Charles could have cancelled and used 9/11 as an excuse but he committed and he showed up.  His office helped us secure Billy Preston in 2002 and Etta James in 2004.

If you wonder why we’ve had Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Isaac Hayes, Smokey Robinson, Earth, Wind & Fire – the answer is Ray Charles. Even after he died, Valerie Ervin of the Ray Charles Foundation always makes an effort to help us.  Did I know Ray Charles before 2001?  No.  But I did my usual research, found the right person in his office to connect with, made the connection and went on from there.

OCS:    The Temecula Valley Film Festival is now in its 17th year, with an average 180 films/from 20 plus countries and a high attendance of 20,000.  What is next for Jo Moulton?
Jo:  I have a few things that are in the works. Mainly, I believe things happen for a reason.  If things are meant for me to do what I am doing or will be doing in the time frame and place that I am or will be at, then I roll and work with what’s at hand and go from there.

Editor’s End Note:  Jo Moulton is a story that continues to unfold and I expect there will be more to report on her activities with film festivals and film production.

To learn more about the Temecula Valley International Film Festival click on the logo.

Thursday, July 18, 2024