Local filmmaker shares love for and potential of Orange

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023

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Orange County native Penny LeLeux began her career in film several years ago.

“In 2019 we did our short film, ‘Shhh,’” she said. “I wanted to showcase Orange County talent and locations. Even the music, a lot of it was from our area, and to our surprise, it’s won over 15 awards now. The talent we have here, the locations we have here; that was the whole reason I did it. I wanted to showcase what we have and encourage other filmmakers to come here. Although I haven’t got any to shoot film yet here, I’ve succeeded in bringing several filmmakers here for this festival.”

LeLeux  is also the director of the Boomtown Film Festival, which is an annual event hosted by The Boomtown Film Society, a nonprofit  promoting the film industry in Southeast Texas.

The festival was held last weekend, when attendees enjoyed live music, film screenings and panel discussions from special guests in downtown Beaumont.

Shhh’s Orange County shooting locations include downtown Orange, Stark Park, Orange Public Library, International Apartments and Rustic Saloon.

A clip of the short, which highlights a few of these locations, can be viewed at the Boomtown Festival website.

During the festival, LeLeux moderated Film Fatales: Women in Film, a panel discussion featuring Molly VernonLynda Reiss and Brook H. Cellars, film professionals who fielded questions exploring, among other topics, the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, the tools of the film trade, sexism in the entertainment industry and their upcoming projects.

Reiss, a British filmmaker, prop master and producer with work on films like Glass Onion, American Beauty and American History X, noted the importance of women in the industry by exploring the uptick in stories honoring WWII-era women soldiers, spies and code breakers.

According to Reiss, women like these, and society at large, benefit from having their stories told by women.

One of these stories is told through Molly Vernon’s 2019 short, “Lillian,” which according to Vernon, has been approved for use in Texas public schools. Set in early 19th century Texas, Lillian details the life of a teenaged girl impacted by the Texas Revolution.

While LeLeux hasn’t experienced sexism in the industry, it was important for her to host and moderate Film Fatales.

“It’s important to me because right now I am probably the only female filmmaker of my age in this area,” she said. “There are a few younger ones who are in their 20s and 30s, but I’m like the only one in their 60s in this area. It’s important because some women have had issues breaking through. I didn’t have as many of them because I’m kind of like Nike, I just do it. I kind of backed into my film career; I was 60 when I did my first 48-hour film race, and I now have nine under my belt. Sometimes I don’t have the same obstacles because I don’t see the same obstacles.”

Eastwood “Woody” Almazan, front, leads the “Rolling with the Punches: Shooting Fight Scenes” presentation at this year’s Boomtown Film Festival. (Shari D. Hardin/Special to The Leader)

Of interest to many festival attendees was “Rolling with the Punches: Shooting Fight Scenes,” featuring Bridge City High alum, Eastwood “Woody” Almazan.

His career has included contributions to 2021 action crime drama The Shipment, a starring role in Shhh and through his Austin-based business — West Mount Action design.

The U.S. Army Veteran, actor and stunt choreographer shared his biography and passion for martial arts.

“I actually got my start in acting with Orange Community Players back in 1996,” he said. “Right after I graduated, I started doing theater. I did it all the way until I was 30. My father, who was from the Philippines, taught me from 4 years old up in martial arts.

“So I always had an inert instinct to do fight choreography. Plus, I loved watching Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee when I was growing up. I got more serious about it when I got older and started doing stage fighting. They always had me doing stunts on stage for (Orange Community Players), which was great. I loved doing that.”

Almazan shared his expertise with the audience; he answered questions, talked shop with peers, and demonstrated his mastery of roundhouse kicks, sidekicks, camera angles and acting, skills he’s honed and utilized during his decades long career in the entertainment business.

— Written by Shari D. Hardin