This story has been updated. Please see editor's note below.

The 17th annual Malibu International Film Festival takes place this Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Malibu Civic Theater at City Hall. Several of the 24 films screening during the festival showcase local talent.

The festival opens with Malibu filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle’s feature documentary “Sands of Silence: Waves of Courage,” an exposé on global trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of trafficking survivors, that took nearly eight years to complete.

“It’s not easy being an independent documentary filmmaker,” Alverez-Stehle told The Malibu Times. She said the film, which is her first full-length documentary, would not have been possible without the support of fellow Malibu resident Dierdre Roney, who served as executive producer.

It’s not easy to watch “Sands of Silence.” The stories told by the survivors are harrowing, but Alvarez-Stehle said she saw inspiration in their lives. 

“I find such light, such hope,” she said. 

“There is one woman in the film, Virginia Isaias — everything has been robbed from her, and yet she is able to help others to heal,” Alvarez Stehle said. She explained that Isaias escaped from sexual exploitation in Mexico, rebuilt her life as a U.S. citizen and is now an outspoken advocate for other Latina victims of exploitation. 

“People come to be inspired,” Alvarez-Stehle said.

The filmmaker, who herself is a survivor, recently screened the film for an audience of high school students in Santa Monica. 

“The first question was, how do you manage to forgive?” she said. “It opened a whole discussion on forgiveness and healing.”  

Malibu filmmaker Satie Gossett also has a film in the festival that focuses on forgiving and healing. The 25-minute short “Forgiveness” examines the legacy and impact of slavery in America through the eyes of Oliver (Roland Kilumbu), a brilliant young African American boy who wins an essay contest on how to “fix America,” and asks the president of the United States to apologize for slavery.

It’s an uplifting and moving film. Gossett told The Times the inspiration came from a conversation about slavery he had his own child.

“My son asked me about racism and slavery,” Gossett said. “Out of mouths of babes, but it was good. It needs to be discussed.”

Gossett, the son of longtime local resident, award-winning actor and civil rights activist Louis Gossett, Jr., is building a career for himself in the film industry. He’s written and directed six short films and is the founder of Goose Egg Entertainment.

“Forgiveness” has been submitted to the Academy’s committee. It’s also being screened at schools and at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. 

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Gossett said.

“Endings, Inc.,” a chilling short thriller about an employee at a company that manages clients’ “digital afterlife,” features another Malibu native, actor Hopper Penn.

The film’s director, Emmanuelle Pickett, told The Malibu Times she was inspired by a company in Japan.

“It’s sort of like Yahoo offering funeral services,” she explained. “The whole idea is, ‘Don’t inconvenience the family.’ That’s still taboo in the U.S., but you have situations where someone has died and they still like things on Facebook. We trust companies with all of our information, but ‘safe and encrypted’ doesn’t mean much.”

“Endings, Inc.” will have its world premiere at the festival.

Malibu writer and director Annabel Graham is debuting her first film at the festival. “The Ravine” tells the story of two young women who have a Twilight Zone-like experience on a canyon road at night. The film has a uniquely Malibu sense of place. It’s set on Las Flores Canyon Road and is inspired by an eerie incident Graham once experienced there. 

The film’s website states that, “seven years ago, writer/director Annabel Graham and her childhood best friend came upon an eerie and mysterious event while driving home late at night through their canyon. Graham knew that she wanted to capture that night: The incident she had witnessed, the images that were seared into her mind.”

“Sands of Silence” screens at 11 a.m., “The Ravine” is scheduled at 5 p.m. “Forgiveness” and “Endings, Inc.” will show between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony. 

 The full schedule for the Malibu International Film Festival is available online at malibufilmfestival.org. Admission is free, but RSVP is required.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included minor errors including a misspelling of filmmaker Chelo Alvarez-Stehle's name. The story has been updated to reflect correct information.

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