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Locally filmed independent movie earns 'Audience Award' at California film fest

LOS ANGELES - A small independent film, "Cement Suitcase," a film which was previewed in Sunnyside in late April, has won the "Audience Award" in the Competition Features category at the 16th Dances With Films Festival. The award was accepted by Lower Yakima Valley native J. Rick Castañeda, the film's writer and director, along with the film's producers, Doug Spice, Stacey Wilson and Sonia Pineda. The award was presented by festival founders Leslee Scallon and Michael Trent. In late April local audiences were allowed a private look at "Cement Suitcase" as a thank you by Castañeda and his producers to those who had parts in the film. The screening was held at Hallett Enterprises Grand Cinema in Sunnyside The film's world premiere was screened during the 11-day festival in Hollywood, alongside 15 features in competition, said Castañeda. The awards ceremony was held on Sunday, June 9, at Level 3, near the Mann's Chinese Theatre complex, which hosted the festival. The film was shot entirely on location in Washington's wine country, in the director's hometown of Granger, as well as locations in Prosser, Sunnyside, Zillah and Wapato. The feel-good comedy is the feature debut of Castañeda, a Granger native, and stars veteran improv comic Dwayne Bartholomew, TV personality Kristina Guerrero, originally of Sunnyside (E! News), and Australian TV host turned actor Nathan Sapsford (MTVAustralia, Network TEN), and TV actor Shawn Parsons (Parks and Recreation, Torchwood). The film tells the story of Franklin (Bartholomew), the best wine salesman in the Yakima Valley, who discovers his girlfriend is cheating on him and accidentally befriends the "other man". "More than anything, this is a film about letting go," said Castañeda. "Writing the film was a way of giving myself the courage to actually take chances myself.' Castañeda is an accomplished writer and director, with a large body of award-winning short films, commercials and new media, including the popular comedy web series "Coma, Period," starring comedian Rob Delaney. "Cement Suitcase" was produced by Psychic Bunny, a production company based in Los Angeles, co-founded in 2005 by Castañeda and Spice, along with their fellow USC alums Asa Shumskas Tait and Jesse Vigil, who both served as executive producers. "The audience we had at Dances With Films was just spectacular," said Castañeda. "I've seen the film literally hundreds of times throughout the post production process, but hearing the laughter and applause made it feel like the very first time. It sounded like we had a lot of wine lovers in the crowd."

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