PICTURED: Haiffa al-Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate will be screened June 7 at Plaza Cinemas 14 in Oxnard.

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer


“After 14-15 months, we’re finally back on!”

George Sandoval, founder and executive director of the Oxnard Film Society, has been looking forward to the day when he can once again offer world cinema to movie lovers on the big screen. After more than a year of streaming foreign and independent films online, Plaza Cinemas 14 in downtown Oxnard is open for business, and OFS will return to its usual slot: the first and third Monday of the month, starting June 7, with movies at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Sandoval recalls the challenges of moving to an online format in March 2020, noting that “a lot of our patrons are senior citizens — they are reluctant to try something new.” He had to coach people through the process of accessing online films, hooking up the proper cables to watch them on their home televisions, etc. Now that OFS is heading back to the theater, he has another problem to solve.

“The issue now is to create a healthy and safe environment.”

He’s not too worried. Everyone will be expected to wear a mask. In a theater that seats 236 people, he plans to cap ticket sales around 60 and assign everyone spots, to ensure that the audience is physically distanced. Sandoval also says that the theater has a new air filtration system and enhanced cleaning protocols. The OFS website has all the health and safety guidelines listed in detail, and Sandoval will be sending out an email about them as well. 

“But you know,” he says, “if you have your vaccination, you don’t have a lot to worry about.”

Which is one reason that he will be respectfully asking all patrons to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

OFS has always prided itself on bringing fine international films to local audiences; many of his selections probably wouldn’t screen anywhere else in Ventura County. As it begins its 15th season on June 7, OFS continues that tradition. The first film offered is The Perfect Candidate from Saudi Arabian director Haiffa al-Mansour. 

Al-Mansour is a heavy hitter: She’s one of Saudi Arabia’s best known film directors, and its first woman filmmaker. Sandoval presented her feature directorial debut, 2012’s Wadjda, about a Saudi Arabian girl who dreams of owning a bicycle, to OFS patrons some years ago; it was a big hit. Al-Mansour’s latest offering focuses on young doctor Maryam, who decides to run for city council. Maryam’s journey provides a glimpse into the changing roles of women and the challenges they continue to face in Saudi Arabia.

One of the things Sandoval likes best about The Perfect Candidate is that it gives the audience an idea of “what it’s like to live in Saudi Arabia. It’s just an eye-opening movie.”

Where The Perfect Candidate is more of a drama, things lighten up with Ben Sharrock’s Limbo from Scotland, a satirical look at the process of becoming a Scottish citizen through the eyes of a group of asylum seekers. Limbo will be screened on June 21.

Sandoval is still working out his lineup for the rest of the summer, and screened films will continue to be streamed for those who have come to prefer the comforts of home over a theater. But the OFS founder is glad to be “rolling again,” and can’t wait to get back to seeing the world on the big screen.

“That’s what the whole series is,” he continues. “You’re taking a journey into another country, another culture . . . it helps create and foster community . . . If every city in the U.S. had a film society that showed films from all over the world, they wouldn’t be so scared of people who aren’t white.”

The Oxnard Film Society screens The Perfect Candidate on Monday, June 7, at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m., at Plaza Cinemas 14, 255 W. Fifth St., Oxnard. Tickets $7.50-$10.75. For more information, visit www.oxnardfilmsociety.org.