The Los Angeles Film Festival is Back with Something for Everyone

by Carrie Specht

Once again the LA Staple Center campus is about to be bombarded with a taste of Hollywood. Home of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Regal Theatre at the corner of the campus at Olympic and Cherry streets in downtown will soon be over run by filmmakers, and movie fans of all types as they spend eleven days taking in all the LAFF has too offer. And this year the selection is impressively diverse.

Opening Thursday, June 14 the festival starts off with Woody Allen’s highly anticipated latest feature, To Rome with Love. The big name cast includes Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni and of course, Allen himself. It’s not quiet like the little independents the festival use to feature opening nights back in the day, but for all his star-studded casting, Allen still manages to hold his independent status if only on a technicality. Likewise, the closing night film on Sunday, June 24 is not exactly keeping in theme with independent filmmaking. After all, Magic Mike is about a bunch of male exotic dancers lead by Hollywood heart throbs Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. However, I’m sure both films will be big crowd pleasers that bring in audiences that might not otherwise attend such a festival. It’s certainly a great way to attract the uninitiated to a world beyond the usual megaplex.

But if you want a true taste of what the festival is all about then I urge to check out what’s showing in between the all the fanfare at the beginning and the end of the two week event. The Gala Screenings include a fanciful and original tale from Fox Searchlight featuring a six-year-old girl in the Delta (Beasts of the Southern Wind), a story of an African American woman adjusting her life in the face of drastic changes (Middle of Nowhere), and a Steve Carell comedy about the end of life as we know it (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). And the Narrative Competition has even more diversity to offer with four of the ten films coming from outside the United States, including entries from Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Of course, if you really want to talk independent filmmaking, be sure to check out the Documentary Competition selections. With subjects ranging from the responsibility of the HIV infected to Midwives, and from Punk Rock to Vampira, you’ll undoubtedly have plenty to provoke and intrigue you. And naturally the International Showcase has a vast array of countries represented, from Taiwan/Myanmar to Switzerland (go to http://www.lafilmfest.com/ for a complete schedule). Then there’s the Summer Showcase. To me this is just a fancy title for the American made (or financed) independent feature films. You know, the ones made outside of the traditional Hollywood production system. Heavily peppered with an unusual number of documentaries (almost half) there’s a wide range of subjects and genres to interest even the most die-hard Saturday matinee, popcorn-munching fanatic. Last year I stuck a pin in this section to help me decide between screenings and I was not disappointed. So, go ahead and be daring. Try something new at the movies. Of all the time to experiment, this is it.

Whatever you decide to see at this year’s festival don’t miss out on the enormously popular Community Screenings. Set at an outdoor venue (check site for details) these classic films are selected for their vast appeal to the young and old. These are for the most part films that appealed to parents of the younger generation when they themselves were the age of their offspring. These films include E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dirty Dancing (with a dance along), and what I consider the best of the bunch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. On a cool summer night in the heart of downtown LA, what could possibly be more memorable than sharing a cherished film of your youth with the ones you cherish? And it’s a wonderful way to introduce movie fans of any age to classic cinema, as well as the culture that’s available to them in the amazing city of Los Angeles.

I didn’t even touch on the films in The Beyond showcase, The Retro showcase or the Short Films, so be sure to use the links listed to check everything playing at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. If you try it once, I’m sure you’ll want to make it a part of your annual summer festivities. It’s that good.