The LA Film Festival Wraps Up This Weekend

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by Carrie Specht

The 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival (produced by Film Independent) has returned to downtown Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE for a fourth year. On its final days, the highly regarded event continues through Sunday, June 23. Long known to mix Hollywood blockbusters with art-house experiments, and everything in between, the Festival has been screening a diverse slate of nearly 200 feature films (narrowed down from 5,428 submitted), representing more than 40 countries, in genres ranging from horror to comedy to sci-fi to sports documentaries, shorts and music videos. So don’t miss out on any more than you already have. With red carpet premieres, conversations, live music, free outdoor screenings and films from around the world the LA Film Festival is a cinematic experience not to be missed. So get your tickets to what’s left of the most anticipated films before they sell out!

2013 Los Angeles Film Festival Premiere Of Sony Pictures Classics' "I'm So Excited!" - Red CarpetThere are a lot of hot new movies playing this weekend, among them Elijah Wood’s recent success, Maniac, the latest sensation from Denmark, A Hijacking, Sophia Coppola’s Cannes favorite, The Bling Ring, and the low budget indie 20 Feet From Stardom. And then there’s the eclectic array of options offered by the LAFF, which kicked off opening night with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s bawdy, mischievous, new comedy of bad manners, I’m So Excited! The overall lineup includes films from first time filmmakers having their world premiere in LA, and popular favorites from recent festivals gathered from around the world, including the Sundance Grand Jury and Audience award winner Fruitvale Station. This film is set for release later this summer, but the LAFF offers the opportunity to see it and many other gems now before everyone else.

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Now in its nineteenth year, the LAFF is known for showcasing the best in new American and international cinema. It has a long running reputation for providing the movie-loving public with access to some of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers, film industry professionals, and emerging talent. This year the festival introduces 35 World, North American and US Premieres, including Ava DuVernay’s Venus Vs. and the music doc Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, as well as the sci-fi thriller Europa Report. It also features unique signature programs such as the Filmmaker Retreat, Music in Film Nights at the Grammy Museum, Poolside Chats, Master Classes, and Coffee Talks.

la-et-mn-film-independent-announces-lineup-for-001Another Festival highlight are the free Community Screenings. This year they include the world premieres of the music documentary Brasslands and the chess drama Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which is a byproduct of Film Independent’s Project Involve, a program dedicated to cultivating the careers of filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry. And then there’s the 20th Anniversary screening of Dazed and Confused from director Richard Linklater, and a Dance-A-Long screening of John Waters’ Hairspray in honor of its 25th Anniversary.

LA_Film_The-House-That-JackWith so much from which to chose, including the highly anticipated closing night film, The Way, Way Back starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, and Maya Rudolph, it’s best that you visit the official site at lafilmfest.com for the most up-to-date schedule of films and programming. You’re bound to find something that peeks your interest, and since it’s now officially summer I say you go all out and make this weekend’s movie-going experience something you and the whole family will remember. Enjoy all that downtown LA has to offer and take the metro, see the sights as you walk from the station, and bask in what is LA LIVE – it’s a visual sensation before you even get to the theater. Then take a chance and see something you might otherwise never see. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be disappointed. I never have been, not by the LAFF. You owe it to yourself to be a part of what thousands of other Angelinos have known for 19 years – that there’s nothing like else like the LAFF.

"Fruitvale Station"

Regular screenings, conversations, chats and talks are just $13, and even less for Film Independent Members. That’s better than the price of the usual LA movie ticket or even other festivals. Gala screenings and Music Nights at the Grammy Museum run a bit steeper at $20, but then for the experience of participating in such unique events it’s more than worth the money. In addition to screenings and events, Festival passes provide access to a series of networking receptions and entry to the Filmmaker Lounge, where Festival pass holders can interact with Festival filmmakers and professionals in the film community. All Access, Fast, Industry and Cinema Pass holders have access to sold out events. Contact the Ticket Office for passes, tickets and event information by calling 866.FILM.FEST (866.345.6337) or visit LAFilmFest.com.

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.

LAFF Succeeds with Thought Provoking Documentaries

 

Even though I’ve made LA my home for the past thirteen years, like most people who live here, there are many annual events that take place that I’ve never gotten around to experiencing. The LA Film Festival is one of them. But this year is different. After living in San Francisco and never visiting Alcatraz, and living in New York City and never going to the top of the Empire State Building I’ve decided it’s about time I enjoy my surroundings. And so far in regards to the LAFF, I’m really glad I’ve made the effort.

It’s not even that much of an effort really. Now that the Festival is in its second year at LA Live downtown it’s very easy for me to take the Metro from Hollywood for a $3 roundtrip. Granted, finding a place to eat between screenings can be tough when an event at the Staple Center is happening, but the Regal Cinema has turned out to be a real discovery for me. I don’t know about the popcorn, but the screenings I’ve been to so far have all been in great theaters with impressively large screens and incredibly comfortable seats that rival those at the Arclight.

The films themselves have ranged from the well-financed, star-studded, heist job gone terribly wrong, “Drive” to the low budget, lackluster independents attempting to be kooky (I’ll spare giving a title). However, I’ve found that the truly dependable tickets for this year’s fest are the ones for the many thought provoking documentaries, particularly “Once I was a Champion”, “Salaam Dunk” and “Paraiso for Sale” (which screens for the last time tonight at 9:50pm).

Still from from "Once I was a Champion"

“Once I was a Champion” is the story of ultimate fighting champion, Evan Tanner. Many people are familiar with this story, but I was not and do not wish to spoil the many surprises in store for any one who might think this is just another sports bio. It is most certainly not. Granted the title does suggest that this film might just be about the spectacular raise and ignoble fall of an athlete who now bemoans what was and could have been. But there is so much more to this film and its subject than you could possibly imagine.

The thing that interested me the most was the in-depth and personal perspectives the filmmakers were able to obtain from the conflicting accounts of many of Tanner’s closest friends and fellow athletes. In an interview with director Gerard Roxburgh and producer Kirk Porter they made it clear that they wanted to approach the film as a narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end, establishing plot points where the audience would fall in love with the hero, come to dislike him, and fall in love with him all over again, and they succeeded. I fully expect to see Roxburgh at many more festivals in the future with narrative films and look forward to see what his distinctive voice will bring us in the future. “I Once was A Champion” screens two more times during the festival, Thursday the 23rd at 5:30pm and Saturday the 25th at 7:20pm.

Still from "Salaam Dunk"

Likewise, “Salaam Dunk” is another documentary well worth catching on the big screen. All though it also involves a sport, “Salaam Dunk” is most certainly not a sports film. It’s mostly about female empowerment. The YWCA and Girl Scouts of America have been saying it for years, and now “Salaam Dunk” demonstrates how sports can offer young women so much more than just the opportunity to develop athletic skills. Especially if the team is composed of young women who live in a society where playing a game like basketball can provoke violent acts upon the participants. The college students in this film live in a progressive area of Iraq where women are allowed to play sports under certain restrictions. And because it’s unlike anything these women have ever experienced they find new strength in themselves and the multi-ethnic friends they never thought they could have before. Ladies bring your friends, and dads bring your daughters. You’ll be delightfully surprised with the warmth and joy this film inspires. “Salaam Dunk” screens Tuesday the 21st at 7:10pm, Wednesday the 22nd at 4:00pm, and finally on Friday the 24th at 7:40pm.

Still from "Paraiso for Sale"

“Paraiso for Sale” was another well-executed film that had me leaving the theater with my mind reeling a mile a minute. This documentary tells the ongoing tale of an isolated area in Panama which was once an unknown paradise. But now this paradise is under threat from developers as well as individuals who have taken advantage of the near non-existent government in order to participate in what amounts to a land grab. What is particularly maddening is that the natives who have lived on land for generations are being forcibly removed from their homes. Even ex-pats with titled land they bought in good faith are facing an un-winnable battle against corporate giants who wish to build gigantic developments.

It seems almost unfathomable that this could happen and that no one is doing anything about, least of all the local government. Granted, this is an issue as old as time when one thinks of the history of the US, or even Europe. But what is most astonishing and even heartbreakingly demonstrated in this fair and balanced documentary is that we, as humans, haven’t learned our lesson yet, on either side of the battle lines. Come on out tonight and catch “Paraiso for Sale” for its last LAFF screening at 9:50pm. No doubt you will leave the theater discussing the film with fellow audience members whether you know them or not. This film will make you think, and wonder if the rest of the world is right – that there’s just no fighting the guys with the most money.

Whether you catch a documentary or not, there’s plenty to see at this year’s LAFF. And you’ve got practically five whole more days to do it. So no more excuses get out of the house and begin enjoying the many blessings an LA summer has to offer. This could be the beginning of a whole new tradition.