For its 20th anniversary, the Los Angeles Film Festival decided to honor its namesake. Film Independent, the nonprofit that took over the festival in 2000, is upping the local emphasis this year in what has become one of the city's top international movie showcases.
“We're putting a spotlight on the city of Los Angeles this year as a muse and an inspiration for the rest of the world,” festival director Stephanie Allain said of the nine-day event, which begins with pre-festival screenings Monday and Tuesday of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “22 Jump Street.” The fest officially kicks off Wednesday night with Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho's English-language sci-fi spectacular “Snowpiercer.”
Beyond those big productions and the closing-night gala on June 19, Clint Eastwood's musical “Jersey Boys,” a wide-ranging slate will increase the local flavor like never before, including a new category called LA Muse — movies made in and about the City of Angels.
“There are a lot of local filmmakers in the LA Muse section, and it really shows all aspects of the city, from Echo Park to Chinatown to Westchester to Hollywood,” Allain said.
David Ansen, LAFF's artistic director since it moved downtown to L.A. Live's Regal Cinemas in 2010, noted that specific sections, such as Narrative and Documentary competition, also home in on SoCal with such titles as “Comet,” “Lake Los Angeles,” “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound,” “Meet the Patels” and “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story.”
“Inevitably, because we know a lot of L.A. filmmakers, we get a lot of submissions from L.A. filmmakers,” Ansen said. “In terms of putting together our competition movies — which are almost all world premieres, or at least North American premieres — we didn't go out of our way to program L.A. movies.
“But they were there, and if they were good ones, we did.”
The LA Muse section, guest curated by critic/LACMA film program honcho Elvis Mitchell and artist-scholar Roya Rastegar, features the first public screenings of close to a dozen locally sourced indie features.
“LA Muse has done great this year with the introduction of some really cool movies. I mean, I'm looking forward to seeing them all,” said director Deon Taylor, whose gripping “Supremacy,” starring Danny Glover — about a white-supremacist parolee who holds an African-American family hostage — was entirely shot here.
“Nightingale,” directed by British producer Elliott Lester (“Need for Speed”), is a bravura one-man performance by classically trained British actor David Oyelowo (“The Butler,” Martin Luther King Jr. in the upcoming “Selma”), set in and around a house in Minnesota but shot wholly in Tarzana.
“The L.A. Film Festival supports well-rounded, different points of view,” Lester said. “I mean, I've broken every rule with ‘Nightingale' that a filmmaker can. I've got a black lead playing a semi-gay character who is the only person onscreen in one location. That film, quite frankly, should fail (commercially), but LAFF is saying, ‘You know what? You're weird, we think there's something there — let's celebrate it!' ”
While Muse homes in on L.A.-centric diversity, Film Independent has always strived to reflect the industry's melting-pot nature. As such, the lineup this year is incredibly rich.
There's the popular festival-circuit racial comedy “Dear White People”; the André Benjamin-starring biopic “Jimi: All Is by My Side,” directed by Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley; the African-American lesbian documentary “Out in the Night”; the doc “Limited Partnership,” about one of L.A.'s first gay marriages; acclaimed Mexican comedy “Club Sandwich”; the Simón Bolívar biopic “The Liberator,” starring the estimable Edgar Ramirez; the Korean schoolgirl trauma drama “Han Gong-Ju”; and a film titled “Los Angeles” — in Zapotec.
Overall, there are features and shorts from some 40 countries, including a healthy selection of American indie rural dramas and rom-coms.
“Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and we aspire to have a festival that reaches and serves the entire city,” said Film Independent President Josh Welsh.
LAFF is so inclusive, in fact, it has offerings for people who don't want to watch movies: numerous music-related events, as well as sessions with industry professionals on production design, acting, directing, screenwriting and, yes, diversity. Female filmmakers and showrunners will man a “Women Who Call the Shots” panel.
The city of boundless variety will be highlighted by comedy events from Funny or Die and “MadTV” alums “Key & Peele”; a staged reading of a script from the unproduced-screenplay-rater the Black List; a virtual tour of L.A. by one of its finest crime novelists, Michael Connelly; and a free screening of “La Bamba” at Union Station.
“This place has absolutely everything,” said transplant Lester. “People complain that everywhere they go, there are actors or writers talking about scripts and auditions ... But I love that on every corner here you have all these wonderful dreamers.
“You can come here with no track record and say, ‘I want to be an actor or a director or a cameraman' ... If you don't like it, then you can move to Pittsburgh.”
For tickets and information, go to www.lafilmfest.com.
L.A. Film Festival
What: The 20th annual event showcases nearly 200 feature films, shorts and music videos from 40 countries, along with signature programs such as the Filmmaker Retreat, Music in Film Nights at The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, Master Classes, LA Muse and more.
When: June 11-19
Where: Official venue is L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, with many movie screenings at Regal Cinemas Stadium 14, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd. Other downtown venues include The Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd.; Grand Performances (at California Plaza), 350 S. Grand Ave.; LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; Luxe City Center Hotel, 1020 S. Figueroa St.; Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St.
Tickets: Individual tickets and package costs range from $9-$2,500.
For event news and reviews during the festival, be sure to check out www.dailynews.com/topic/la-film-festival.