“What is the Los Angeles Film Festival?” is the first question in Michael Nordine‘s handy FAQ in the LA Weekly. The answer: “The most prominent ‘traditional’ film festival in L.A., which is to say that LAFF deals mainly in world premieres of low-budget indies, from both the United States and abroad, which tend to go relatively unnoticed at the glitzier AFI Fest. Now in its 19th year, the fest is sponsored by Film Independent, the nonprofit that also hosts the Spirit Awards.” And it’s officially opening tonight (after last night’s pre-fest screening of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel) with Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited and running through June 23.
Also in the Weekly: Amy Nicholson previews “seven documentaries in the festival that will change the way we understand Southern California,” Ernest Hardy talks with Eclectic Mix curator Drea Clark about this edition’s lineup of music videos, and then there are the staff picks, written up by Nordine, Hardy, and Doug Cummings, whose recommendations include I.D., which “may be the first feature by Indian filmmaker Kamal K.M., but it’s an utterly confident, absorbing drama told with visual precision and rhythmic momentum that plunges the viewer into the social fabric of contemporary Mumbai.”
“This year, the festival also has a particularly strong selection of conversations, panels and events that take audiences beyond simply watching movies,” notes Mark Olsen in the Times, which has a nifty graphic showcasing the paper’s highlights. “An event on June 14 will have actress Maya Rudolph discussing comedy; on June 17, Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal will moderate a conversation with French Greek political filmmaker Costa-Gavras. Collaborators Ricky Jay and David Mamet will be in conversation June 18; filmmakers Spike Jonze and David O. Russell sit down together June 22. (Russell is the festival’s guest artistic director this year and will have an event of his own June 16.)” More LAT sneak peeks: Susan King on James Wan’s The Conjuring, with Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor, and Oliver Gettell on Karl Jacob’s’s Pollywogs.
“Studios once reluctant to showcase top films at LAFF… have begun to see its value as a low-pressure showcase for movies with awards aspirations,” reports TheWrap‘s Steve Pond, who interviews LAFF director Stephanie Allain and artistic director David Ansen.
More previews: Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail on “a few personal favorites” (actually more than a few), Indiewire‘s Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn on ten selections, Ryland Aldrich at Twitch, and the Playlist, offering a good handful of exclusive clips.
Updates, 6/17: “The nonfiction film Black Out opens with scenes of a nighttime airport and shifts to close-ups of teenagers reading aloud from their textbooks,” begins Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. “How the two seemingly disparate elements are connected is the revelatory essence of Eva Weber’s portrait of the West African nation of Guinea.”
At Twitch, Ben Umstead notes that “when we are talking flicks about adolescents and young adults the bar has been set considerably high by American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused and their life-changing one-nighters. It is then a real testament to director Alexander Mirecki and his entire cast and crew that his feature debut All Together Now feels so fresh.”
Also at Twitch, Ryland Aldrich finds that Sebastián Cordero “brings a well-tuned human element to this space exploration drama that succeeds on the strength of the performances and interactions between characters. Though the storytelling gets more than a bit mushy in the editing room, ultimately Europa Report gets it right and provides a very enjoyable sci-fi ride.”
For the Los Angeles Times, Dana Ferguson talks with the cast of Forev and writer-directors Molly Green and James Leffler: “The film tells the story of neighbors and new friends Sophie (Noël Wells) and Pete (Matt Mider) who get engaged on an impromptu road trip to pick up Pete’s younger sister (Amanda Bauer) at college. Along the way, the couple faces challenges that make them question whether the cons of marriage outweigh the insurance benefits and tax breaks.”
Ferguson also talks with Alex and Andrew Smith about Winter in the Blood, which the Playlist‘s Katie Walsh notes focuses “on a young and troubled Blackfoot Indian, Virgil First Raise (Chaske Spencer). Things aren’t going so well for Virgil— he’s developed a hell of a drinking habit (he wakes up in a ditch) and his wife Agnes (Julia Jones) has left him and taken his rifle and electric razor (probably to pawn for a drink).” Sounds like rough going, but “the Smith brothers have created a truly beautiful and unique film.”
“With same-sex marriage being evaluated at the state level across the country and the Supreme Court near its decision on the subject, the documentary The New Black could hardly be more timely.” Ferguson again, talking with director Yoruba Richen.
She also interviews director Joe Burke and screenwriter and lead actor Oliver Cooper. The film’s Four Dogs, “a slightly fictionalized story about Cooper’s relationship with his aunt and his life in her house.” And one more LAT interview, Celine Wright‘s with David Lowery, talking, of course, about Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
At his own site, Stephen Saito talks with Karl Jacob about Pollywogs.
Updates, 6/19: “While micro-budget, plotless indies about sad sack dudes and their lonely lives are old hat at a time when anyone can pick up a camera and shoot,” writes Ryan Lattanzio at Thompson on Hollywood, “Joe Burke’s Four Dogs, a narrative competition LAFF world premiere, stands a cut above as a portrait of two emotionally impotent man-children.”
Stephen Saito talks with Molly Green and James Leffler about Forev.
“Not many films get made in Latvia every year, so the chance to see one is a rarity and with a film like Mother, I Love You (Mammu, es Tevi milu), it’s also a treat,” writes Katie Walsh at the Playlist. “Directed by Janis Nords, the film tells a fairly simple story in a very sophisticated way, proving the too-often forgotten truth that with good cinematic storytelling any tale can be tense, suspenseful and emotional.”
“Good movies can open our eyes to hidden parts of America, and that is the chief enticement of My Sister’s Quinceanera,” writes Stephen Farber. It was “filmed in Muscatine, Iowa, where writer-director Aaron Douglas Johnston grew up…. While the movie has no overt political agenda, it does remind us of the growing diversity of our society. The film is no more than a tender slice of life without much narrative push, but audiences will warm to the vivid characters.”
Also in the Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden: “Nahid Persson Sarvestani was not yet 20, and a committed leftist, when the Islamic Revolution shook her native Iran to the core. She was able to escape the ensuing crackdown on dissidents, and took asylum in Sweden, but her brother was arrested and executed. In search of information about his final days, and struggling with her survivor’s guilt, she tracked down five of her fellow activists, all women, and recorded their emotional recollections of the torture they endured as prisoners of the Ayatollah’s regime. The result is My Stolen Revolution, a film that places powerful material within a problematic structure.”
Anne Thompson‘s been furiously meeting and greeting. And a batch of industry folk who’ve recently made the Indiewire Influencers list discussed Steven Spielberg’s recent remarks on Hollywood’s impending “implosion” on Monday: “With panelists currently embroiled in the process of addressing changes to the marketplace of independent film, the reactions to this statement revolved less around the veracity of Spielberg’s statement and instead focused on what kinds of models may come next.”
Updates, 6/20: “Back in the golden age of moviemaking, almost all film editors were women, as the process was deemed similar to sewing or craftwork,” writes the LA Weekly‘s Sherrie Li. “As the L.A. Film Festival winds down, you can hear from some modern-day equivalents during Saturday’s 2 p.m. Women in the Cut: A Celebration of Women Editors panel, which includes Sandra Adair (Before Midnight), Maryann Brandon (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Oscar nominee Pamela Martin (The Fighter).”
David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter: “There’s no questioning the profound personal investment and deep connection to the wide-open spaces of Montana that grace Alex & Andrew Smith’s Winter in the Blood, the twin brothers’ first feature since their brooding 2002 coming-of-age drama The Slaughter Rule. But in remaining true to the spirit of Native American writer James Welch’s landmark 1974 novel, they have not succeeded in solving the central problem of how to render in emotionally involving narrative terms a fundamentally page-bound, internalized story.”
Justin Lowe in THR on Forev: “Bearing many of the familiar narrative and visual hallmarks of DIY productions, Green and Leffler’s talky, co-scripted feature can’t manage to generate many original ideas, and while they introduce some potentially quite comedic situations, the commitment (or perhaps the budget) to see them through is rarely apparent.”
Updates, 6/22: “Family dynamics played a pivotal role in multiple films from this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, even if this theme was conveyed in wildly different ways that crossed genres and styles.” Glenn Heath Jr. here in Keyframe on My Sister’s Quinceañera, Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 (see, too, the SXSW and BAMcinemaFest roundups), Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian’s Forty Years From Yesterday, and Johnnie To’s Drug War.
“The most-talked-about film to emerge from the festival this year was Code Black, a documentary on the emergency room at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center made by Ryan McGarry, a doctor who works there,” writes Mark Olsen in the Times. “A world premiere at LAFF and a far more handsome and better-constructed film than one might expect—it also doesn’t hurt that McGarry and his colleagues are central-casting good-looking—the film is an up-close exploration of the specifics of a transition in how the hospital’s emergency room is run and a big-picture look at the business of modern medicine. Somehow provocative without being divisive, Code Black has proved so popular with LAFF audiences that additional screenings were added to meet demand.” Stephen Saito interviews McGarry.
For Katie Walsh, “Code Black manages to encapsulate so much of what is wrong with our health care system, but also to point out what’s right, and to posit an attitude shift not just about health care but about how we as a society treat those around us who are in pain or suffering.”
And she’s got more from the festival at the Playlist. Denis Henry Hennelly’s Goodbye World places “a group of seven college friends in a Northern California cabin in the wake of a cyber attack. While it has its funny moments, it’s definitely not a comedy, but it seeks to acknowledge the weird ways in which people react to times of crisis, especially amongst this particular group, with their complicated personal histories. Will they implode from their own internal strife or outside threats?” Her score: B+. And Four Dogs wins an A-.
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn gives Europa Report a B and argues that “with The Cohen Film Collection’s restoration of early Melville film Two Men in Manhattan, the case for a thorough Melville retrospective to make the rounds is stronger than ever.”
“‘Not every child is a blessing,’ warns the tagline for Brian Netto’s film debut, Delivery,” notes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “While meant to be eerie in relation to the subject here, everyone is more than likely aware of the bitter but truthful sentiment it really is, as Netto’s (familiar) exploration of the supposedly celestial joys of parenthood are delightfully skewered with this genre blend of found footage and pregnancy horror.”
Doug Pray’s “provocative” documentary, Levitated Mass, “follows the installation of Michael Heizer’s massive sculpture at LACMA and the controversy that has long surrounded this artist’s work,” notes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. “Pray and his cinematographers do a superb job of capturing the grandeur of Heizer’s work, and the haunting musical score by the experimental band Akron/Family complements the otherworldly sculpture. Nevertheless, the film will not convince everyone that this boulder perched precariously over a walkway at LACMA deserves to be considered the equal of venerated works by Old Masters inside the museum walls. But Pray does not browbeat viewers into applauding the artist’s achievement. The filmmaker thoughtfully documents a phenomenon and allows the arguments to continue to rage after the lights come on.”
At the House Next Door, Oscar Moralde suggests that Drug War might serve “as a marker for the trajectory of an increasingly intertwined Hong Kong and mainland cinema.” Also reviewed are Purgatorio, Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes‘s “essayistic documentary” on “the politically and emotionally charged U.S.-Mexico frontier,” Ukrainian director Eva Neymann’s House with a Turret, adapted from a story by Solaris screenwriter Fridrikh Gorenshtein, and Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You, which “can be seen as a kindred spirit to House with a Turret in its contemplation of a migratory mother and son under the specters of war, or to Purgatorio in its investigation of the psychic traumas etched by borders and paths of exile. But When I Saw You is considerably lighter than either of those films; it’s a childhood fantasia interwoven with the experience of refugees and paramilitary revolutionaries.”
Updates, 6/23: Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter on All Together Now: “Whether the title of Alexander Mirecki’s debut comedic drama should be interpreted as an imperative or as a reference, it certainly isn’t descriptive of a film so lacking in narrative thrust and stylistic distinction.”
“A sensationally entertaining old-school freakout and one of the smartest, most viscerally effective thrillers in recent memory.” That’s Justin Chang in Variety on James Wan’s The Conjuring with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Maggie Lange rounds up more reviews at Thompson on Hollywood.
Updates, 6/24: The jury’s named Code Black best documentary and Janis Nords’s Mother, I Love You best narrative. At Twitch, Ryland Aldrich notes that “the jury also gave a Best Performance in a Narrative Feature award to Geetanjali Thapa for her role in Kamar K.M’s Mumbai-set drama I.D.” The audience awards go to Short Term 12 (narrative), Grace Lee’s American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (documentary), “and the Best International Feature audience award went to Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda, the first ever narrative feature shot completely in Saudi Arabia (and by a female director, no less).” Aldrich has the full list.
Stephen Saito has posted a detailed account of the conversation between David O. Russell and Spike Jonze, who focused primarily on Being John Malkovich and Where the Wild Things Are, “only mentioning Adaptation when recalling how during the 13-month editing process there were 30 different versions of the film, which isn’t atypical for Jonze.” As for Wild Things, Jonze told “a great story about how [James Gandolfini] singlehandedly gave shape to the film during rehearsals.” And then there were the “two clips from his next film Her, which he described as ‘a movie set in the slight future of L.A. and Joaquin Phoenix’s character buys the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system.'”
In Expedition to the End of the World, “Daniel Dencik, Janus Metz, and Michael Haslund-Christensen accompany an expedition of scientists and artists to the northeast of Greenland.” Oscar Moralde at the House Next Door: “The film’s visuals are exquisite, with the cinematography capturing the beautiful desolation of the landscape and lending a grandiose cinematic charge to the whole enterprise; one man comments on Stendhal syndrome as he gazes upon the mountains and sweeping plains.” Also, Europa Report “feels like a SyFy original movie except with a higher IQ.” And “as a showcase for Lake Bell and her performative chops, [In a World…] certainly succeeds.”
At Hammer to Nail, Paul Sbrizzi talks with Joe Burke, Oliver Cooper, and Dan Bakkedahl about Four Dogs.
Update, 6/25: Tom Donahue’s documentary, Casting By, “reveals not just how integral casting directors are to the creative process of filmmaking, but really how important they have been in shaping the history of American cinema,” writes