Posted: 07/11/2006

 

Los Angeles Film Festival – June 22-July 2, 2006

by Dianne Lawrence




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This has been a breakthrough year with the growth and diversity of our films, events, audience awareness, and attendance, said Film Independent Executive Director Dawn Hudson. More than ever, we feel like what we have accomplished with this year’s festival truly reflects Film Independent’s overall mission to put the spotlight on the diversity of films that are accessible to audiences.

Maintaining and expanding its claim of being a world-class venue, the Festival included an overwhelming number of categories featuring 265 films. It received more than 4,300 submissions from filmmakers around the world with the final selections representing several World, North American, and U.S.premieres with an increase of 600 submitted films from the 2005 Festival. It has been a wonderful experience to see audiences discovering and enjoying the work of all of the filmmakers at the Festival, said

Programming Director Rachel Rosen. This year’s award winners represent a group of highly talented, diverse filmmakers, whose unique visions captured the hearts and imaginations of festival-goers.

With more than 80,000 attendees at this year’s Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival has become the most largely attended festival in Los Angeles, said Festival Director Richard Raddon. In an effort to accommodate the parking needs of this ever expanding audience, the Festival moved from its familiar Hollywood haunt to Westwood. Along with a variety of restaurants and café’s, numerous participating venues (including the Hammer Museum, Westwood Crest, Mann Festival, The Landmark Regent, the Majestic Crest, UCLA’s James Bridges theatre and Freud Playhouse) and Westwood’s small town feel, this new environment received resounding kudos’ from attendants. The Festival has not completely abandoned their Hollywood roots. With a nod to the east side audience, they have maintained the services of the Ford Amphitheater and Laemmles 5 on Sunset.

Guest director George Lucas’s presented Seven Samurai, Dr. Strangelove and Masculine Feminine, which may provide a first time viewing for many of the younger audience members. The opening and closing Galas featured The Devil Wears Prada and Little Miss Sunshine. Artist-in-Residence hip-hop genius producer/artist Danger Mouse chose Deconstructing Harry, Donnie Darko and the Marriage of Maria Braun to represent his eclectic taste. The categories included two competitions for Narrative and Documentary, the International Showcase featuring 20 films from new directors and spotlighting Israel, the Dark Wave’s horror films with the quirky Hot Chicks, a selection of 9 Shorts based on the comic books of Evangelical cartoonist Jack T. Chick, Guilty Pleasures, Special Screenings, Family screenings, Free Screenings, Music Videos, Shorts, Industry events, Festival talks, a Film Financing Conference, Porch parties and the social center, Target’s Red Room. It’s a head-spinning whirlwind of choice and participation. The excellent production by its talented staff and helpful volunteers, the gorgeous California weather, strolling opportunities, running into friends and joining them for a viewing has provided, as always, an exciting and engaging experience for all concerned.

Head Trauma
Directed by Lance Weiler
Produced by Lance Weiler, John Stefanic
http://www.headtraumamovie.com/

Head Trauma takes us into the waking nightmare of drifter George Walker. A very troubled George (played by the talented Vince Minola) returns to his old neighborhood to claim his deceased grandmothers house only to discover it’s a week away from the wrecking ball. George’s shocking dreams with repetitive images of a car wreck and a woman hanging from a tree have been keeping him awake. He moves into the house in an attempt to clean it up and save it from demolition but his nightmares begin to intrude into his waking reality.

Director Lance Weilers’s feature The Last Broadcast had a run on HBO and IFC and he was touted as one of twenty-five people helping to re-invent entertainment and change the face of Hollywood. Although his talent as a director is evident, this film shows more promise than full realization. The integrity of his effort is clear as he focus’s on evoking the troubled inner world of a distressed soul and he does succeed in creating an uncomfortable and disturbing atmosphere. Yet he steals images a little too generously from other films (most obviously Blair Witch and Ringu) to provide any deeply shocking moments. His use of standard Boo! and creepy moment tactics may work for the easily creeped out fan but aren’t quite as effective for the taste of the more seasoned horror aficionado. The familiar premise along with Georges slow awakening to the truth of his troubles stole any real surprise or shock from the final revelation in the end. The characters felt believable with honest reactions and it’s clear that Lance’s taste for terror is genuine but that deep spine tingling drag into a horrifying reality, the kind that stays long after one has left the theater is just beyond the reach of this promising initial effort. I do look forward to a more courageous venture into the real terrors of Lance’s own dark imagery.

Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man
Directed by Lian Lunson
Produced by Lian Lunson, Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey
http://www.leonardcohenimyourman.com/

Think of Leonard Cohen. Now think of Mel Gibson. Now imagine what kind of bridge might link these two distinctly, uh, unique personality’s together. Well, Mel is one of the producers of Lian Lunson’s documentary I’m Your Man an absorbing and affectionate look at the work and history of one of our great contemporary poets and musicians, Leonard Cohen.

In 2005 Hal Wilner produced a concert in Sydney Australia bringing together a group of extraordinary musicians to pay tribute to this critically acclaimed musician and master of the written word. Ms. Lunson documented the event and returned to Los Angeles to interview Leonard in his home. The movie artfully weaves in and out of the concert, interviews with everyone involved and great footage of childhood home movies, photos and self-made art all from Leonard’s archives.

Leonard and his work have inspired loving devotion from serious critics, pop icons, literary elitists and any woman he has ever bothered to say hello to. He was born in Montreal in 1934 and formed his first band, a country and western trio called the Buckskin Boys, when he was 17. At 22 he published his first collection of poetry Lets Compare Mythologies and over the next seven years traveled through Europe spending most of his time on Hydra with Marianne Jensen and her son Axel. During this time he wrote and published two books, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers, which made him a household word in every respectable bohemian, hipster digs. But something larger called. Intent on pursuing a musical career he made his way to Nashville and onto one of the definitive 60’s albums In My Life by Judy Collins who covered Suzanne and Dress Rehearsal Rag. In ‘67 he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival and was picked up by the great John Hammond, an A&R man from Columbia records (who had brought Springsteen, Dylan and Billie Holiday to the label). Leonard went on to release his first album, another 60’s icon The Songs of Leonard Cohen which included four Cohen Classics, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Sisters of Mercy and Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye. The album easily placed him in the starry pantheon of one of the great musical decades of the 20th century.

In the perfect song, music and lyrics come together with such precise intelligence that they seem to sing the singer. Leonard achieves this time and again. His work articulates the complex reality of the timeless moments between men and women, humanity and Spirit. Each tune is crafted to its own unique reason for being so you can have an old European waltz, a mariachi sound, and a rousing call to arms all in the same recording. I imagine the reason his work seems to spawn so many tributes is that the poetry is not only beautiful and richly crafted but the music is so much fun to sing. I believe Jennifer Warren’s tribute album was the first, followed by I’m Your Fan with REM, John Cale, Nick Cave and others and now the I’m Your Man concert of this film. It starts off with a rousing shout out to the ladies by Nick Cave as he insists, I’m Your Man. Antony lets fly with a particularly touching version of If It Be Your Will The McGarrigle Sisters make a welcome appearance with Winter Lady and team up later with the adorable Rufus Wainright and his sis Martha Wainwright for Everybody Knows. Beth Orton, Teddy Thompson, Jarvis Cocker, Joan Wasser, Perla Batalla and Julie Christenson all bring Leonard’s music to rousing life. Bono and U2 join Leonard in the end for a tough, smooth talking Tower of Song. All of these musicians talk about the effect of Leonard’s words and music and share entertaining stories about him but the most interesting interviews of course are with Leonard. We get to witness his famous modesty, droll observations and insightful perceptions about the music, his life and his famous spiritual journey (he is an ordained Zen Buddhist monk).

Curiously for one so well known for his love of women, there is no information about his relationships or interviews with any of the important women in his life and this does feel missed. But I might guess that Leonard’s courtly approach to these matters would not allow him to impose on the ladies in such a manner.

He has withstood the test of time and even more difficulty the fickleness of the music industry and this film will satisfy the interest of anyone wanting to experience the spirit of this remarkable talent. As Mel Gibson observes with surprising poetic insight Leonard Cohen has spent a life seeking purity of expression. He has humbled himself, shunning the superfluous distractions of the material to venture naked and open of heart into that dark night of the soul; to return then with his words, a Sherpa from the depths, bearing missives that tell of the indefinable.

Hot Chicks

Jack T. Chick is an evangelical cartoonist who works very hard to let you know that Christ was nailed on a cross so that you, pathetic sinner, can have a shot at heaven. The only criteria? Get on your knees and believe. Less interested in the teachings of Christ and more concerned with the simple act of buying Christ, he has drawn, written and distributed over 500,000 copies of 190 small cartoons pamphlets in over 100 languages since 1961. He confronts every possible scenario of sin imaginable with the result of someone, somehow getting saved in the end.

In this extremely loving and faithful evocation of his stories, 9 sinners got together and directed and produced a favored episode. They do not hold their tongue in their cheek but remain faithful to the spirit of the story, interpreting the message in a very literal way. By the end of the film one is either completely turned off of all things evangelical or heading out the door to the next Church service. But the real fun is in the wonderfully imaginative vision of each of the clever directors. With everything from puppets, to animation and live action each director brings a unique and thoroughly entertaining voice to their story.

Angels
DirectedBy:TOMMY!

Bewitched
DirectedBy:Tim Kirk

Cleo
DirectedBy:Bryce Ingman

Doom Town
DirectedBy:P. David Ebersole

Party Girl
DirectedBy:Anonymous

La Princesita
DirectedBy:Jaime Tolbert Franklin

Somebody Goofed
DirectedBy:Rodney Ascher, Syd Garon

Titanic
DirectedBy:Rodney Ascher, Syd Garon

Wounded Children
DirectedBy:Todd Hughes

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis
Written and Directed by Mary Jordan
Produced by Kenneth Wayne Peralta
http://www.jacksmithandthedestructionofatlantis.com/

Jack Smith was exactly the kind of misguided soul Jack T. Chick wanted to save. Thank goodness for American culture that Mr. Smith wasn’t interested.

Jack Smith was a brilliant, complicated, difficult, pioneering, queer, visionary artist, filmmaker, photographer, writer and wit in the fabulous fifties and early 60’s of New York. His methods predate and influenced Warhol’s famous factory and his lush visionary imagery turned up in Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirit’s” after Fellini received images of Jack’s work. His notorious 1963 film Flaming Creatures with lush sets, costumes and erotic images of men and women and men as women, was banned everywhere and set upon by a young Strom Thurmand in an anti-porn tirade in Congress.

Jack would pray to his muse, Maria Montez, the kitschy star of 40’s films on an altar he created for her and he referred to his opulent style as baroque. He was romantic, funny, outrageously magical and believed America hated art. He felt the system wanted to co-opt true creative vision and referred to the establishment as the lobster people (in an episode of South Park the boys discover a nefarious underground world of crabs who disguised themselves as people who want to take over the world…a Smith influence?) Like all artists with a powerful vision backed up by powerful production, people would flock around Jack to participate for free, hang out and contribute.

Because of the troubles Flaming Creatures brought Jack, he decided to avoid completing another artwork, figuring they couldn’t attack what he didn’t finish. Jack focused on performance art. Wanting to perform only for the true believers, the ones who were willing to wait, his well- attended performances (whom some claim contain his best work) would start hours after the appointed time. His desire to make art truly for arts sake, never willing to compromise his powerful vision for a buck had the inevitable consequence of poverty and he got by on a diet of the most minimal sustenance. When he lay in the hospital dying of aids, he reveled in his daily three square meals of healthy food. Yet, despite his poverty, (his mom supported him for most of his life) he lived a veritable lifelong orgasm of flaming vision, creative force and relentless gorgeous production.

This excellent absorbing documentary and tribute to Jack by a very talented Mary Jordan is skillfully crafted. Jacks life was not ordered and linear but Mary succeeds in evoking his poetic genius by pulling it all together through effective interviews, footage, excellent editing and Jacks own words culled from old recordings. Artists like Jack remind us of the Dionysian spirit at the heart of the urge and lushness of life. A vigorous lushness and directness that the Lobster people, the museum curators, art critics and gallery directors, tend to find a little too rich for their systems.

Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror
Directed by Stacy Title
Produced by Jonathan McHugh, Martin Shore, Christopher Tuffin, Ted Chung, Tim Sullivan

Take the moralizing of the original Twilight Zone, combine it with the goofy celebration of cartoonish horror in Tales from the Crypt, stir in some in your face, in the Hood culture and you have the beginning of a new horror genre Creep Hop. The real satisfaction of this popcorn munching, frivolous, fright fest rests more on a hilarious line or scene then it does on any real horror but there is still some small guilty pleasure to be found when the loathsome bad guys get their comeuppance.

The writers and actors are clearly having fun with some surprise visits from Billy Dee Williams and Jason Alexander. Just the idea of Mr. Alexander appearing in this kind of film has me chuckling and I particularly enjoyed the enthusiastic performance of Anson Mount as a despicable, arrogant good ole boy who, in order to collect his inheritance, is forced to bunk with the wartime buddies of his father . Snoop Dogg, as always, is as cool as a cucumber and the production doesn’t fall short in keeping true to the cartoon visuals of comic strip horror. It would make a successful TV series and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where this is headed. The kids (anyone under 30) will dig it, uh, I mean, find it dope and tight.

Boffo
Produced and Directed by Bill Couturie
For HBO
Inspired by the book Boffo: How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb written by Peter Bart, editor-in-chief of Variety and released in conjunction with Variety’s 100th Birthday, Boffo is an enormously entertaining look at what it takes to make a blockbuster or a bomb. Great interviews include Peter Bogdanovich, Pierce Brosnan, David Brown, George Clooney, Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Evans, Morgan Freeman, Brian Grazer, Peter Guber, Alan Horn, Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Sherry Lansing, Sydney Pollack, Tom Rothman, John Singleton, Charlize Theron, Nia Vardalos and Richard Zanuck. They all confirm one clear and undeniable truth, there is absolutely no formula and it’s impossible to know what makes a hit. But they all agree that every success has a great script. Morgan Freeman makes a droll observation when he lists all the things that shouldn’t add up to a hit, ending with the punch line…and then there’s Penguins! George Clooney observes, “There’s so many ways to screw this up. You start off with a great script, the director screws it up, an actor gives a bad performance, the editor screws up, the music sucks. The release date sucks, the ad campaign sucks…So when it works, it’s a miracle.”

We get inside stories about the making of such classics as “The Godfather” the first movie made from a bestselling book and “Jaws” the first to make $100 million. Richard Dreyfuss, who appears in the documentary with fake blood smeared over his face, talks about the never ending reports on the walkie talkies during the shoot that the shark isn’t working!. “Driving Miss Daisy” a film about an old Jewish lady and black driver should have never been successful. “Titanic,” “Forrest Gump,” “Tootsie,” and the beginning of the successful sequel genre with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Silence of the Lambs” are all explored with insightful and entertaining stories.

One walks away with a deep sense of the enormous chutzpah, vision, tenacity, courage and Herculean work it takes to roll the dice on an idea. An idea whose success lies in that simple moment when after sitting in a movie seat with a bag of popcorn, optimism and good will, we get up satisfied or wishing we had stayed at home with a video. This documentary is a very satisfying experience.

2006 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL

AWARD WINNERS

Winner of the Target Filmmaker Award

Best Narrative Feature

The award carries with it an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 funded by Target

Steve Collins’s Gretchen

Winner of the Target Documentary Award

Best Documentary Feature

The award carries with it an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 funded by Target

Amy Berg’s Deliver Us From Evil

Spirit of Independence Award recipient

Charlize Theron

Winner of the Audience Award

Best Narrative Feature

Robert Cary’s Ira & Abby

Winner of the Audience Award

Best Documentary Feature

Jeff Werner and Susan Koch’s Mario’s Story

Winner of the Audience Award

Best International Feature

Tomer Heymann’s Paper Dolls

Outstanding Performance Narrative Competition

The ensemble cast of Mike Akel’s Chalk: Troy Schremmer, Janelle Schremmer, Shannon Haragan, Chris Mass.

Best Narrative Short Film

Gustavo Taretto’s Side Walls.

Best Documentary Short Film

Cedar Sherbert’s Gesture Down (I Don’t Sing).

Best Animated/Experimental Short Film

Adam Parrish King’s The Wraith of Cobble Hill

Audience Award for Best Short Film

Diego Quemada-Diez’s I Want To Be A Pilot.

Dianne Lawrence is a writer and painter in the Los Angeles area. Check out her site here.



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