While covering the Oscars in February, my colleague and I had the opportunity to kick it with Los Angeles Film Festival Director Stephanie Allain at the hip coffee joint Aroma, which she affectionally calls “my back kitchen because I am here so much.”
To state it frankly, she got us jazzed about the upcoming festival during that coffee chat because Allain is passionate, and that positive energy has a way of penetrating the heart and lingering in the spirit.
Like moths to the flame, we will be covering the Los Angeles Film Festival, now in its 21st year, which is produced by Film Independent, the Los Angeles Times and host partner L.A. LIVE.
LAFF offers unparalleled access to creative voices through energetic film programming, master classes, live performances and conversations with the most compelling artists working today. Including 74 films, 60 shorts, music videos and over 50 new media works, along with signature programs such as the “Filmmaker Retreat” and “Music in Film at the Grammy Museum.” To learn more, go to www.lafilmfest.com.
The industry buzz is rumbling, and we have selected several films as standouts, including Rick Famuyiwa’s “Dope” and “Inside Out.”
“Dope,” produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi — stars Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Chanel Iman and Quincy Brow.
In “Dope,” Malcolm (Moore) is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications and life when a chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek to being dope.
“With his newest film, ‘Dope,’ writer-director Rick Famuyiwa has reclaimed film as an energetic resource for entertainment and social reflection,” said Film Independent curator Elvis Mitchell. “This idea-driven, fast-moving comedy-drama tracks the way African-Americans wrestle with the concept that either they affect the culture or culture subsumes them.”
In “Inside Out,” Pete Docter brings to life the volatile emotions of a pre-teen girl, giving audiences a front row seat to adolescence, parental frailty and the power of human connection,” said Allain.
According to a press release, “‘The Final Girls’ is the kind of film that restores the thrill of watching movies together in the dark. Populated by breakout stars, “The Final Girls” flips the script with an emotional mother daughter storyline that elevates the horror genre and gives meta new meaning.”
On the must-see list is “I Am Thalente,” which follows Thalente Biyela, a 17-year-old homeless skateboard prodigy in South Africa who catches the eye of the professional skate world when a DIY video of him skating goes viral.
In the documentary section, sponsored by Netflix and Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television, our eye is on “Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story.” In the World Fiction competition, a good bet is on “Aram, Aram” and “Can You Dig This.”
Another interesting standout is “Seoul Searching” by Benson Lee. According to a press release, “The comedy is based on his experience and is an homage to the John Hughes teen dramedies of the 1980s. The story centers on a group of Korean high school misfits from the U.S., Mexico and Europe who are forced by their parents to attend a government-sponsored propaganda camp to learn what it means to be Korean.”
“I grew up in the 1980s and fell in love with teen movies from that era,” said Lee. “As a filmmaker, I’ve witnessed some of the most abject stereotypes of Asians in the media. ‘Seoul Searching’ is the first English-language, romantic teen comedy that captures the voices of Asian teens.”
“Aligned with Film Independent’s mission, our curatorial focus at the Los Angeles Film Festival this year was to create a program of vibrant and diverse stories and storytellers who exhibit true and singular voices,” said Roya Rastegar, associate director of programming. “We saw thousands of submissions and chose films with unique perspectives that take a risk in whatever story they tell. This year’s films range from micro-budgets to large-scale productions by first-time directors and widely celebrated veterans. They each hold their own by projecting a distinct way of seeing the world.”