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11 Films We Cannot Wait to See at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival

This year's festival has something for every cinephile's taste bud.

This year’s Los Angeles Film Festival is mere hours from kicking off, and the annual event boasts a stellar collection of offerings that really span the universe (no, really, they’re showing “Independence Day”), including a number of festival hits and fresh premieres sure to appeal to the discerning tastes of Hollywood’s biggest movie buffs. We’ve picked out 11 titles we’re most excited to see (or, in some cases, for other people to see so that we can finally talk about them more), including films from first-time filmmakers, returning favorites and some of the indie film community’s most respected names. Take a peek.

“Paint It Black”

Paint It Black movie

“Paint It Black”

Amber Tamblyn’s feature directorial debut is a major passion project for the veteran actress, and one she almost didn’t direct. Tamblyn picked up the rights to Janet Fitch’s novel back in 2012 with the intention to produce the film and possibly star in it, but by 2014, she was on deck write and direct the hard-hitting and intimate drama with good friend Alia Shawkat cast as her lead. Tamblyn’s debut is self-assured and impressively lyrical, and Shawkat’s turn as Josie, a young LA wild child who is devastated by the sudden and mysterious death of her boyfriend, is a major step forward for an actress who so often uses her chops for comedic outings. With Janet McTeer co-starring as the boyfriend’s seemingly bonkers mother, “Paint It Black” sees the actresses facing off in increasingly urgent fashion, and the result is a film that hits hard (and hits back). – Kate Erbland

“Don’t Think Twice”

Don't Think Twice movie

“Don’t Think Twice”

The Film Arcade

Mike Birbiglia’s improv comedy has already made a splash at festivals like SXSW and Tribeca, but now it’s heading west to bring its unique charms to a very lucky new set of viewers. The stand-up comedian’s sophomore directing effort centers on a close-knit group of improv players who find their lives – both personal and professional – thrown into massive upheaval when one of them gets the chance to star on the movie’s (thinly veiled) version of “Saturday Night Live.” As the rest of the group struggles to marry their happiness for their pal with their own raging jealousy and stinging disappointment, hard truths are unearthed that threaten the fabric of their lives. Oh, and it’s really, really funny. – KE

“Tracktown”

Tracktown movie

“Tracktown”

Olympic runner Alexi Pappas turns her skills to a different side of the track with “Tracktown,” a brand new drama that she co-directed, co-wrote, co-produced and starred in that – guess what! – follows the trials and tribulations of a world-class college runner. As star athlete Plumb Marigold, Pappas puts a very relatable spin on the seemingly insular world of running, as the film focuses on Plumb discovering that her skills on the track really might not be the only thing she has going for her. Part coming-of-age story and part sports drama, “Tracktown” promises to provide a fresh new look at an oft-covered genre. – KE

“Namour”

Namour movie

“Namour”

Promising to be one of the festival’s most fully-realized first-time features, Heidi Saman’s “Namour” is a slick, sensitive, and exceedingly smart L.A. story about an Arab-American valet named Steven (Karim Saleh) who begins to unravel at the thought of his uncertain future. Los Angeles is a tough place to feel like you’re nobody, and Saman’s film — which lands somewhere in the nebulous middle distance between “Man Push Cart” and “Drive” — knows exactly how to hot-wire the frustrations of the immigrant experience and takes them to exciting new places. – David Ehrlich

“Beyond the Gates”

Beyond the Gates

“Beyond the Gates”

Mandatory viewing for fans of schlocky ’80s horror, Jackson Stewart’s debut feature is a loving throwback to the glory days of VHS, and the dark worlds of wonder that awaited any unsuspecting kids who popped in a tape without knowing what was on it. “Beyond the Gates” tells the story of two estranged brothers who reunite at their missing father’s video store and come across a mysterious VCR board game that might hold the answer to their old man’s whereabouts. Fun and foreboding in equal measure, Stewart’s film is a blast from the past, and makes the most of a great cast that includes endlessly watchable indie stalwarts like Barbara Crampton (“We Are Still Here”) and Brea Grant (“Halloween II”). – DE

No Light and No Land Anywhere

No Light and No Land Anywhere

“No Light and No Land Anywhere”

Five years have passed since writer-director Amber Sealey’s last feature, the endearing marriage comedy “How to Cheat.” An awkward comedy that  Now she’s back — with Miranda July as an executive producer — for her third effort, another intriguing story about a young woman at a marital crossroads. Here, it’s Lexi (Gemma Brockis), who steps away from her troubled personal life in London to track down her estranged father in Los Angeles. In process, she encounters some of the other isolated characters her father has left in his path. Transforming the tropes of the family drama into a kind of detective story, “No Light and No Land Anywhere” has the potential to further cement Sealey’s reputation as one of the most promising directors of female-driven stories working the U.S today. – Eric Kohn

“11:55”

11:55 movie

“11:55”

The most shocking thing about watching a reimagining of “High Noon” is that people don’t make them more often. It’s an ironically timeless formula for suspense: Set two opposing forces in motion and count down the minutes until they collide in a shoot-out for the ages. Directed by long-time collaborators Ben Snyder and Ari Issler, “11:55″ puts a contemporary spin on the classic Western, updating the real-time revenge saga for our recent recession. Whereas Fred Zinnemann’s film told the story of a retired marshall who had to settle an old score before he could leave town on his honeymoon, this new riff begins with a marine returning to his old stomping grounds and having to reckon with the brother of the drug dealer he killed before joining the service. The confrontation may be inevitable, but this potboiler is complicated in clever new ways. – DE

“Actors of Sound”

Actors of Sound movie

“Actors of Sound”

It makes sense that the festival’s LA Muse section would feature a film set squarely in the shadow of Hollywood. But Lalo Molina’s documentary has its eye fixed on the unsung heroes in the foley business, those sound recreators that populate films big and small with the tiny ambient noises of everyday life. Vital, below-the-line work done in the film industry is no stranger to the festival (“Casting By” played here in 2013), but “Actors of Sound” also juggles concerns for the digital age. Highlighting what might be a dying art, it shows that “film preservation” might not just refer to matters of celluloid. – Steve Greene

“Denial”

Denial movie

“Denial”

Some of the best documentaries end up in drastically different places then they began, jettisoning their initial subject matter in favor of a fresh discovery. Derek Hallquist’s film seems to follow along similar lines, ostensibly beginning as a deep dive into the history of alternative energy sources in his home state of Vermont. But as Hallquist looks closer at his family’s involvement in those efforts, the on-camera interviews reveal more than he expected. Balancing a greater subject with a strong personal tie is never an easy task for a director, but the way that these topics resonate beyond environmental and social makes it one of the most timely entries in the lineup. – SG

“Mercy”

Mercy movie

“Mercy”

Chris Sparling’s no stranger to generating tension in confined spaces, after writing the script for the Ryan Reynolds-starring “Buried.” (Still can’t get over that ending!) But now, the writer/director has a little more space to work with. “Mercy” takes place in the childhood home of brothers drawn home to visit their dying mother. And, as tends to happen in family reunion stories set in secluded locations, thinks take a dark turn with some unexpected visitors. Headlined by some vets of some recent beloved TV shows, James Wolk (“Mad Men”) and Caitlin Fitzgerald (“Masters of Sex”), the pieces seem to be in place for a solid addition to the festival’s Nightfall program. – SG

“72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?”

72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?

“72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?”

For the last 15 years, Reel Works has been teaching teenagers from underserved communities in Brooklyn how to make documentaries about their lives. Two years ago they had a crazy idea: Could they turn one of their teen’s short docs into a fiction feature film? Using as their jumping off point Bilal Ndongo’s “72 Hours: A Love Story?” – a vérité short that invites the audience along on Ndongo and his Brownsville crew’s late night shenanigans – Reel Works gathered a group of students to improv various scenarios and work out dialogue based on the short. They then brought aboard writer/direct Raafi Rivero (“Their Eyes Were Watching Gummy Bears”) to turn the improvisation into a script and direct the low budget feature. It’ll be really interesting to see if Rivero is able to give shape to the material that came from this unique process, but one thing is for certain: “72 Hours” comes from young voices of color we don’t normally get to see at film festivals. – Chris O’Falt

The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from June 1-9.

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