For some people, the summer is an opportunity to relish the sunshine. But in Los Angeles, where the nice weather is nothing new, June provides yet another excuse to go to the movies. Of course, diehard moviegoers may seek out more than just new cinema to explore the world surrounding it as well. Kicking off its 20th edition this Wednesday, the Los Angeles Film Festival offers that opportunity.
Running from June 11 to 19, the festival offers a wide variety of favorites from the circuit as well as world premieres of promising narratives and documentaries alike. Beyond that, the Film Independent-hosted event features various live conversations, panel discussions and other events. Here are the ones we're most excited to check out. Browse the full lineup here.
Black List Live!
Jason Reitman's LACMA live-read screenings are always some of the hottest tickets in the city. After the most recent season closed around the time Quentin Tarantino brought a special live performance of his "Hateful Eight" script to the same venue, the festival has brought a live project that might satisfy those cinephiles who were unable to make either of those two. In conjunction with The Black List, LAFF will be hosting a reading of "1969: A Space Odyssey, or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon," Stephany Folsom's story of a Nixon White House assistant charged with staging an authentic-looking moon landing in case the real one turned out to be a disaster. With Kathryn Hahn in the lead (and a band of solid supporting players including Jared Harris, Shannon Woodward, Clark Gregg, Aaron Staton and Rich Sommer), this might be as entertaining as some of the festival slate's finished products. [Steve Greene]
Identifying these panel discussions with well-known actors and directors with the label "industry talks" could give the impression of an insiders-only affair, but listening to Alfred Molina, Olivia Munn, and film composers (!) will be anything but. Separated into four different discussions, the "Coffee Talks" showcase actors, writers, directors, and composers working today. It's not just a survey of faces and names you recognize from the movies — but a selection of people who make them worth the price of admission. [Ben Travers]
"Eat With Me"
If you’re still feeling hungry after watching Jon Favreau’s food dramedy “Chef," then this is the film for you. David Au’s directorial debut "Eat With Me" (A.K.A "The Dumpling Movie") explores the comunicational gap between parents and their children, and the wonderful power of food to overcome it. It focuses on young gay chef Elliot, whose mother moves into his downtown L.A. loft. There is also a cameo from George Takei, for all you Trekkies out there. [Oliver MacMahon]
"Lake Los Angeles"
Writer-director Mike Ott has steadily become one of the more fascinating new voices in American cinema with his two features "Littlerock" and "Pearblossom Hwy," the first two parts of his proposed "Antelope Valley" trilogy in which two characters form unconventional bonds under strange circumstances. In the two previous installments, Ott's writing partner Atsuko Okatsuka co-starred as separate variations on a young Japanese woman struggling to communicate with similarly alienated in locals. "Lake Los Angeles" finds Okatsuka playing Celia, a lonely immigrant who bonds with a Cuban on the Mexican-American border. Ott's delicate style taps into the universality of emotions that transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries with a wholly original approach that is likely to continue in this concluding entry of his insightful project. [Eric Kohn]
"The Last Time You Had Fun"
Eliza Coupe and Mary Elizabeth Ellis have thrived on TV during the runs of their respective shows ("Happy Endings" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," most notably). Now they form half of the central foursome that goes out for an unexpected night on the town in Mo Perkins' directorial follow-up to "A Quiet Little Marriage." Demetri Martin, Kyle Bornheimer, Jimmi Simpson and Charlene Yi round out the cast, the kind of ensemble you wouldn't mind following around for a night of outrageous hijinks. Any platform that allows these folks the freedom to show off their comic chops should be a blast. [Steve Greene]
"The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest"
There's always a bit of built-in intrigue when it comes to true crime docs. But "The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest" looks to capture what happens once someone is put behind bars. That the title subject is a noted prison escapee seems to be plenty of fodder for an enlightening look at the justice system from the inside. Throwing in some animation to illuminate DeFriest's mindset and fiery past might make for an interesting journey. [Steve Greene]
"Man From Reno"
"Man From Reno" is the first genre film directed by Dave Boyle (whose previous efforts include the comedies "Surrogate Valentine" and "White on Rice"). But that doesn't mean it's formulaic. A neo-noir, the film is bilingual, with one storyline in English and another in Japanese, and depicts a crime novelist and a small town sheriff teaming up to solve a murder mystery in San Francisco. Expect some surprises. [Oliver MacMahon]
LAFF’s Master Class Series will center on three aspects of filmmaking that play an essential role in the creative production process, yet do not receive nearly as much attention as they deserve: composing, production design and costume design. The series will kick-off on Friday June 13th at the Grammy Museum with a conversation with Academy Award-winning composer Atticus Ross, who is best known for his work on David Fincher’s "The Social Network" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." At the production design session on Saturday June 14th, Jeannine Oppewell and K.K. Barrett will speak on the topic of “re-imagining L.A,” through their work on "L.A. Confidential" and "Her," respectively. The session with Oppewell and Barrett is part of a much larger thematic conversation taking place across this year’s festival program — one that is focused on examining a diverse range of cinematic renderings of the city of Los Angeles.
Finally, on Sunday, the Master Class series closes out with a conversation between two longtime collaborators: director James Mangold and costume designer Arianne Phillips. Mangold and Phillips have worked together on films such as "Girl, Interrupted," "Walk the Line" and "3:10 to Yuma." Phillips has also done a considerable amount of styling work for Madonna — in particular, designing the costumes for the pop icon’s feature directorial debut, "W.E." Given her credits, Phillips most likely possesses a wealth of art history knowledge to supplement her keen understanding of contemporary popular culture. Hopefully she will share some gems from her collection during her conversation with Mangold next Sunday. [Shipra Gupta]
"Meet the Patels"
After breaking up with his longtime non-Indian girlfriend, L.A.-based actor Ravi Patel decides to allow his parents to play matchmaker in order to help him find a "suitable Indian bride." Co-directed by Ravi and his sister, Geeta, “Meet the Patels” not only documents the intricacies of their parents matchmaking machinations, but also, more importantly, reflects a pervasive anxiety that affects a large number of unmarried adults who are fast approaching or perhaps have already surpassed 30 — although they might not be quick to admit to their fear. Furthermore, the film engages in a lively debate about the motivations that shape each and every marriage. Do you get married for yourself? For each other? To fulfill expectations of others? "Meet the Patels" seems to remind us that "following our hearts" and "deciding for ourselves” are two ever-evolving ideas, constantly being reshaped by a variety of external factors. [Shipra Gupta]
Actresses Jennifer Prediger ("A Teacher") and Jess Weixler ("The Good Wife") — who also happen to be friends in real life — make their feature directorial and screenwriting debut with a female buddy comedy in which they also co-star. Prediger and Weixler are roommates and "conceptual artists." After their artistic pursuits fail to generate enough income, the two girls end up getting evicted from their Manhattan apartment. In an act of desperation, Prediger and Weixler’s characters pack their bags and head to Los Angeles where they leverage their background as "conceptual artists" by auditioning for a reality television series. Jeffrey Tambor, Will Forte and Megan Mullally round out the cast in this quirky bi-coastal comedy. Premiering as part of the festival’s LA Muse program -- which is essentially a roster of films that focus specifically on the city’s diverse physical and cultural landscape — "Trouble Dolls" appears to both critique and embrace the pervasive, yet also, in many cases self-aware superficiality that makes the city "so LA." [Shipra Gupta]
Filmmaker Nathan Silver has been cranking out a series of improv-heavy character studies with a confident sensibility rarely seen among directors of his generation. (Silver is 30.) With features like "Soft in the Head" and "Exit Elena," the writer-director has explored lively, intelligent personalities with a mixture of naturalism, humor and often staggering insight into conflicted mindsets. "Uncertain Terms" continues that focus with a tender portrait of a Brooklynite who flees a troubled marriage to spend time in the Hudson Valley at his aunt's house, where she runs a program for pregnant teenagers. While the residents express curiosity over their new visitor's backstory, he in turn discovers a potential new direction for his life in the company of fresh faces — which doesn't exactly solve his current problems. Expect strong performances and wise monologues alongside some awkward romantic developments, all of which take place with a brisk pace that bodes well for Silver's blending of traditional stories with freewheeling techniques.
"22 Jump Street"
Writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, over and over, have proven their talent for taking an idea that shouldn't work (an update of a teen cop drama, a movie literally called "The Lego Movie") and making it into a piece of great entertainment. So while it might not be on the cutting edge of independent film, LAFF attendees should consider themselves lucky to get an advance look at "22 Jump Street," the follow-up to the 2012 Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum-starring comedy. This time, Hill and Tatum are going to college, and making fun of sequels while they do it. [Liz Shannon Miller]
Women Who Call the Shots: A Celebration of Women Directors and Showrunners
When this panel claims to celebrate women who call the shots, it's not joking around: Currently announced panelists include well-established indie directors like Nicole Holofcener, Debra Granik and Gina Prince-Bythewood. But the real attraction is legendary showrunner Marta Kauffman, whose sitcom credits include "Dream On," "Veronica's Closet" and an obscure little comedy called "Friends." After decades of experience working in television and breaking ground for female producers, Kauffman undoubtedly has something to say about what it takes for women to succeed in this industry. [Liz Shannon Miller]