By Eric Kohn | Indiewire June 16, 2011 at 2:57AM
The Los Angeles Film Festival may invite the presumption of a Hollywood affair as a result of its location, but there's no question that the ten-day event puts its filmmakers ahead of the commercial glamour. Richard Linklater opens the the Film Independent-produced gathering on Thursday night with his black comedy "Bernie," starring Jack Black. The closing night selection, the horror movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," boasts Guillermo Del Toro as a producer (Del Toro also serves as the festival's guest director). In between, LAFF hosts more than 200 films, in addition to conversations with specials guests and industry panels under the moniker "Money Talks & Art Matters."
Alright, so Warner Bros. will unveil "Green Lantern" late Thursday night after the "Bernie" premiere. But that flash of studio girth is more like a sidedish to the festival's diverse selection of movies from over 30 countries around the world.
The narrative and documentary competition sections contain a total of 19 films, 11 of which are world premieres. Many of them sound promising: Among the non-fiction selections, "Salaam Dunk" follows an Iraqi women's basketball team, while "Once I Was a Champion" investigates the mysterious death of Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight Evan Tanner. In the narrative competition, director Mike Akel makes his long-awaited return after gaining acclaim for his directorial debut "Chalk," studying an awkward family situation in the comedy "An Ordinary Family." In a similar vein, Amber Sealey presents an uneven marriage in "How to Cheat," which stars Joe Swanberg regular Kent Osborne opposite Sealey herself.
Outside of competition, one of the more intriguing selections is the documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth," a portrait of the impoverished St. Louis community desecrated by the destruction of a public housing complex in the early 1970s. In a completely different vein, Kat Coiro's memorably-titled "L!fe Happens" follows young adults making the uneasy transition into family life. With Kate Bosworth as its star, "L!fe Happens" is one of those festival selections that could either play through the roof or leave audiences wanting more than just a familiar pretty face. Then again, it's hardly the most curious selection: Sheldon Larry's black gay musical "Leave It On the Floor," set a stone's throw away from the nexus of LA Film Festival in downtown Los Angeles, promises a lavish affair with dance numbers choreographed by Frank Gaston Jr.--i.e., Beyoncé's choreographer. The question of whether a project like this actually holds together will be answered when the movie premieres on Saturday.
However, no artist drapes projects in mystery better than the uber-prolific actor-director-scholar James Franco. He'll premiere his latest directing project, "The Bell Tower"--a biopic about troubled American poet Hart Crane, who committed suicide in 1932--on Monday night, in an event billed as "An Evening with James Franco." (But, fortunately, not hosted by him.)
Rounding out this year's program are a number of surefire crowdpleasers that have already enjoyed acclaim at other festivals. These include the spectacular Ryan Gosling action vehicle "Drive," which landed a directing prize for Nicolas Winding Refn at Cannes, and Ti West's slow-burn haunted house horror-comedy "The Innkeepers." The South by Southwest narrative competition winner "Natural Selection," about a woman in search of her sperm-donor husband's criminal son, finally arrives in L.A., as does British actor Paddy Considine's intense Sundance hit "Tyrannosaur." The festival also welcomes Julie Taymor, fresh from her "Spider-Man" fiasco on Broadway, for a special conversation on Sunday. The Taymor event might offer proof that you don't always have to be at the top of your game to get the spotlight treatment, but nobody can accuse Taymor of selling out, which means L.A. Film Festival's street cred remains secure. As far as the quality of the program goes, stay tuned.
Check out these prior participants in the Los Angles Film Festival, courtesy of SnagFilms [Disclaimer: SnagFilms is indiewire's parent company]
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