Asked to answer the title question during a Los Angeles Film Festival poolside chat earlier this week -- Can Films Save The World? -- "Paradise Now" director Hany Abu-Assad said flatly, "no." Leading off the discussion by dismissing its concept altogether, the filmmaker added, "I didn't make the film to change anybody, or any thoughts," Hany Abu-Assad explained during the panel discussion. The only reason I (make) films is because I am curious to know things that you can't experience in reality. I don't think I am doing things to change...if film will change, it will change for the worse."
Joining the conversation, "Thank You for Smoking" director Jason Reitman admitted that he wasn’t sure whether to take the inquiry as irony or a legitimate question. Referencing "Fahrenheit 9/11," Reitman added, "The outcome was, Bush still won the election." Acknowledging that he is a "conservative, but wishes religion would get out of politics," Reitman professed an appreciation for satire. "Somehow through comedy, and more specifically comedic film," Reitman said, " We are allowed to say anything we want and it opens up communication and hopefully promotes change."
"I think if film can't change the world, then we can't change the world," admitted producer Harry Thomason, the producer and close friend of Bill Clinton who recently co-directed, "The Hunting of The President." Continuing, noting the impact of "Fahrenheit 9/11," Thomason added, though, "The way you change peoples minds is with fact, not opinion."
Continuing the discussion, Hany Abu-Assad later added that he makes films to offer a perspective, but not to try and change minds. Rather, he explained, "I (make) films to (show) that I exist and that I have a different point of view."
Aimed at offering a unique, insightful perspective on the lives of teachers, Mike Akel's LA Film Festival competition film "Chalk" was conceived and created by a pair with direct experience in the field. A former teacher, co-writer and director Akel teamed up with Chris Mass who co-wrote and starred in this fake documentary about a year in the life of a group of teachers at a public high school in Texas. Despite the writing credits, Akel and Mass pursued a broader "emotional objective" for their film through improvisation among a cast of actors.
Made for a low budget and over the course of just a few weeks of production, Akel's "Chalk" debuted on the fest circuit this year with a sneak at the True/False Film Festival as a rare narrative film during a festival of documentaries. Its realistic performances underscore the authenticity of the film, leaving audience members with a layered look at the challenging lives of teachers. The film has had a successful run on the fest circuit, winning the audience award at Cinequest, then receiving an ensemble acting award at the Florida Film Festival, followed by the grand jury award at the Independent Film Festival of Boston.
"Getting Down" in LA
Another film depicting the present realities of a group of Americans is Paul Sapiano's satirical look at young Los Angeles partiers, "The Boys & Girls Guide To Getting Down." Designed as a "how to" guide with numerous clever narrative episodes, Sapiano's movie, shot in and around the Hollywood club and party scene, teaches kids today the best ways to drink, do drugs and deal with casual sex.
Asked why he made the movie, during a fest Q & A, Sapiano joked that he wanted to be able to justify to his mother that his 15 years of partying were not in vein. Shot on Super 16 film, the movie will have a week-long theatrical release at one theater in Los Angeles starting this weekend. Sapiano said during the Q & A that he is seeking a P & A investor to support the further distribution of the film.
[For more from the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival. please visit indieWIRE's special section.]