When the Los Angeles Film Festival starts June 14, locals will flock to L.A. Live downtown to seek out cinema much different than what the local studios year round. This year’s program gives Angelenos a chance not only to catch festival favorites they missed during the first half of the year — Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Adam Leon’s “Gimme the Loot” among them — but also to revisit sci-fi milestones“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” in free community screenings.
Star-heavy galas from Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike”) and Woody Allen (“To Rome With Love”) will hope for a good push from the festival launchpad as they gear up for late-June releases. And the competition categories are stuffed with debut filmmakers from around the world looking to show their chops to industry producers, agents and managers searching for promising clients and collaborators.
Here are 10 films that you should check out, both brand new and worth a second look, screening during the fest’s 10 days. You can’t see everything, so just print this out, check the dates and times, get in line and let us know later what you thought of the recommendations.
“Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass” – Retro
Tue, Jun 19, 8:00pm, GRAMMY Museum
Despite having been made in 1961, Alan Lomax’s “impromptu concert film” is just now getting its world premiere. The folk music archivist and ethnomusicologist shot exclusive footage of musicians Roscoe Holcomb, Willie Dixon, Jack Elliott and more in his West Village apartment. Bonus: It includes a performance by influential guitarist and singer Doc Watson, who just passed away May 29.
“Call Me Kuchu” – Documentary Competition
Sat, Jun 16, 7:50pm, Virgin America Theatre/Regal L.A. LIVE 9; Sun, Jun 17, 4:10pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 10
A first feature from directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, this documentary explores the courageous life and death of David Katos, the first openly gay activist in rampantly homophobic Uganda (read IW’s interview with the directors). The powerful film won a Teddy for best documentary when it had its premiere at the Berlin film festival, but LAFF will provide its U.S. premiere. “Kuchu” doesn’t yet have a domestic distributor, so this may be your only chance to see it in a theater.
“Four” – Narrative Competition
Fri, Jun 15, 7:20pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 13; Mon, Jun 18, 9:40pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 13
This feature debut from writer-director Joshua Sanchez, which Indiewire highlighted last year during its production, is getting its world premiere at LAFF. Adapted from the Christopher Shinn play, the drama tracks a father and daughter pursuing sexual intimacy with others as a way to assuage their loneliness.
“The Invisible War”– Free Community Screenings
Sat, Jun 16, 1:30pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 8
Kirby Dick’s investigation into the staggering amount of sexual abuse in the military and the culture that discourages reporting it surely has to be one of the most difficult documentaries to make. It had its premiere at Sundance, where it won the audience award, and it hits theaters through Cinedigm June 22, but this LAFF slot may be the best place to check it out.
“Middle of Nowhere” – Galas
Wed, Jun 20, 7:30pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 1
Writer-director Ava DuVernay (“This Is the Life”) hit her narrative stride with this tender but challenging drama about a woman struggling to make sense of what her life should be like after her husband is sent to prison for eight years. It had its world premiere at Sundance, where Participant Media felt strongly enough about it to get involved with its October release, but it deserves this chance for a wider audience to give it another look. (Here’s Shadow & Act’s review.)
“A Night Too Young” – Narrative Competition
Sun, Jun 17, 7:00pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 12; Mon, Jun 18, 8:10pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 12
Well, you have to take at least one random shot at every festival, and young Czech filmmaker Olmo Omerzu’s coming-of-age tale about two 12-year-old boys who end up at an adult party may also provide some rare humor, if of the darker variety. The film had a premiere at Berlin and it has opened on Omerzu’s home turf, but this is the first showing in North America. (Sneak in some vodka if you can to match the narrative.)
“People Like Us” – Summer Showcase
Fri, Jun 15, 8:00pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 11
The unavoidably glaring fact that this low-budget family drama is courtesy of the blockbuster writers behind “Transformers,” “Mission: Impossible III,” “Star Trek” and “Cowboys & Aliens” should raise eyebrows enough. But the June 29 Disney-DreamWorks release from first-time director Alex Kurtzman and regular writing partner Roberto Orci has some surprisingly positive whispers preceding its world premiere at LAFF. The story of a salesman who has to deliver an inheritance to a sister he didn’t know about stars action hunk Chris Pine, who is for the first time trying to show some real dramatic chops.
“Searching for Sugar Man”– Summer Showcase
Tue, Jun 19, 7:40pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 8; Wed, Jun 20, 5:30pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 8
Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary about 1970’s singer-songwriter Rodriguez, whose music failed to find an audience in America only to become an underground rallying cry in South Africa during apartheid, was one of the most rapturously received documentaries at Sundance this year. The film, which was produced by Oscar-winning “Man on Wire” producer Simon Chinn, won two awards there and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for a late July release. The truth of the story — and the music — rarely fails to lift audience spirits (our own Eric Kohn gave it a B+ review in Park City), and if you haven’t seen it yet this is your shot.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” – Galas
Mon, Jun 18, 7:30pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 1
A movie starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley may prompt certain preconceptions, but this is the directing debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), whose membership in the Fempire and years-long struggle to direct this idiosyncratic apocalypse movie herself add to its curiosity. Plus, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt and Rob Corddry — all of which have turned in fantastic indie-film performances recently — show up during the end-of-the-world road trip, which is getting its world premiere at LAFF before a June 22 release from Focus.
“Sister” (“L’enfant d’en haut”) – International Showcase
Sun, Jun 17, 1:20pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 10; Mon, Jun 18, 7:10pm, Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 11
This drama from French-born director Ursula Meier (“Home”), about a preteen thief ripping off tourists at a Swiss ski resort and his relationship with his immature older sister, was in competition at the Berlin film festival and won the Silver Bear. Despite its spring release around Europe, this is the film’s first exposure Stateside, and it brings positive reviews with it (including one from IW’s Eric Kohn, who gave it an A-).