Writing in these very pages one year ago, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, I suggested that the Los Angeles Film Festival was really only 4 years old — its rebirth marked by the moment when the Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles took control of the erstwhile Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and began a fruitful process of reinvention. One year later, it’s the IFP/L.A. itself that has been born again, having recently broken rank with the five other national IFP chapters and re-christened itself Film INDependent (or FIND for short). Though little change will be evident to the outside observer — the IFP/L.A. staff remains in place, as does its involvement in both LAFF and the Independent Spirit Awards — the move speaks to the maverick attitude of an organization that has consistently and diligently sought to expand our definition of “independent” film. To wit, the imaginatively programmed lineup of this year’s LAFF (which runs today through June 26) juxtaposes new films from the far corners of the globe against those made right here in our own back yard, music videos against short films, and the favorite movies of veteran director Sydney Pollack against those of hip-hop wizard The RZA. And that’s just for starters! Also on tap: sneak peeks at some of the summer’s most anticipated art-house films (including Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 and Jim Jarmusch’s direct-from-Cannes Broken Flowers), posthumous tributes to three seminal figures of the American independent cinema (Morris Engel, Ossie Davis and Stan Brakhage) and an in-depth discussion with legendary screenwriter Robert Towne. You can FIND out more at www.lafilmfest.com. In the meantime, our critics offer their takes on those films and special events made available for preview.
A list of the films and their showtimes can be found here.
This enlightening documentary chronicling the Vietnam War era’s GI protest movement has, by accident or design, a homegrown, cut-and-paste quality, much like the movement itself, which was spurred along by mimeographed newspapers secretly distributed from base to base, and by GIs in the war zone itself. Such rebellion within the ranks stunned military brass and got more than one soldier court-martialed or sentenced to hard labor. Director David Zeiger brings to fresh light all manner of half-forgotten events, from brave on-base protests that date as far back as 1965, to cultural minutiae such as the wittily elaborate handshakes black soldiers devised to distinguish their units. Only ostensibly a primer for Vietnam-era recruits, including an onscreen glossary of slang words like “Charlie” and “grunt,” Sir! No Sir — which probably doesn’t have a Fox News Channel airing in its future — offers rare footage of the antiwar stage shows organized (by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, among others) as counterpoint to Bob Hope’s boost-the-troops extravaganzas. Fonda’s actor son Troy Garity narrates, and the Lightning Rod herself, clearly delighted at being quizzed, for once, by friendly inquisitors, shakes her head in wonder that men fierce in their unity and free in their hearts once dared to lay down their guns and say “No.” (DGA1, Sun., June 19, 7 p.m.; DGA2, Thurs., June 23, 5 p.m.)
Few in either Hollywood or the world of hip-hop have demonstrated as strong and smart a grasp on the deep blood ties between rap/hip-hop and movies as has the Wu-Tang Clan’s sonic architect, the RZA. His music production has always had a cinematic scope to it: the meticulous yet organic layering of beats, samples and studio wizardry that underscores the imagery of their accompanying rhymes; the evocative way his grooves build in emotional power, then fall away to let the vocals and lyrics hold sway. Even Wu Tang’s very construction is lifted from martial-arts films that the RZA and his cohorts consumed as kids. Having scored Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai to critical acclaim, and become Quentin Tarantino’s favorite musical go-to guy (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), the RZA is now appearing in front of the camera as well — his segment with Bill Murray was one of the highlights of Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, and he’ll soon appear with Clive Owen in Derailed. As this year’s LAFF artist in residence, he’s programmed two films that were huge influences on him (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and one where he flexes his own creative muscle (Ghost Dog). But the don’t-miss ticket is Toon Time With the RZA, where he will deejay live to a lineup of offbeat animated shorts.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin screens at DGA 1 on Tues., June 21, at 10 p.m. and at Sunset 5 on Fri., June 24, at 11:45 p.m.
Toon Time With the RZA screens at Ford Amphitheater on Wed., June 22, at 8:30 p.m.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly screens at Sunset 5 on Sat., June 25, at 10 p.m.
Ghost Dog screens at Sunset 5 on Sun., June 26, at noon.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes