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No Laffing Matter 

Los Angeles Film Festival finally comes of age

Wednesday, Jun 20 2007
{mosimage} Once upon a time, Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson never fails to remind me, I wrote a scathing assessment of the Los Angeles Film Festival in which I said (among other things) that if a great hole opened up in the earth and consumed the festival entire, L.A. moviegoers would be none the worse for it. That was 2001, the seventh year for LAFF and its first under the aegis of Film Independent (then called the Independent Feature Project/West). If you went back and looked at the list of films screened that year, you’d find that most of them were (quite deservedly) never seen or heard from again.

A half decade later, no great sinkholes have plagued LAFF, although the 2007 lineup does include a sidebar of L.A.-centric disaster movies, as well as the world premiere of Transformers — the latest work by a director, Michael Bay, with a seemingly insatiable appetite for destruction. Meanwhile, I have been forced — quite happily — to swallow my words. In the space of six short years, what was once just another undistinguished voice in the local cacophony of film festivals and screening series has undergone an extreme makeover to rival those of Bay’s titular anthropomorphic robots, emerging as our most intelligent and ambitiously programmed — indeed, our most essential — annual film event. It’s also the one with the greatest sense of connection to the city itself.

The move last year to Westwood Village and its classic, single-screen movie palaces gave LAFF a feeling of permanence and a warm, communal atmosphere all too rarely encountered in these parts. (People were actually walking from theater to theater!) This year, LAFF returns there, with the addition of the Westside Pavilion’s new Landmark theater and the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater as primary venues, plus a lineup that once again exemplifies the commitment of festival director Rich Raddon and programming director Rachel Rosen to challenging and expanding the audience’s horizons.

While LAFF’s eagerness to compete with Sundance, Toronto and other “discovery” festivals is evident in the presence of 14 world-premiere titles in the narrative and documentary competition sections, the 2007 selection is fleshed out by some of the best movies to have surfaced during the past year on the international festival circuit, plus a series of revival and retrospective programs devoted to films and filmmakers from the past in need of rediscovery. There are few places where one can see Transformers, vanguard new films from Spain, Thailand and Indonesia, plus Paul Mazursky’s 1974 human-feline road-trip movie Harry and Tonto all under the same roof, but LAFF is one of them. If some of those choices seem incongruous for a festival produced by an organization called Film Independent, it’s worth remembering that there is no shortage of independently financed films today that are veritable facsimiles of the worst studio-produced dreck, while there are filmmakers working at the studios (like Clint Eastwood, who will receive LAFF’s annual Spirit of Independence award on June 28) who are as iconoclastic as they come. So LAFF stands as a celebration of independent visions, from wherever in the world they may hail. Doubtless, you will love some and hate others. With any luck, they will spark conversations that will spill out of the cinemas and into the Westwood night.

LAFF 2007, From A to Y

Prisons, Punks and Don Quixote: Our critics’ guide to the very best of LAFF


{mosimage}In MTV’s halcyon days, before pimped rides, real worlds and big-budget awards shows, the videos they programmed often gleamed with a joyful ineptitude. Music-clip formula was far on the horizon, and naiveté was conjoined with a gleeful raiding of experimental-film history and art-student precocity. Though the “ineptitude” and “naiveté” showcased in the Los Angeles Film Festival’s “Eclectic Mix” programs are more tongue-in-cheek and coolly studied, what these more than three dozen music shorts have in common is a palpable sense of individuality and indifference to the reigning templates of expression. Highlights include Fluorescent Hill’s surreal, acid-trippy “12 Days of Christmas” for the band Taking Back Sunday, in which a gift-giver’s obsession with fowl is drolly illustrated, and then punctuated with non sequitur riffs on Danny Bonaduce; Jon Watts’ crinkly, weathered homage to silent movies and the horror genre in his clip “Wolf Like Me” for indie darlings TV on the Radio; and Daniel Levi’s work on Plan B’s “No Good,” a claymation and stop-motion nod to Peter Gabriel’s classic “Sledgehammer” video. Big-name directors like Joseph Kahn, Roman Coppola and Michel Gondry all have new work here, as does Melodie McDaniel, who was the next big thing a few years ago (she directed Madonna’s “Secret” video) before vanishing. What’s especially refreshing are the representations of black folk: Asif Mian’s politically charged “Trilogy” for the Roots; the aforementioned TV on the Radio; the spoofing of Dick Cheney in Jurassic 5’s “Work It Out”; and two clips from Canadian rapper k-os, who, in “ElectriK Heat: The Seekwill,” is a skater boy/bike dude roaming through suburbia as b-boying and deejaying take place around him, while in “Sunday Morning,” Afro-punks, white and black hipsters, and ghetto prom queens all gyrate to the same pounding beat.

Eclectic Mix 1” screens Sun., June 24, 1 p.m., and Thurs., June 28, 7:30 p.m., at the Italian Cultural Institute. “Eclectic Mix 2” screens Sat., June 23, 12:45 p.m., at Landmark’s Regent and Sun., July 1, 3 p.m., at the Italian Cultural Institute. “Turn Into: The Music Videos of Patrick Daughters”screens Sun., June 24, 3:30 p.m., at the Italian Cultural Institute and Mon., June 25, 9:45 p.m., at the Landmark.

—Ernest Hardy

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