Downtown L.A. Film Fest: The Good, The Bad, and The Booze

This past Sunday marked the finale of the first Downtown LA Film Festival, closing five days of spectacular centerpieces, freely flowing booze, and the occasional glitch. As a coherent festival to be enjoyed as one large mega-event, it was hampered by the distances between venues (too far too walk, too much to drive with all the pay lots, and the aforementioned booze), but the individual events in and of themselves made for excellent showpieces.

Surely no-one who’s ever actually managed to attend a screening in one of the great old-time downtown theaters could complain about screenings like PICCADILLY at the Los Angeles Theatre, a 1929 British film starring Anna May Wong as Shosho, a kitchen girl at a nightclub whose dancing skills are discovered and put to great effect, much to the dismay of the star Caucasian dancer. The screening was accompanied by live music, though the old-time effect seemed to be accomplished by new-timey keyboards. Effective, though.

An after-party promised for the rooftop of the Roosevelt lofts actually wound up being on the ground floor, but with copious sushi rolls and free Tommy Bahama rum, you couldn’t really complain...

...though frankly, at that point, I didn’t need more free booze – the lobby of the Los Angeles Theatre featured an open bar manned by a charming fellow named Whit Bain [pictured below], who delighted in testing out his mixing experiments upon my hearty constitution. We had two nights in a row to accomplish this, though the next screening was about as different from PICCADILLY as it gets: An Irish boxing movie called STRENGTH AND HONOUR, starring the American Michael Madsen and cockney Vinnie Jones, both managing passable brogues. Imagine the Brad Pitt scenes from Guy Ritchie’s SNATCH expanded to feature length, and you have it. Richard Chamberlain and Patrick Bergin also make appearances.

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Here’s Madsen with director Mark Mahon, who used to be an actor until he was caught in an explosion, apparently, and wound up considerably worse for wear, though he worked his way back to health and now only needs crutches (he didn’t elaborate on the explosion, and imdb says nothing...mysterious!)

Many of the festival offerings were shorts, and while I could gladly have sat in the Laemmle Grande all day watching them, the only convenient parking expired after four hours. Among some of the best were Dempsey Tillman’s “Collector,” made ultra-chilling by the fact that it stars the late Brad Renfro as a suicidal drug addict; Zak Forsman’s “I Fucking Hate You,” in which a pissed-off songwriter lures his ex back to his place so that he can play her the titular tune; Nolan Wang and Kyle Dickinson’s “I Saved the World From Global Warming,” about how even scientific geniuses get forgotten in a “what have you done for me lately?” world; and my buddy James Avallone’s “80 Proof Cotton and a Pigskin,” which I can’t possibly be unbiased about, but I enjoyed seeing my macho pal pull off a sensitive drama about gay panic.

On Sunday, Grand avenue got blocked off for a festival-related farmer’s market, where you could munch on falafel wraps (or reg’lar ol’ hot dogs, if you preferred), boost your antioxidants with acai juice concentrate, or just get a crazy balloon hat while listening to mild jazz live. I downed two pomegranate sodas, but ultimately had to get going before the day was out. Film fests are fantastic, but WWE SummerSlam was on pay-per-view that night.

I think that when the downtown AMC finally opens up next year, this fest may really take off – rent out 2-3 screens, let people park there all day, and they will come. As it stands, the old-time theaters are the main event right now, and I wouldn’t suggest programming anything else opposite them, especially new stuff with unfamiliar names. I enjoyed discovering new things as part of the process, also, like The Edison, a place that isn’t even where it’s supposed to be, but buried beneath a side alley with no name, resembling a steampunk Batcave. Sorry, none of my pictures there came out well, as it’s reeeeeally dark there.

(All pictures are hosted from my photostream at

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