If it seems the Los Angeles Film Festival is arriving late this year, that’s because it’s been moved from its early-summer spot to the current festival season — Sept. 20-28. Fans might have noticed last year that the weeklong confab spread well beyond its usual downtown-centric venues to locales as far-flung as Santa Monica. It’s all part of the vision of new festival director Jennifer Cochis, who came aboard last year. Though she took over a little too late to implement all of her ideas, this year is her year, and her perspective promises a fresh energy for the long-running event.
“I’m hoping to have the L.A. Film Festival feel like it’s a curio of treasures,” she tells L.A. Weekly. “If you aren’t one of the small amount of people who can travel to Tribeca or Telluride, you’re entitled to a festival you can see in Los Angeles. If you’re adventurous and want to discover new storytellers or see new works that have never been shown, we have that.”
This year will welcome stars and industry veterans like Jack Black for the world premiere of animated series Tenacious D’s Post Apocalypto (which will screen its first season in its entirety). Jason Blum and the cast of his new series, Into the Dark: The Body, will be there, as will House of Cards creator Beau Willimon with his new Hulu sci-fi series, The First. Toni Collette will tout episode one of her Netflix series, Wanderlust, to premiere at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, while classical violinist Joshua Bell will perform following a screening of the 1998 film The Red Violin. Rupert Everett will attend for his writing-directorial debut, The Happy Prince, in which he plays Oscar Wilde, and comedian Jim Gaffigan will appear on behalf of two world premieres, American Dreamer and You Can Choose Your Family.
Programs including The Portal (virtual reality–driven animation, documentary and fictional narrative screenings) and We the People (a summit committed to inclusion within the entertainment industry) are free to the public and pass holders, while the 2018 competition screenings — which include 40 features, 41 short films and 10 episodic works from 26 countries — are sold individually or in packages. As the stars align, this year's festival has embraced a profusion of first-time filmmakers. Below, some of the most anticipated offerings.
Echo in the Canyon – Ford Theater, Sept. 20
The festival opens with a gala screening of this rock documentary by veteran record producer and first-time director Andrew Slater. The film features Jakob Dylan interviewing figures from the early years of Laurel Canyon’s seminal music scene. The screening will be followed by a performance by Dylan and special guests culled from the film’s roster of legendary interview subjects. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, John Sebastian, Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips, Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr, Lou Adler, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Norah Jones and Beck all make appearances, along with the late Tom Petty.
A music critic turned manager for the Beastie Boys, Don Henley, Lenny Kravitz and Jane’s Addiction, Slater produced Fiona Apple’s debut album, Tidal, in 1996, followed two years later by Macy Gray’s debut album, On How Life Is. In 2001, he was named CEO of Capitol Records, a title he held until retiring in 2007. His film promises a fascinating look at an influential L.A. locale.
“Some of them I interviewed when I was a journalist. Some of them I worked with at making a record. And Jakob knew some and I knew some. Between the two of us, we decided to make this record and make this film,” Slater says of his subjects. “The feeling you get from talking to all of the people who were there is that it [Laurel Canyon] was a magical, almost mystical place, a cabal nestled in the canyon and the source of great inspiration and creativity.”
Ride, ArcLight Culver City, Sept. 21 & 24
It took freshman filmmaker Jeremy Ungar only a couple of days to write the screenplay for Ride, a thriller about an Uber ride gone terribly wrong. Starring Bella Thorne, Jessie T. Usher and Ungar’s best friend, Will Brill (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), the low-budget film was shot over 18 grueling nights on the streets of Los Angeles.
“It was really exhausting and really challenging,” Brill says of the shoot. “You watch the movie and you’re sitting in a car for the majority of it, and it may not seem really taxing but it’s a wild gearshift to be doing all that in the middle of the night every day.”
Ungar, who was raised in Los Angeles and matriculated from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama directing program, was delighted to make his first film in his hometown, and to premiere it at the L.A. Film Festival. “Doing it in L.A. was a point of pride for me. The film is really a love letter to L.A.,” he says. “I did grow up going to the L.A. Film Festival, whether with friends in the festival or just to see movies. It was a big point of pride to go to my city’s film festival. When it happened that I would get to premiere at the L.A. Film Festival, it felt so perfect as an Angeleno and for this movie so specifically designed to be about Los Angeles.”
The Oath, ArcLight Hollywood, Sept. 25
Comedian Ike Barinholtz makes his writing/directing debut with this offbeat comedy about a family pitted against one another when a recently elected president with autocratic tendencies institutes a loyalty oath. Sparks fly over Thanksgiving when a liberal mixed-race couple, played by Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish, celebrate with conservative relatives.
“The Oath is looking at our world through a different prism. A dark, hilarious comedy addressing people being at opposite ends of the spectrum and not finding common ground in the middle,” Cochis explains, noting the political zeitgeist reflected in the film and at the festival in general this year. There will be an art and politics panel in conjunction with Rock the Vote, moderated by Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith and featuring Blindspotting actor Rafael Casal, Holly Gordon from Participant Media, Rock the Vote’s Jen Tolentino and Leo Barnett, director of Amplifier, an art-and-politics resonator.
Nomis, ArcLight Hollywood, Sept. 26
The festival closes with the world premiere of rookie director David Raymond’s thriller Nomis. Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci and Alexandra Daddario, it's a thriller about the pursuit of an online predator. The cast alone makes it a must-see, but Cochis was impressed just as much by Raymond's vision. “Discovery is part of the mission at the festival,” she says of the film’s director, whose work was strong enough to earn the coveted closing-night slot. “To be able to offer such a platform to a new voice is really exciting.”
The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from Thursday, Sept. 20, through Friday, Sept. 28. Full schedule and tickets at filmindependent.org/la-film-festival/.