The Los Angeles Film Festival was hopping for ten days, downtown at LA Live, a straight shot down Olympic Boulevard to an $8 parking lot. The Regal screens are new with a good rake, but the glossy presentation didn't help Richard Linklater's opening nighter Bernie, yet another based-on-a-true-story (much like Andrew Jarecki's All Good Things) that fascinated the filmmaker and his star, Jack Black, without proving to be compelling for the rest of us. The good news is that Black gives the strongest performance he has in some time as a genial good-old-boy who turns to the dark side when he winds up rich older woman Shirley MacLaine's dependent manservant/slave. The movie was for sale at the fest, and distributors who checked it out were not upbeat about its commercial prospects.
Nora and I sat next to Edgar Wright and Anna Kendrick at a sushi bar after our fave screening, SXSW hit Attack the Block (July 29), which Wright exec-produced. Rookie Joe Cornish's movie manages to put an ingenious low-end spin on the all-too familiar trope of ordinary people managing to fight off simian-like alien invaders--and he does it mostly sans CG. The concept: the humans best-equipped to fend off the icky blind attackers with day-glo jaws and spike teeth are a teen gang from the projects. The 80s references are rife: The Goonies, The Warriors, Assault on Precinct 13. This micro-budget version of Super 8 won the narrative audience award.
The other hot topics at LAFF were Andrew Rossi's Page One documentary about a year in the life of the NYT; international audience award-winner, the ingeniously edited, dramatic doc Senna (August 12), about the iconic race car driver; Chris Weitz's sensitive portrait of an L.A. gardener and his son, A Better Life and HBO's currently airing Sex Crimes Unit, which achieved first-time behind-the-scenes access to the hard-driving heroes in the sex crimes prosecution unit of the New York district attorney's office.
A fitting closing night world premiere was Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (August 12), from the ingenious mind of Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote and produced (with Mark Johnson) and brought in animator-turned-director Troy Nixey, who had sent him a short. Del Toro wanted to remake the original 1973 TV movie, and made some changes, especially with the ending. (The original was darker.)
This one is scary enough. Clearly, Del Toro had no intention of delivering--originally to Miramax--an R-rated movie. He got a kick out of the MPAA rating "for pervasive scariness." Indeed. Right in the middle of the action the fire alarms went off in the theater and the audience was ordered to evacuate; some folks spilled into the lobby to be told to return to their seats as the projection booth tried to reset and resume. Del Toro and Film District honcho Bob Berney threw up their hands. A filmmakers' nightmare.
The movie stars Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and yet another pre-pubescent young girl (Bailee Madison) with a vivid imagination--Del Toro wrote this ten years ago before the very similar Pan's Labyrinth. [SPOILER ALERT] The small, agile and threatening creatures that come up from the ash pit in the basement--one confronts the girl under her bedsheet-- are beautifully designed and extremely creepy. Again, they are often practical effects, and Del Toro and Nixey played with fast blurry underlit camera moves. I was hiding behind my notebook. Film District will target the horror demo, but hopes to broaden from there. Del Toro talked about his many projects in Toronto.
At the closing night party at Club Nokia, Del Toro was in good spirits, and LAFF director and programmers Rebecca Yeldham and David Ansen and Doug Jones were happy but tired. Attendance is not up this year over last due to The Twilight factor. One challenge, along with getting folks to come downtown who are in the habit of clinging to the west side, is getting industryites to buy tickets and not be comped for everything. Hey guys. Somebody's got to pay for these things.
LAFF Award Winners:
Awards were given out in the following categories:
Narrative Award (for Best Narrative Feature)
Winner: Familiar Ground written & directed by Stéphane Lafleur
Producers: Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
Cast: Francis La Haye, Fanny Mallette, Sylvain Marcel, Michel Daigle, Suzanne Lemoine
Film Description: (Canada) This droll, deadpan comedy from snowbound Quebec features an
unhappy brother and sister whose fates seem to be known by a mysterious Man From the Future. Not too far in the future though. Just next September.
The Narrative Award carries an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000 funded by Film Independent, offering the financial means to help filmmakers transfer their vision to the screen. The award recognizes the finest narrative film in competition, and is given to the director. A special jury selects the winner, and all narrative feature-length films screening in the Narrative Competition section were eligible.
In bestowing Stéphane Lafleur with the Narrative Award, the Jury stated:
“An entire tree sticking out of a fireplace…a beaten-up snowman…an operatically dancing inflatable blue dude…the anything but familiar images of Familiar Ground won’t soon be forgotten. In a strong narrative competition this year, this was the singular vision that stood out the most.”
Documentary Award (for Best Documentary Feature)
Winner: Wish Me Away directed by Beverly Kopf & Bobbie Birleffi
Producer: Beverly Kopf, Paul Mailman
Film Description: This intensely personal documentary chronicles the heart-wrenching decision Nashville singing star Chely Wright to come out of the closet despite the potentially crushing response from the industry and her fans.
The Documentary Award carries an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000 funded by Film Independent, offering the financial means to help filmmakers transfer their vision to the screen. The award recognizes the finest documentary film in competition, and is given to the director. A special jury selects the winner, and all documentary feature-length films screening in the Documentary Competition section were eligible.
In bestowing Beverly Kopf & Bobbie Birleffi with the Documentary Award, the Jury stated:
“For its honesty, humor and potential to change minds and even save lives, the jury awards the Documentary Award to Wish Me Away.”
Best Performance in the Narrative Competition
Winner: Amber Sealey, Kent Osborne, Amanda Street and Gabriel Diamond in Amber Sealey’s How to Cheat
Film Description: An L.A. couple's struggle to get pregnant sets off the husband's wandering eye in this comedy that reveals marriage to be as funny as it is heartbreaking.
In bestowing the actors with the Best Performance, the Jury stated:
“At a time where actors are often asked to take a larger role in the creation of what is said in a film and how it’s done, the performers of How to Cheat deserve special distinction. Kent Osborne, Amber Sealey, Amanda Street, and Gabriel Diamond dug deeper and messier, heroically past the point of comfort.”
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature
Winner: Attack the Block directed by Joe Cornish
Producers: Nira Park, James Wilson
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Email, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost
Film Description: (England) – From the producers of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Attack the Block follows a gang of tough inner-city kids who defend their turf against an invasion of savage alien creatures, turning a South London apartment complex into an extraterrestrial warzone.
This award is given to the narrative feature audiences liked most as voted by a tabulated rating system. Select narrative feature-length films screening in the following sections were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature: Narrative Competition, Gala Screenings, International Showcase, International Spotlight, Summer Showcase, Community Screenings, Ford Amphitheatre Screenings, and The Beyond.
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature
Winner: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest directed by Michael Rapaport
Producers: Edward Parks, Bob Teitel, Frank Mele, Robert Benavides, Eric Matthies, Michael Rapaport, Debra Koffler
Film Description: The rancorous break-up of a Tribe Called Quest frames Michael Rapaport’s exuberant exploration of the turmoil and joy that drove these pioneers of bohemian hip hop.
This award is given to the documentary feature audiences liked most as voted on by a tabulated rating system. Select documentary feature-length films screening in the following sections were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature: Documentary Competition, International Showcase, International Spotlight, Documenting Mexico, Summer Showcase, Community Screenings, and Ford Amphitheatre Screenings.
Audience Award for Best International Feature
Winner: Senna directed by Asif Kapadia
Producers: James Gay-Rees, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Film Description: (England) A high-octane look at the most exciting driver to ever race Formula One — Brazil’s Aryton Senna — this edge of your seat documentary explores the politics, rivalries and glamour of a sport that leaves no room for error.
This award is given to the international feature audiences liked most as voted on by a tabulated rating system. Select international feature-length films, both narrative and documentary, in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition, International Showcase, International Spotlight, Documenting Mexico, Summer Showcase, Ford Amphitheatre Screenings, and The Beyond were eligible for the Audience Award for Best International Feature.
Best Narrative Short Film
Winner: The Wind Is Blowing on My Street by Saba Riazi
Producer: Mohammad Hoseseni
Cast: Rahman Houshyar, Sajjad Salehivand, Forough Bonakder, Ashraf Abolfazlian
Description: (Iran) A young girl in Tehran is accidentally locked out of her home with no scarf on her head.
In bestowing Saba Riazi with Best Narrative Short Film, the Jury stated:
“For offering insight into the specifics of life under theocratic rule in Iran in a way that speaks to us all, with a remarkable lead performance by an actress forced by circumstances to remain anonymous, the jury presents the Narrative Short Film Award to Saba Riazi for The Wind is Blowing on My Street.”
Best Documentary Short Film
Winner: I Am a Girl! by Susan Koenen
Producer: Albert Klein Haneveld
Description: (Netherlands) Joppe dreams of love, marriage and children. Being born a boy only complicates things slightly.
In bestowing Susan Koenen with Best Documentary Short Film, the Jury stated:
“For using gorgeous cinematography and energetic editing to capture a young woman’s journey from biological maleness to forthright femininity, and for giving us a glimpse at an open-minded new generation with a better understanding of gender and sexuality issues than their parents ever dreamed, the jury presents the Documentary Short Film Award to Susan Koenen for I Am a Girl!”
Best Animated Short Film
Winner: The Eagleman Stag by Mike Please
Producer: Royal College of Art
Cast: David Cann, Tony Guilfoyle
Description: (England) This unique stop-motion animated film depicts a man’s haunting obsession with the passage of time and his unorthodox relationship with a beetle.
In bestowing Mike Please with Best Animated Short Film, the Jury stated:
“For mixing innovative three-dimensional paper-cut animation, a stunning white-on-white visual style, and a wryly original sense of storytelling, the jury presents the Animated Short Film Award to Mikey Please for The Eagleman Stag.”
Audience Award for Best Short Film
Winner: Blind Date by Joe Rosen
Producer: Joe Rosen, Abigail Blackmore
Cast: Abigail Blackmore, Cavan Clerkin, Zeben Jameson, Matthew Blackmore
Description: (England) Waiting for her date, Rachel has an unexpected encounter.
Awarded to the short film audiences liked most as voted on by a tabulated rating system. Short films screening in the Shorts Programs or before Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition, or International Showcase feature-length screenings were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Short Film.
Audience Award for Best Music Video
Winner: Can’t Shake This Feeling by The General Assembly’s Adam Littke, Ryan McNeill, Adam Willis
This award is given to the music video audiences liked most as voted on by a tabulated rating system.