The 20th Annual LA FIlm Festival offers cinephiles a lifeline during flood of summer sequels
By Carl Kozlowski 06/12/2014
Maggie Mackay has a job that any film buff would love, seeing hundreds of movies a year in order to decide which ones will be selected to play at the Los Angeles Film Festival. As senior programmer for the fest, which is celebrating its 20th edition now through June 19, she and her team have to find a way to combine some of the world’s most obscure films with some of its top blockbusters in a way that provides both fascination and fun for everyone from the casual viewer to the most dedicated cinephile.
This year, LAFF is also expanding to include comedy programs, teaming with the ultra-popular humor site Funny or Die to host a pair of top-notch live events while also discovering a new breakout minority filmmaker via its Make ‘em LAFF competition. The goal is to expand the spectrum of possibilities for the comedy community, but also for young comic filmmakers who normally would not have access to being discovered easily.
“LAFF is known for its sense of community and for its filmmaker-centric approach,” says Mackay. “We take great care of filmmakers and great care of audiences by giving them the rare opportunity to not only see great films and events but to interact with filmmakers and artists. In that way we really create a sense of community you can’t find anywhere else.”
In addition to LAFF’s extensive film slate and partnership with Funny Or Die, the fest will pay tribute to acclaimed filmmaker and festival Guest Director Lisa Cholodenko, whose most recent film “The Kids Are All Right” was a huge art house hit and went on to earn four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. There will also be a panel discussion with numerous female producers and directors, and a Master Class discussion on film scoring and its creative process with Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross (“The Social Network”).
Mackay offered several top films that people should strongly consider viewing during LAFF, including the world premiere of “Stray Dog,” a slice-of-life documentary about a Vietnam veteran named Stray Dog, whom director Debra Granik met while casting for her prior film “Winter’s Bone” a few years ago. On the flip side from that intriguing yet somber character study is “Recommended by Enrique,” a “quirky, hilarious, engrossing story” about a cowboy and an aspiring actress stuck in a very strange Texas border town.
Another Mackay pick is “Giuseppe Makes a Movie,” a “fun, sweet, hilarious” documentary about a highly unconventional actor who used to be a Hollywood child actor. On the other hand, she predicted that a retro screening of “Repo Man,” which marks its 30th anniversary this year, will be a hot ticket as well.
Two other major fest events that hold particular interest include “Funny Talk: A Conversation with Key & Peele”, which shines a light on the dynamic duo behind one of Comedy Central’s most creative and popular shows: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. In addition, bestselling author Michael Connelly will discuss the magic of Los Angeles and its appeal to filmmakers and filmgoers worldwide in a talk called “Love Letters to Los Angeles: Michael Connelly,” while a special selection of old and new films in a series known as “Muse LA” will feature films driven by the myriad levels of inspiration LA has to offer.
Add it all up and you’ve got eight days and nights of cinematic heaven, all centrally located at the LA Live complex in downtown LA. In a weekend during which the only big new films being released are the sequels “22 Jump Street” and “How to Tame Your Dragon 2,” any film buff with a brain will find it worth the short drive into the city.
The 20th annual Los Angeles Film Festival takes place through June 19 at LA Live, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets and festival passes vary in price. Visit lafilmfest.com.