Film lover's fantasy

Film lover's fantasy

Dreams come true at the LA Film Fest

By Carl Kozlowski 06/12/2013

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It’s easy to complain that there aren’t a lot of choices for adventurous cinephiles during the summer blockbuster season, when the biggest movies clog up to 50 screens at a time across the Los Angeles area. But each summer for the past 13 years the LA Film Fest (LAFF) has come to the rescue, with tonight kicking off a 10-day feast of filmmaking featuring more than 200 feature-length and short films from 40 countries.

While LAFF is held primarily at downtown’s sprawling LA Live entertainment complex, Pasadena-area film buffs shouldn’t see that as an impediment. After all, downtown is only a half-hour or less away by car and easily accessible by the MTA transit system. One can easily make a day or even a weekend of the experience by stacking up two or even three fresh and likely stellar films in a day while enjoying an array of dining options amid the complex itself and surrounding streets.

“One of the great things about being downtown is that it’s its own little world, where you can see a movie and eat, get a drink, go to a club or see another movie,” says Doug Jones, assistant director of programming for LAFF. “When we moved downtown we were part of an ongoing revitalization with an arts community and a lot of life going on. It’s been really nice to be part of that rediscovery of downtown Los Angeles.”

Speaking of discoveries, there are plenty to be found this year, with the biggest local debuts coming from the fest’s primary Gala screenings. “Fruitvale Station” has its gala at 7:30 p.m. Monday, and has been drawing tremendous buzz for being a major Cannes Film Festival prize winner for its depiction of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an African-American Oakland resident who was notoriously shot and killed by a city transit police officers in front of dozens of cell phone cameras.

Meanwhile, fellow gala election “Only God Forgives” marks the reunion of director Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling, star of 2011’s acclaimed thriller “Drive.” While “Drive” has built up a substantial cult following, those planning to attend the 7:30 pm gala screening next Thursday, June 20, should be forewarned that this follow-up film has been awash in controversy for its lurid dialogue and extremely brutal violence.   

One documentary getting the gala treatment is “Levitated Mass: the Story of Michael Heizer’s Monolithic Sculpture,” which unspools on the home turf of its controversial namesake artwork “Levitated Mass” at the LA County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, June 20. The documentary tells the astounding story of how the museum spent millions of dollars to dig a giant boulder out of a quarry and have it driven across LA County at extremely low speeds, only to plunk it down atop a window in a sidewalk and have visitors stare at it like art from the walkway below.

“It’s about the creative process and looking at nature in a different way and how this was an event for the communities it drove through and how people stayed up overnight to see the huge caravan in middle of the night,” says Jones. “It’s getting their man-in-the-street reactions to what this is and asks ‘What is art?’ from people who don’t always go to museums and find that here art is coming through their backyards.”

 Internationally renowned director Pedro Almodovar opens the fest’s opening night tonight with the screening of his latest outrageous comedy “I’m So Excited!” which follows the sexy shenanigans of a plane where everyone seems to be joining the Mile High Club. The closing night film on Sunday, June 23, meanwhile, its tonal opposite: the terrific family dramedy starring Steve Carell called “The Way Way Back.”

Along the way are films of every imaginable genre, plus special talks with prominent filmmakers David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”), Costa-Gavras (“Missing,” “Z”), Ricky Jay with David Mamet, and actress Maya Rudolph. There are also special music events at the Grammy Museum, free outdoor screenings of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Vertigo” and the indie classic “Dazed and Confused,” and special “master classes” in which experts in fields like editing explain their techniques.

“What’s nice about the festival is that we’ve given ourselves the freedom to do all kinds of different films, including sci-fi and romantic comedies,” says Jones. “Everyone can go and create their own LAFF and their own path through the films.”

The LA Film Fest begins tonight and runs through June 23, mostly at the Regal Cinemas LA Live Stadium 14, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Some events are elsewhere.  Admission for paid events is $13 to $20. Visit LAFilmfest.com or call (866) FILMFEST.

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