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The LA Film Festival wrap report

This was my first year covering the LA Film Festival.
I first remember going to some screenings in past years when it was held at the Sunset 5 in Hollywood, and later some parties and mixers in Westwood and at the W Hotel. After Cannes, June is also a busy month for film festivals around the world. This year, there was a greater focus on international film at the Festival. I spoke with new Executive Program Director Rebecca Yeldham at the award brunch, and shared how we enjoyed meeting many of the filmmakers. This year there were many issue oriented stories, and some won awards including the film from Iran Cyrus Nowrasteh's The Stoning of Soraya M., about women and their struggles for equal rights. This was all the more poignant because of the continuing protest going on at the neighboring Federal building in support of the Green party in Iran.

The big winners each received $50,000 cash prize from Target. Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman from Mexico's Those Who Remain (Los Que se Quedan) won the Target Docmentary Award. Their film is about families who are torn apart, when some members need to leave to find work to feed their families. The producer, told me how he is hoping people will return to Mexico after seeing this film.

The other big winner was Sam Fleischner and Ben Chace's Wah Do Dem (What They Do)which won the Target Filmmaker Award for best narrative film, made by the boys from Brooklyn about a young man who takes a journey from Brooklyn to Jamaca. They said they loved being in LA, and the festival treated them very well. They told us they had won two tickets on a cruise ship and decided to buy two more to make their movie. They brought one actor and another actor/sound man and staged a journey of a broken hearted boy who seeks redemption losing everything material and somehow finds himself by making friends in the strangest of circumstances along the way home. He finds pleasure in the simplist kindness, and through some island weed and music which dissolves his cares in a mystical return to Self and inner peace.

I spoke with actress Melissa Leo, opening night. She had won Best Actress at the Spirit awards this year, and she was thrilled to be back at the festival with a film she is in. Melissa said she loves the independents, and is a big supporter of the festival. Today she was a presenter of an award. She told me she is on her way to start shooting the new David O. Russell film, starring along with Mark Wahlburg and Christian Bale.

Jon Voight came to the festival with his film Midnight Cowboy. He and Dustin Hoffman introduced the film and stayed to do a Q&A after their screening. Sunday Jon presented the team from Mexico the Target Docmentary Award and congratulated the judges and filmmakers who were here. The director in his acceptance speech embraced the work of Swedish director Fredrik Gertien for his film Bananas which was pulled from competion, and was probably the most controversial film at the festival.

Jon Voight commented that when he arrived he was handed the list of the 11 final awards in the parking lot, he said this was a bit different than the Academy Awards. Still they were kept secret right up to the announcements. He thanked Target for their support of the festival, and emphasized that La deserves a great festival like this.

Finally, I sat with Frank Laughlin from Affordablue who along with his partner had restored his father's classic independent film Billy Jack, which played at the festival. He said that the costs associated with the Blu-ray format had made it very expensive to restore old films. They found a way to make it cost effective and thus became a company. Up till now only studios could afford to make the transfers. I am really impressed with the blend of independent spirit and business that I saw at this year's festival, and look forward to next year.

The opening night film Paper Man was developed in Sundance with producer RIchard Gladstein. There were Hollywood agents and producers like Mace Neufield, a friend of Richard's in attendance. I sat with critic Kirk Honeycutt from the Hollywood Reporter who was reviewing the film. Actor Christian Slater welcomed me with a two cheek French style kisses, and since he was only doing photos on the red carpet, we got to actually talk. We spoke about being at the Indiana Jones premiere last year in Cannes. He said he had watched that film again that day, and was looking forward to the Transformers premiere later in the week.

It was a packed house, and at the party which followed I spoke with Dawn Hudson, FIND exec director, who was excited about the festival and was busy greeting sponsers and representatives from the theatre chains. She said this was the festival's biggest year ever. Their approach to the festival included a mix of main stream Hollywood and independent movies. This approach provided a unique opportunity for the LA film festival to stay afloat in these challenging times. Many indies are struggling to get funding, and many festivals are struggling to find sponsors. All the filmmakers seemed grateful to be showing their films in LA. I saw students from UCLA, filmmakers from NY, Sweden, Mexico, Israel, Texas, Quebec, seeing their stories and dreams on screen.

Our last event on Sunday was a conversation with director Robert Rodriguez and his sons Rocket, Rebel, and Racer along with Cheech Marin. Robert remembered listening to radio when he was a kid with his brother, and Cheech had a Latino Santa Claus song. The names of the reindeers had the same names as two of his hispanic uncles, which inspired him to get into the business. Cheech talked about how Robert had worked at a camera store, and in preparation to sell cameras the owner lent him one for the weekend. When Robert returned with his shots, the owner commented on his talent, and this encouraged him as well. Robert said he was told if he could learn to be a good technition and creative then the world is yours.

He showed a short film that demonstrated how he works with his children, each with their own creative gifts. The film Shark Boy and Lava Girl came from a story idea by one of the boys, and they all developed the film together.

Aspiring filmmakers have a great opportunity to learn at the festival through panels and casual meetings with peers and experienced professionals there is something for everyone. I wish to thank all the staff and volunteers at the festival who made me feel so welcome. See you next year.

Marla Lewin
The Global Film Village :

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