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2009 Los Angeles Film Festival: Bullets, bees and bananas

May 5, 2009 | 11:40 am


There will be guns. Lots of guns.

The Los Angeles Film Festival announced its lineup for its annual celebration of cinema, and its centerpiece is the L.A. premiere of "Public Enemies," the hotly anticipated gangster film from director Michael Mann starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the legendary Depression-era bank robber, and Christian Bale as his nemesis, the FBI agent Melvin Purvis.

 The festival, which runs June 18 to June 28 and is sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, will screen more than 200 features, shorts and music videos. Hailing from 30 countries, the films were selected from more than 4,600 submissions. For the first time in its 15-year history, the festival has put international films in its narrative and documentary competition categories. Unlike almost any other American film festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival combines studio tent-pole films and micro-budgeted indie films.

"It's our hope to create a festival rich in content and rich in experience," said Rebecca Yeldham, the festival's new director. Yeldham, who produced "The Kite Runner," replaced festival director Richard Raddon, who resigned last November after his donation to the campaign to pass Proposition 8 and ban gay marriage in California became public and caused an uproar in the filmmaking community.

 Rachel Rosen, LAFF's director of programming, said the festival would highlight the increasingly globalization of cinema, where directors are telling stories about communities far removed from native base or country of origin. There are also a number of films that mix narrative-feature with documentary styles, deliberately blurring cinematic conventions.

"Filmmakers are using all the tools to tell their stories the way the want to," Rosen said, noting that among the diverse offerings this year will be the 14-hour Chinese documentary "Crude Oil," a film installation that documents a day in the life of a Chinese oil field.

For those who prefer films with more conventional running times, there are the documentaries in competition that tackle such subjects as the human cost of banana cultivation ("Bananas!"), Johnny Cash impersonators ("Branson"), beekeepers ("The Last Beekeeper") and what happens to the families left behind in Mexico when their loved ones travel north to America on the hunt for employment ("Those Who Remain").

 Competing in the narrative competition will be the Inuit high school film "Dear Lemon Lima" directed by Suzi Yoonessi, as well as "Harmony & Me" by Bob Byington, "Hollywood, je t'aime" by Jason Bushman, "Passenger Side" by Matt Bissonnette, "Turistas" by Alicia Scherson, "Wah Do Dem" (What They Do) by Sam Fleischner  and Ben Chace, and "Zero Bridge," an Indian American production about a pickpocket in Kashmir directed by Tariq Tapa.

Other notable highlights include "Documenting Mexico: Selections From the Ambulante Film Festival," a traveling documentary-film festival (see sidebar).

The festival is also screening a number of well-received indies that have made a splash at other festivals, such as the Sundance documentary grand prize winner "We  Live in Public" by Ondi Timoner, about entrepreneur Josh Harris, who streamed his entire life on the Internet; and "No Impact Man," a documentary about environmentalist Colin Beavan and his family's experiment with radical green living (i.e., no electricity, toilet paper or takeout).

More idiosyncratic offerings are an unspooling of the 1971 cult favorite "Billy Jack," followed by a discussion with writer-director-star Tom Laughlin, as well as a free public screening of  Alexander Payne's "Election," which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The complete lineup can be found on the Los Angeles Film Festival home page.

-- Rachel Abramowitz and Reed Johnson

Photo of Johnny Depp in "Public Enemies" by Peter Mountain / Universal Pictures.


Los Angeles Film Festival makes room for Ambulante