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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: LAFF

L.A. Film Festival: A musical mystery in 'Searching for Sugar Man'

June 18, 2012 |  8:00 am

In 1970, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter who went by the one-name moniker Rodriguez released an album titled “Cold Fact.” A collection of frank, politically minded folk songs, the record earned favorable comparisons to the work of Bob Dylan and stellar reviews -- Billboard gave it four stars. Despite the acclaim, it was a commercial failure. A follow-up, “Coming From Reality,” suffered a similar fate. Rodriguez was dropped from his label and faded into obscurity.

Except in South Africa.

Half a world away, “Cold Fact” slowly amassed a cult following, and in the unlikeliest of events, protest music penned by a poor, inner-city Mexican American poet became a cultural touch-point for a young generation of white liberals disillusioned by the repressive policies of South African apartheid. Rodriguez’s fans knew little about him, however -- only that he had committed suicide onstage during a concert performance.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet -- Los Angeles Film Festival

The documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” which screens Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live as part of The Times-sponsored Los Angeles Film Festival, follows the efforts of two South African fans -- one, a former jeweler-turned-record store owner, the other a journalist -- to uncover the truth about the mysterious performer who, as people in the film say, was “bigger than the Rolling Stones.”

The stranger-than-fiction tale of how an artist could become a superstar in one country while remaining a complete unknown elsewhere fascinated first-time feature filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, a Stockholm-based television director and producer who stumbled across the story during a six-month research expedition in 2006.

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L.A. Film Festival: Socially conscious short docs

June 16, 2012 |  7:00 am

Even in a city as entertainment-oriented as Los Angeles, short films can be a tough sell. But one new player in the space — Focus Forward Films — is hoping to win over audiences with a socially conscious approach to short documentaries.

Focus Forward is a series of three-minute documentaries that shed a light on innovative individuals who are shaping the world through acts or inventions. The program boasts a roster of 30 international filmmakers, and since its inception in September, nine of its films have been shown at festivals (five premiered at Sundance and four at Tribeca). Four more will premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday (in all, The Times-sponsored fest is showing 52 short films). GE has put up more than $1 million to underwrite the program, which is administered by Cinelan.

The Focus Forward debuts in L.A. include shorts by two Oscar nominees, Liz Garbus and Eddie Schmidt. Garbus, producer-director of “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” has made a short called “Robot,” which looks at the benefits well-developed robots can provide. Schmidt (“Twist of Faith”) has made a short called “Good Bread,” a story about L.A.’s Father Greg Boyle, who teaches job skills to ex-cons through Homeboy Industries.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

The other two Focus Forward films bowing in L.A. are “New Gift,” a story about an activist who works closely with peasant farmers in rural India to get them cultivating organic produce, directed by Supriyo Sen; and “Remote Area Medical,” featuring a group of volunteers in West Virginia who set up a clinic in a football stadium to provide free healthcare to anyone who walks through the door, directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman.

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L.A. Film Festival: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' screens tonight

June 15, 2012 |  4:07 pm

Beasts of the southern wild 2
After wowing audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January and Cannes in May, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" will have its first Southern California screening tonight at the L.A. Film Festival.

"Beasts," as much a love letter to a dying part of Louisiana culture — the typically impoverished families living in quickly disappearing land near the state's southern tip — as a magically realistic look at a young daughter's fierce love for her dying father,will be released in theaters by Fox Searchlight on June 27. So if you don't have a ticket to tonight's gala, there's not long to wait.

After winning the grand jury prize and a cinematography honor at Sundance, "Beasts" collected two more awards at Cannes: best first feature and a critics' prize.

Sunday's Calendar section features an on-location interview with director Benh Zeitlin about the movie, his first feature film. 


CHEAT SHEET: Los Angeles Film Festival 2012

LA Film Festival: William Friedkin's 'ferocious sensibility'

LA Film Festival spotlights human stories from Latin America

— John Horn

Photo: Dwight Henry as "Wink" and Quvenzhane Wallis as "Hushpuppy" on the set of the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Credit: Fox Searchlight.

L.A. Film Festival spotlights human stories from Latin America

June 15, 2012 |  1:26 pm


After a string of movies about narco gang wars and desperate migrants, the Los Angeles Film Festival is presenting a different side of Latin American cinema: Cuban zombies, Chilean family road trips, Buenos Aires Elvis impersonators and the flying bird men of Veracruz.

That’s not to downplay the direness of the problems sweeping Mexico and neighboring countries, said Hebe Tabachnik, Latin American programmer for the festival, which is sponsored by The Times. But while those epic tragedies dominate newscasts, she said, this year’s slate of about a dozen features and 16 shorts should put audiences “more in contact with the stories of people.”

“When we read so much about the violence, we start forgetting about the human beings. Everybody becomes just a statistic,” said Tabachnik, a native of Argentina. “It’s a different perspective.”

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

Exhibit A is the allegorical zombie movie “Juan of the Dead,” scheduled to screen Friday night and Monday evening. Written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, the Cuban-Spanish coproduction blends all the de rigueur elements of the flesh-chomping genre with a biting critique of the everyday horrors of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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L.A. Film Festival: William Friedkin's 'ferocious sensibility'

June 15, 2012 |  8:41 am

William friedkin
William Friedkin could easily be in the victory lap phase of his career, accepting lifetime achievement awards, attending retrospectives of his work and basking in the ongoing adoration of having once made films such as “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection.” Yet at 76, he seems as scrappy and engaged as ever, with his new film “Killer Joe,” opening July 27, arguably his wildest yet.

Friedkin, who is serving as the guest director for this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, will appear Friday night for a Q&A and screening of “Killer Joe,” an adaptation of the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts starring Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Juno Temple.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

A two-fisted tale of dumb deals, double-crosses, murder, barter gone bad and love gone sour, the film flirts with trailer-trash hicksploitation in its outrageous exploration of the darker side of the human soul.

Both “Killer Joe” and Friedkin’s previous film “Bug” (also a Letts adaptation) were financed independently, and it does seem that he and the Hollywood studios have parted ways for now –- “Killer Joe” was financed by Voltage Pictures, the company also behind “The Hurt Locker,” and is the first release for distributor LD Entertainment.

“It’s not like a divorce,” Friedkin said of his current relationship with the major studios, “possibly a trial separation.”

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Los Angeles Film Festival puts diversity on the screen

June 14, 2012 |  7:00 am

Beasts of the southern wild
The Los Angeles Film Festival has long catered to all kinds of movie lovers: This year, the event will open with art-house staple Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy and close with Channing Tatum writhing around in his skivvies in Steven Soderbergh’s stripper picture “Magic Mike.”

But the 18th annual festival, which begins with Allen’s “To Rome With Love” on Thursday night at downtown’s L.A. Live and runs through June 24, has embraced diversity in other ways. The Los Angeles Times-sponsored event will feature more than half a dozen movies dealing with African American themes, two of which — “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Middle of Nowhere” — will be spotlighted as gala screenings with the full red carpet treatment.

The selections were culled from more than 5,000 submissions and come from 30 countries, eight of which are in Latin America. The lineup includes 19 feature films directed by women, and the festival also will convene a special panel discussion among women in the animation business.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

Stephanie Allain, who was named the director of the festival in late January, says she’s proud of this year’s emphasis on the work of women and people of color.

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Pixar's 'Brave' to play at Dolby Theatre for L.A. Film Fest

May 18, 2012 |  9:01 am

Brave pixar

Pixar's "Brave" will have its world premiere June 18 at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre in Hollywood as part of the L.A. Film Festival.

The screening of the animated film about a rebellious princess will be the first premiere at the 3,400-seat venue that hosts the Academy Awards since Dolby signed a 20-year deal taking over the naming rights from Kodak this spring.

"Brave," which will hit theaters nationwide June 22, tells the story of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a teenage girl who is handy with a bow and arrow and crowned with a mane of red curls. In the Scotland-set adventure directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Merida defies her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and disregards an ancient custom, inadvertently setting off a disaster in the kingdom.

“With a spirited heroine and enchanting setting in the ancient Scottish Highlands, 'Brave' represents
some exciting firsts for Pixar,” said Walt Disney Studios marketing president Ricky Strauss in a statement. “We are proud that the world premiere of ‘Brave’ will serve as the inaugural premiere at the new Dolby Theatre as part of the L.A. Film Festival, a fitting way to launch Merida’s extraordinary adventure.”

An additional gala screening of "Brave" will be held June 19 at Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live downtown for L.A. Film Festival pass and ticket holders.

On June 17, the festival will hold a panel called “Women of Wonder -– A Celebration of Women in Animation” on the challenges and accomplishments of women in the animation industry. Panelists will include Kristine Belson (executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s "How to Train Your Dragon"), Karen Rupert Toliver (20th Century Fox Animation’s vice president of production), Katharine Sarafian (producer of "Brave") and Michelle Murdocca (producer of Sony Pictures Animation’s "Hotel Transylvania").

“We are thrilled to present the world premiere of ‘Brave,’ a beautiful adventure story, to our L.A. Film Fest audience,” festival director Stephanie Allain said in a statement. “As Disney/Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist, it fits perfectly with our celebration of women in animation programming we’ll be holding during the festival.”

The L.A. Film Festival runs June 14-24 in downtown Los Angeles.


Film Independent announces lineup for L.A. Film Festival

Steve Carell's 'Seeking a Friend' to premiere at L.A. Film Fest

Woody Allen's 'To Rome with Love' to open at L.A. Film Festival

-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: A scene from "Brave." Credit: Disney / Pixar


L.A. Film Fest to show premiere of Aaron Sorkin's 'The Newsroom'

May 15, 2012 | 11:21 am

Aaron sorkin
The L.A. Film Festival is dabbling in television this year, showcasing two programs: AMC's "Breaking Bad" and HBO's "The Newsroom."

The festival will screen the premiere episode of Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin's new series, "The Newsroom," on June 22, along with a panel discussion with Sorkin, executive producer Alan Poul and director Greg Mottola. The three will discuss what it took to develop the show -- a  behind-the-scenes look at the intricacies of the fast-paced 24-hour cable news world -- and assemble the cast, which includes Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterson.

Sorkin, who won an Academy Award for his script for "The Social Network" and was behind the long-running TV show "The West Wing," is writer and executive producer of "The Newsroom."

To celebrate the last 16 episodes of "Breaking Bad," the festival will host a discussion June 16 with series creator Vince Gilligan, and stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn. 


William Friedkin to serve as L.A. Film Fest's guest director

Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love' to open L.A. Film Festival

Film Independent announces lineup for Los Angeles Film Festival

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Aaron Sorkin at the 68th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 16, 2011. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times.

William Friedkin to serve as L.A. Film Fest's guest director

May 15, 2012 | 11:09 am

Killer joe matthew mcconaughey
William Friedkin, the Academy Award-winning director of 1971's "The French Connection," will serve as guest director of the Los Angeles Film Festival and will screen his new NC-17 movie, "Killer Joe," on June 15, organizers said Tuesday. "Killer Joe" will be shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Friedkin will participate in an onstage interview.

The film follows 22-year-old Chris (Emile Hirsch), who is in debt to a drug lord. He must hire a hit man to dispatch his mother, whose $50,000 life insurance policy benefits his sister (Juno Temple). Chris finds Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a creepy Dallas cop who moonlights as a contract killer. When Chris can't pay Joe upfront, Joe sets his sights on Dottie as collateral for the job.

Festival organizers also announced that composer Danny Elfman, chef Michael Voltaggio and record producer Raphael Saadiq would serve as the festival's artists-in-residence, curating screenings and conversations related to their specialties. Elfman will present hand-picked film clips featuring his favorite scores on June 16, and will discuss how film music has shaped his career. Voltaggio, the famed "Top Chef" who owns the award-winning restaurant Ink in Los Angeles, will present Bib Giraldi's "Dinner Rush" on June 20, followed by a conversation.

Saadiq will present a screening of his choice on June 15, followed by a conversation with KCRW-FM's Chris Douridas.

The L.A. Film Festival runs from June 14 to June 24.


Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love' to open L.A. Film Festival

Film Independent announces lineup for Los Angeles Film Festival

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Matthew McConaughey stars as the title character  in William Friedkin's movie "Killer Joe."  Credit: Skip Bolen/LD Entertainment

L.A. Film Festival: Audience favorites coming soon to a theater near you

June 26, 2011 |  1:39 pm


Audiences and jurors at the L.A. Film Festival this year seemed partial to international entries and those with a musical bent -- filmmakers from Canada, Iran and England were among the prize winners, as were films about the band A Tribe Called Quest and country singer Chely Wright.

If you missed the festival, which wraps up Sunday, you'll soon be able to catch some of the award-winners in theaters, among them "Attack the Block," which won the audience award for best narrative. The British comedy from director Joe Cornish, about a group of London teens fending off invaders from outer space, arrives in theaters July 29.

"Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," which won the audience award for best documentary, will open in limited release July 8. "Senna," a documentary about Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna, which was named the audience favorite for international feature and has been raking in millions at the box office overseas, also comes to U.S. theaters Aug. 12.

See our rundown of all the winners.


'Beats, Rhymes & Life' premiere turns emotional

Teenagers take on extraterrestrials in 'Attack the Block'

Tears and thrills from the Formula One racetrack in documentary 'Senna'

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Scene from "Senna." Credit: Courtesy L.A. Film Festival


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