24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Los Angeles Lakers

What if you went to a riot and a film festival broke out?

June 18, 2010 |  1:10 pm

People who visit a lot of film festivals like to think they've seen it all. And in a way, many of us have.

Traveling to a film festival means enduring some of the more unexpected and disastrous turns that life has to offer. Cannes has brought blackouts, tidal waves, ash clouds and, most scarring of all, tub-thumping European techno music. Sundance has put festival-goers through blizzards, traffic jams, Mormon protests and, most scarring of all, low-budget American indies.

Not all of us react that well, or that sensitively, to the introduction of crisis into the film-festival bubble. During a Lars von Trier screening at Cannes a couple years back, a man stood up at the front of the theater, walked up the aisle, and promptly fainted in the arms of several unwitting film-goers. The movie kept right on playing, and the audience kept right on watching.

But those tribulations weren't a match for the events of Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles, when the Los Angeles Film Festival kicked off this year in its new downtown digs with a premiere at Regal Cinemas and an after-party at L.A. Live, while the Lakers were playing next door (and fans were, er, celebrating in the street).

The screening went smoothly enough. The opening-night film, Lisa Cholodenko's family dramedy, "The Kids Are All Right," played to an appreciative crowd (though not nearly as appreciative, it should be said, as the crowd at Sundance).

And the party on the roof deck came off without a hitch: It had the buzz of a cultural event while seeming more open and friendly than the openings in the darkened restaurants of Westwood. There was even the requisite nod to the Lakers before the movie, as Cholodenko quipped from the stage that she was glad everyone there had given up their Lakers tickets.

That was the good part. Then came the bruising part: Leaving.

As we walked down to Olympic Boulevard from L.A. Live and attempted to swing east to walk the five blocks to our car, we were greeted with a phalanx of riot police, with clubs and Plexiglas-shielded helmets, moving up the street, blocking it with Newark-level intensity and sending everyone scurrying. We tried to walk several blocks north and make the turn there, and again met with the same wall.

Laker2 Then things got hairier. As we tried walking down one more street, we found ourselves caught in a  bottle-throwing match between jubilant fans (or "fans") and riot police, who responded by charging after the bottle-throwers in a way that only seemed to incite them further. We stood against the wall and held our breath as the crowds stampeded around us. Several people were caught and thrown against police cars. It passed, but not before our lives passed before our eyes.

We also wondered if any of the rabble-rousers might have been LAFF attendees, and then couldn’t help thinking, "Wow, some people really have strong feelings about Lisa Cholodenko."

We managed to slip through the bedlam and make our way one block east, but only as far as that. Each fresh attempt to walk north (and away from the car)  and circumvent the battalions of riot police was met with the same fate . Soon we were two miles from our car and the crowds and police were only getting more dense and boisterous. Finally, after 45 minutes of walking, we found a cab, which of course wanted to get away from downtown faster than we did. We took it home, leaving the car to its uncertain fate. (It was fine the next morning.)

In the history of mob swarms, it probably wasn't much, like a 4.5 earthquake centered really far away. (About 85 people were arrested or detained for reasons including suspicion of inciting a riot, assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest and vandalism; it felt, from being in the middle of it, that the numbers could have been a lot higher.)

Laker But the chaos certainly wasn't what one wants or expects to see after sipping Pinot with the film festival crowd, and it accomplished what we never thought possible: made us pine for the European techno music.

There was a lot of talk about the unfortunate timing that the LAFF had in scheduling its opening night opposite a Lakers game 7.

But in a way this is what the festival became vulnerable to by moving downtown -- an appealing choice, but one not without its downside. Over and over in interviews, programmers and executives have said they craved the energy of downtown and a change from the staid predictability of Westwood. They meant artistic energy, of course. But downtown is a frontier neighborhood, and unpredictability happens more often in frontier neighborhoods.

After that kind of surreal start, we can only imagine how the rest of the festival unfolds. But we’re hopeful for one reason: At least the festival isn’t showing any Lars von Trier movies.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Scenes downtown after the Lakers' win. Credit: Richard Vogel / Associated Press

Is there some basketball game going on next to the L.A. Film Festival?

June 16, 2010 |  6:31 pm


When it decided to move downtown, the Los Angeles Film Festival wanted to attract heat. On Thursday night, when the festival kicks off its latest edition, it will get what it wants. There will be heat. Maybe too much heat.

An unlikely confluence of events will ensure that downtown Los Angeles is congested in ways that downtown is, well, rarely congested.

When organizers pull the wraps off this year's festival with the screening of Focus Features' Sundance hit "The Kids Are All Right" (followed by the after-party on the event deck at L.A. Live.), the Lakers will be playing an all-important Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center, heightening the crowds and traffic. Adding to the tumult: Video game conference E3 will be wrapping up at the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center. 

The Lakers won't pose a traffic problem to festgoers on the way in; the screening begins at 7:30, when Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce will be well into their shot-making, and Ron Artest and Big Baby well into the elbow-throwing. But the game should end about the same time as the screening, creating a logjam of Gasol-like proportions. And even if the Lakers win, that could well mean looting, fires and other vandalism, as it did last year after the men in purple and white took the title (and that game was on the road).

For their part, festival organizers tried on Wednesday to put a happy face on the crowd control issues. "Tomorrow night is a great celebration of two homegrown loves: cinema and the L.A. Lakers," said festival director Rebecca Yeldham. "There’s nowhere else to be tomorrow night, and we can’t imagine a more thrilling start to the 2010 L.A. Film Festival.”

Organizers obviously couldn't have known what a hothouse downtown would be on that night when they chose to open the festival on this night. (Well, they knew about E3, but couldn't have known about the Lakers.) And the Los Angeles Police Department does promise an increased presence, say our colleagues at the L.A. Now blog. But any way you slice it, it will be a pretty jammed scene.

Then again, LAFF and new host AEG say they want the remade program to look more like Sundance, Toronto and other world-class festivals. And what's a world-class festival without the choking crowds.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Lakers fans engage in mild celebration. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


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