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2005 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL A RESOUNDING SUCCESS
by Susan Royal

This year the Los Angeles Film Festival, organized by Film Independent (FIND), drew 60,000 attendees and presented 266 films from 30 countries during its 11-day run. Among the many filmmakers and actors attending LAFF to support their films were Joan Allen, Edward Norton, Holly Hunter, Joe Mantegna, Kathy Baker, Evan Rachel Wood, Bruce Dern, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Allison Janney, James Franco and David LaChapelle. The festival was based at the Sunset Laemmle 5 complex and the Directors Guild of America (one short block apart) but a number of additional venues around town were needed, including the Ford Amphitheatre and the Santa Monica Pier.

The LAFF kicked off on Thursday, June 16, with the Opening Night Film Down In the Valley, directed by David Jacobson and starring Edward Norton. The Gala “Valley-inspired” after- party was held at the Palladium.

On Friday night there was a Surprise Screening of Craig Brewer’s Sundance ‘05 award-winning film Hustle & Flow at the DGA. Over at the Ford Amphitheatre there was a rip-roaring outdoor screening of RIZE (with the director and cast speaking onstage afterwards) which documented the evolution of the South Central-born dance style called “krumping.” This event kicked off the “Five Nights of Summer Fun At the Ford” section of the festival.

A screening of Jim Jarmusch’ latest film, Broken Flowers, was added for Saturday night and was an immediate hot ticket. The film, winner of the Grand Prix at the recent Cannes Film Festival, stars Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Francis Conroy, Tilda Swinton and Chloe Sevigny.

On its first weekend, the festival reprised its ever-popular series of informal “Coffee Talks,” held in the DGA Atrium. Prominent filmmakers and actors (such as Thomas Hayden Church, Scott Frank, Holly Hunter and Kimberly Elise) focused on their various areas of expertise: Acting, Producing, Directing, Screenwriting, Editing, Production Design and Film Composing.

The “Poolside Chats” -- another hit at past editions of the festival -- were back, this time held at the Wetherly Garden of The Four Seasons Hotel. Attendees flocked to listen to the likes of Paul Mazursky, Ron Shelton, Bill Condon, Karyn Kusama and Joyce Carol Oates, among others.

On Monday a “Documentary Roundtable” was held at the DGA. That evening the first screening of You and Me and Everyone We Know was held at the DGA, (with director/performance artist/actress Miranda July and her co-star John Hawkes attending). The after-party was held at Dar Magreb. That same evening the world premiere of The Century Plaza screened with an after-party at The Viper Room.

The Centerpiece Screening of Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives was held Tuesday night at the Academy Theater in Beverly Hills. The ensemble film features vignettes focusing on nine interesting and extremely different women – each story shot in real time. In recent years Garcia (son of famed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez) has been directing for cable, but this film marks his return to features. Six years ago he wrote and developed his first film, Things You Can Tell By Just Looking At Her, at the Sundance Lab, where he was able to attract such acting talent to his project as Holly Hunter, Glenn Close and Amy Brenneman. These three fine actresses have returned to star in Nine Lives in an impressive cast which also includes Kathy Baker, Elpidia Carrillo, Stephen Dillane, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Aidan Quinn, Miguel Sandoval, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn. At the LAFF screening, Garcia referred to this embarrassment of acting riches as “a greedy fat boy’s answered letter to Santa.” The next day it was announced that the film was acquired by Magnolia Pictures and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Also on Tuesday, director Sally Potter and actress Joan Allen attended the screening of Yes at the DGA and director Rick Rosenthal presented his latest film, Nearing Grace, with his stars Gregory Smith (“Everwood”), Jordana Brewster and Ashley Johnson.

On Wednesday director Greg Harrison and actress Courteney Cox attended the screening of November. That evening Robert Towne was interviewed on stage by Elvis Mitchell for a special “Storytelling Evening” which included clips from several films written by Towne. A native of Los Angeles who is perhaps best known for writing Chinatown, Towne spoke in depth about the influence L.A. has had on much of his work, including Shampoo, The New Centurians, Tequila Sunrise and his upcoming film Ask the Dust.

Also that evening, over at the Ford Amphitheatre, THE RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan) presented “Toontime with THE RZA,” laying down tracks while cartoons selected by him screened behind him.

Thursday evening a Tribute to Ossie Davis, featuring a screening of Gone Are the Days, was hosted by Elvis Mitchell with special guests Isaiah Washington and Brock Peters.

?Nickel ?n? Dimin: The Low Budget Conference? was held all day Friday at the DGA.

On Friday evening Shane Black presented a “Storytelling Evening” entitled “Black’s Noir: Uncovering Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” Black showed clips from his new film of the same name and clips of films which inspired its creation.

On Saturday the all-day “Financing Summit” was held at the Pacific Design Center while Family Day was held at the Santa Monica Pier, featuring an outdoor screening of Babe.

On Saturday afternoon several of the RIZE cast members put on an impromptu krump session in the courtyard of the Laemmle Sunset 5, drawing an enthusiastic crowd. But when the krumpers began pulling onlookers from the crowd into the krump circle, most tried just not to embarrass themselves too much before running back into the safety of the crowd.

On Saturday evening, at a high-rise office building in Westwood, the festival announced that it will relocate next year to Westwood Village, where it will partner with the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, the Hammer Museum and Westwood’s movie houses (which are predominantly Mann Theaters). At the event George Clooney accepted the inaugural Spirit of Independence Award before sitting down for an onstage discussion with LAFF guest curator Elvis Mitchell.

The festival concluded on Sunday with the Closing Night Screening of Don Roos’ Happy Endings (starring Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern and Bobby Cannavale) and with the announcement of the jury prize award winners. Mark Banning’s Jellysmoke was awarded the Target $50,000 prize for Best Narrative Feature and Beth Bird’s Everyone Their Grain of Sand was awarded the same amount for Best Documentary Feature. Miranda July won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature for You and Me and Everyone We Know, while David Zeiger’s Sir! No Sir! was the audience favorite for Best Documentary. The Audience Award for Best International Feature went to March of the Penguins, directed by Luc Jacquet.

This year’s Los Angeles Film Festival was considered by many to be the best ever. Contributing to this very pleasant festival-going experience were the rooftop “Porch Parties” and the Target Red Room Filmmaker Lounge, a comfortable hangout with a well-stocked bar and Haagen Dazs stand.

For those who missed the film festival, many of the films screened have just opened or will soon be in theaters. RIZE, The Talent Given Us, Yes and March of the Penguins opened Friday June 24. You and Me and Everyone We Know has opened very successfully in New York and will open at the Nuart this weekend. November will open July 22 and Broken Flowers opens on August 5.

For more info about LAFF, go to: www.lafilmfest.com.


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