Makin’ it halfway through LAFF ’06…

In what appeared from first glance to be a bold move, the Los Angeles Film Festival moved from it’s central location at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and DGA to Westwood Village. It’s not unusual in LA to stay in your neighborhood and to be quite snooty about traveling across town for any reason. The Sunset 5 is incredibly convenient to my house and when I found out LAFF would be in Westwood for 2006 I was bummed. But, after spending a few days around the fest it’s actually quite nice. The theaters are scattered across the UCLA adjacent cluster of restaurants and shopping and nearly everything is in walking distance. Not to give up parking secrets, but I’ve found free or metered parking everyday at the fest and can proudly say I haven’t spent more than $1 a day on storing my vehicle. And it’s easy to spot the good places to grab grub as they’re all bustling with students hanging around for the summer. LAFF takes full advantage of the movie theaters and even the streets as Broxton is closed off and turned into Popcorn Alley (free popcorn from fest sponsor Pop Secret) for open-air screenings. Friday night they showed West Side Story and every seat was full. The fest will also host a family day that culminates in a screening of The Incredibles this coming Saturday night.

I stopped by to pick up my pass and check out the layout of the fest on Friday afternoon. It was sunny and warm, but it didn’t stop folks from hitting the screenings. I started my fest off with one of the fest’s free screenings, SP!T, a doc about poetry slam by Rotimi Rainwater. The film follows several poets as they write, perform, travel to the national competition and of course, spit. The performances are lively and the opening sequence of the film plays out like a music video. After the film a few of the poets performed across the street at the Hammer Museum during the Diversity Expo, a showcase for film support organizations and film festivals.

Monday I went to see Alison Chernick’s Matthew Barney: No Restraint. Matthew Barney is the epitome of looking like you know what you’re doing so everyone is into it. His art is abstract, greasy and probably not for everyone. The film follows Barney on a whaling ship in Japan as he creates a new work, Drawing Restraint 9. The piece and the film also feature Bjork, another otherworldly being. The two are friends and the film shows how well they work together. They understand each other.

Yesterday, Tuesday I participated in the festival’s speed dating activity. This is such a great thing to do at a festival for both filmmakers and the participating industry folks. In an incredibly smoothly run event, each industry person has a table and the filmmakers go from table to table every 10 minutes so that they get to meet each industry person, pitch, get information and hang out. Following the 2-hour meet and greet marathon the festival hosted a lunch so everyone could chat more and nourish themselves.

Inspired by meeting filmmakers David Edwards and Gregory Whitmore at the speed dating I went to see their film Kabul Transit. The film plops the viewer in Kabul immediately. It’s as if the viewer is walking around listening to bits and pieces of people’s stories, meeting Afghans and getting to know them very quickly. The film is nonlinear in every way with no narrator or guide. It’s almost as if the viewer is abandoned and forced to look at the war torn country surrounding them. The final shot of the film shows two men on a bicycle flying past ruins, but smiling and singing. The subtitle to the song he sings says, “There’s no place for sorrow.” It’s quite touching.

From there I walked around for an hour before I headed back into the dark for James Moll’s Inheritance. When I read the description of Inheritance I knew I had to see it. The film introduces Monika, the daughter of Amon Goeth, a Nazi war criminal responsible for the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. Monika wants to meet Helen, a Holocaust survivor who was, during the war, her father’s servant. The film explores a new side of the Holocaust and something that clearly touched the audience in every way as the sounds of sniffling could not be stifled.

I’m about to head out…back to Westwood (sigh) to see Mario’s Story. There are, as per usual at LAFF, docs in all categories and with the fest only half over there’s plenty of time to see something. The 11 docs in the documentary competition plus summer previews including Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, This Film is Not Yet Rated and Who Killed the Electric Car?. There’s a screening Saturday of The Filth and the Fury live at the Ford Amphitheater and a special screening of Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis. There are few docs in the international showcase, a special screening of Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters tonight. Additionally several free screenings and a smattering of short docs that are interspersed throughout the short programs. LAFF is truly making this year out to have something for everyone and every age.

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