A report from The 16th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival


The 16th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) has moved to it’s new Downtown digs, prepared to bring some glam to LA’s aggressive downtown revival. LAFF will present 200-plus films (narratives, docs, shorts and music videos) from more than 40 countries.

The fest opens Thursday, June 17 with Lisa Cholodenko’s comedy-drama “The Kids Are All Right“, starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo (a crowd-pleasure at Sundance) and closes with the Steve Carrell animated comedy “Despicable Me” on June 27. The majority of the screenings will take place at L.A.Live’s 14-screen Regal Cinemas. REDCAT, Downtown Independent, the Orpheum and California Plaza will also host screenings.

New Artistic Director David Anson (the former film critic for Newsweek), who replaced Rachel Rosen, has programmed more foreign films than in previous years. Over half of the films in the Narrative Competition are international. Gala, a new section, also has a strong international component, featuring “Animal Kingdom” (Australia) “Mahler on the Couch” (Germany/Austria) and “Revolución“, an omnibus film, featuring ten of Mexico’s finest young filmmakers.

Anson and associate director of programming Doug Jones, continue LAFF’s support of game-changing filmmaking styles, but Anson, who’s on record as “believing in the pleasure principle” delights in genre films as well.

The Beyond section features two cult films; Joshua Grannell’s horror homage “All About Evil” featuring Cassandra Peterson (Elvira); and Joe Maggio’s “Bitter Feast‘ a gourmet revenge thriller, produced by Larry Fessenden (“The Last Winter.”) Both at Downtown Independent. Music lovers will enjoy Jacob Hatley’s intimate documentary “Ain’t In It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.”

Recommended in the Summer Showcase section: Claire Denis’ “White Material” returns to post-colonial Africa, the setting of her masterful first film “Chocolat.” Brit Chris Morris’s Jihadist farce “Four Lions“, Gareth Edwards’s evocative indie sci- fi “Monsters,” “The Tillman Story“, Lena Dunham’s formally inventive “Tiny Furniture.”

Recommended in the International Showcase: Estonian Jaak Kilmi’s Cold-War deconstruction “Disco & Atomic War“; Kamen Kalov’s edgy redemptive “Eastern Plays“; “Family Tree” (a study of a secret laden-French family); “La Pivvolina” (first-time feature directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s minimalist circus drama); Samuel Maoz’s claustrophobic war movie, “Lebanon“, set in a tank during the Israeli-Lebanon War of the 1980s, has been compared to Samuel Fuller in it’s tough ironic depiction of war:
The Peddler” follows itinerant Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burmeister, who makes low-tech films with locals for room and board. Woo Ming-jin’s meditative, wry “Woman On Fire Looks For Water” set in a Malay village and “Space Tourist“.

The Film Foundation’s Retro section presents Satyajit Ray’s elegiac masterpiece “The Music Room“; the digitally restored “The Life Of Richard Wagner (1913) the earliest bio-pic ever produced, with a newly commissioned score by Barry Seamon (both at the REDCAT) and Visconti’s “Il Gattopardo” at the Orphium.

The free Community Screenings series presents Josh Fox’s handcrafted activist “GasLand” which exposes the toxic extraction of natural gas (fracking) while pushing the boundaries of documentary filmmaking; “Climate Refugees” follows populations displaced by global warming. “Lost Angels” studies Los Angeles’ skid row.

Selections from Mexico’s traveling Ambulante film festival:One Day Less“, “Presumed Guilty” (highly recommended) Albino Alvarez Gomez’s “The Toledo Report” portrays fascinating Oaxacan multi-media artist Francisco Toledo.

Artist in Residence, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold will introduce Motohiro Katsuyuki’s 2006 classic noodle comedy “Udon” (Saturday, June 10th, Downtown Independent) The comic doc “The People vs. George ” Lucas” will screen at the Ford Amphitheater with a “Star Wars” costume contest. “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” premieres at the Nokia Theater on June 24.

To celebrate LA’S Downtown, LAFF offers two rarely seen LA Noirs: Walter Hill’s “The Driver” (1978) starring Ryan O’ Neal and Bruce Dern, and Robert Culp’s “HIckey and Boggs” (1972) (from a Walter Hill script.) Robert Culp and Bill Cosby turn their flip “I Spy” personas inside out, in Hill’s first film. Cynical, razor sharp and terse, there has yet to be a decent DVD release of this gem.

LAFF is known for it’s stellar shorts programs. Program Two contains Guy Madden’s latest “Night Mayor” and Bálint Kenyeres’s ravishing “The History Of Aviation.” Kenyeres seems influenced by David Lean and the paintings of Boudin in this period tour-de-force short.

Highlights of the “poolside chats” include conversations with filmmaker Charles Burnett, cartoonist Lalo Alcarez and writer Jerry Stahl (” Permanent Midnight“, “I Fatty“- in development with Johnny Depp).

The International Spotlight on Leopoldo Torre NIlsson is one of the fest’s highlights. Forgotten Argentine master NIlsson (1924-1978), was once spoken of in the same breathe as Bergman and Bunuel and Welles. Prints of his disturbing, expressionistic meditation on innocence, sexual repression and political hypocrisy are almost impossible to see, even in Argentina. LAFF’s 4-film retro should kick off a long overdue revival of his work. Nilsson, the first Argentine director to gain International accolade, came from a cinematic family. His father, director Leopoldo Torres Ríos (“The Return To The Nest“) often worked with brother Carlos Torres Ríos, a noted cinematographer. Torre Nilsson’s two sons Pablo and Javier Torre are both directors.

After ten years as an assistant director to father Leopoldo Torres Ríos, Torre Nilsson’s first feature was an adaptation of Adolfo Bioy Casares’s novel ( “El perjurio de la nieve“), “El crimen de Oribe” (1950), followed by “Days Of Hate” (1954) an adaptation of the Borges story “Emma Zunz” scripted by Borges.

During the 50’s and early 60’s (a period marked by frequent coups d’état), Nilsson worked with novelist, and wife, Beatriz Guido. Three of their early collaborations are featured in LAFF’s tribute. All feature actress Elsa Daniel. Nilsson’s use of muse Daniel is reminiscent of Bergman and Bunuel’s use of their female stars.

Nilsson’s masterful trilogy is set in the period of his youth, the corrupt era of coup-installed leader José Félix Uriburu, known as the “Infamous Decade.” Suffused with ghostly gothic elements, Torre Nilsson critiques Argentina’s Catholic repression and machismo. He was one of the first Argentine directors to incorporate psychologically derived analysis in his films.

La Casa Del Ángel” (House of The Angel aka The Age Of Innocence) was Torre Nilsson’s international breakout film. A highly stylized, baroque portrait of a virginal girl’s toxic sexual awakening. “Disturbingly virginal” Ana Castro (Elsa Daniel) lives in the wake of her powerful politico father Dr. Castro (Guillermo Battaglia), and in the uneasy thrall of his best friend, political firebrand Deputy Pablo Aguirre (played by Chilean actor (Lautaro Murúa). with whom she shares a powerful, paralyzing secret. (Berta Ortegosa is perfection as Ana’s mother, the repressive aristocratic Señora de Castro. Social position, rigid, hypocritical mores, and inflexible machismo entrap the tragic heroine in this psychological gothic.

In “La mano en la trampa” (Hand In the Trap), Innocent Laura (Elsa Daniel) leaves her convent school for summer vacation. Rejoining the secluded home of her mother (Berta Ortegosa) and aunt (Hilda Suárez) members of small town gentry, the Lavignes, who, fallen on hard times have become seamstresses to their monied neighbors. Snooping on “IT’, a family monster supposedly sequestered in an upstairs bedroom, Laura tricks would-be working class swain into helping her break into the closed room. There she discovers a family secret more psychologically horrible than the monster she was expecting to find. The tragic result of her determination to uncover the truth, traps her in a replay of her Aunt Inés’s (María Rosa Gallo) tragic fate, a sacrifice on the altar of family honor. Francisco Rabal plays patrician Cristóbal Achával, the man who ruins the family.

La caída” (The Fall), another collaboration with Beatriz Guido and Elsa Daniel, won the Argentine Critic’s Association’s Silver Condor in 1959. Daniel plays Albertina a naive university student who comes of age amidst an eccentric family with whom she boards. Another psychological gothic. Caught in the claustrophobic, disturbing household, Albertina misses her `chance at happiness` with a would-be suitor from a “respectable family.”

Beside his early works with Beatriz Guido, “The Terrace“, “The Party Is Over” (adapted from Juan Goytilsola’s novel) and “Painted Lips” are considered masterpieces by certain critics.

Nilsson was a part of the first “New Cinema” generation, along with Fernando Ayala, Fernando Birri, David Jose Kohon, Simon Feldman and Fernando “Pino” Solanas (“La Hora de los Hornos“.) Many of the actors he favored became important film directors: Lautoro Murúa, Leonardo Favio and Sergio Renán.

His work became less interesting during the mid to late 60’s. In the late 60’s and 70’s he adapted works’ of Argentina’s literary lions: “Martín Fierro” (1968) based on Borges’ essay on the epic poem; Adolfo Bioy Casares’s “Diary of a Pig War” (1975); Manuel Puig’s “Painted Lips” (1974). Unwilling to leave Argentina, Nilsson’s films, made during the decades of severe censorship imposed by the dictatorship, suffered from watered down content and sensibility. His 1970 box office hit “El santo de la espada” (“The Knight of the Sword“) a revisionist heroic “Gaucho” film about the Liberator San Martin was supported by the military dictatorship. It’s script was developed with the Instituto Sanmariniano, then sympathetic to the right wing military Junta.

Nilsson’s adaptation of Robert Arlt’s blackly comic “The Seven Madmen” doesn’t reach the level of the source material, perhaps because the slangy lunfardo-sprinkled dialogue and anarchist plot (a slap in the face of Argentina’s bourgeois isolationist culture of the 1920’s) no longer seem shocking. It does, however, present a historical context for Argentina’s fractured socio-economic instability. “The Seven Madmen” (based on “The Seven Madmen and sequel “The Flame Throwers“) won the 1973 Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Meek failed inventor Erdoasain is initiated into a group of eccentric anarchists, attempting to throw the society into chaos. They practice their revolutionary act only to be betrayed by their sponsoring law-and-order counter-revolutionaries.

Nilsson studied art cinema in Europe in the 50’s. His European sensibility and preoccupation with the decadence of the bourgeoisie turned many critics against him. He was preoccupied with seeing, with psychological perception. In “La casa del angel” Ana explains, in a voice over, that her hand trembles when she pours Pablo Aguirre his coffee. She can’t look at his face. “My eyes reach the knot of his tie and stop.” Torre Nilsson shows us only what Ana allows herself to see; close-ups of the coffee service place setting, and, as she approaches him, Pablo’s tie but not his face. In fractured close-ups, Nilsson deconstructs the supposed respectability of Ana’s father’s home with an expressionistic autopsy of her Life With Father.

An elegant dinner between Ana, her father, and nightly guest Aguirre takes on an entirely different meaning when it repeats at the end of the film. We now know the price of their apparent respectability, the secret she represses and Pablo denies. Each character deals with concealment. Her father has political intrigues. Ana’s mother insists her daughters bathe in their nightgowns and covers the neoclassical statues on their grounds. Even muck raking Pablo Aguirre is forced to a duel to protect his powerful father’s “good name” from exposure by the opposition party. Surviving the duel (hosted by old-school Dr. Castro) Pablo truncates his career, rendered useless as a young man. “I do not know if he is alive or dead. I do not know if we are two ghosts. We should have died that night, he in the park and I on the terrace of the angel.” narrates numb Ana.

Although he fell into disfavor, Nilsson’s self-referential sensibility of “the gaze” has been a strong influence on the New Argentine Cinema. In a way his work is post-modern. His fracturing of what we see, his insistence on the penetrating gaze, always revealing a hidden truth, always undermining the prevailing ideology, his self-aware sensibility, prompting psychological awareness of his characters, resurface in the newest generation of Argentine filmmakers.

Torre Nilsson died at 54 in 1978, while General Jorge Vidal’s junta “disappeared” thousands of citizen’s as part of the “National Reorganization Process”. Nilsson’s widow and collaborator Beatriz Guido worked to restore his reputation.

The Films That Got Away, a co-presentation of The Los Angeles Film Critics association (LAFCA) and UCLA Film and Television Archive presents films known around the world, which, for market reasons, never received an LA release. THIS SECTION IS AN ANNUAL MUST SEE: “The Happiest Girl In the World“-Radu Jude (“12:08 East of Bucharest“) turns out an arch Romanian satire. Lucky Delia, the winner of a new car, attempts to film a sweepstakes commercial, while her greedy family work on chiseling her out of the winnings.

Katalin Varga” is already on my ten best list. First time Brit feature director Peter Strickland’s “Katalin Varga” is a stylized revenge story that commands your attention from the first frame. Set in an unchanged Transylvania, the setting of innumerable fairy tales, Strickland summons the primal force of a folk tale or an Appalachian murder ballad, inexorable as a tragedy from the beginning of time.

35 year-old director Strickland originally bankrolled the film with a small inheritance of £25,000. Strickland shot with a small crew of 11, camping out in an unfurnished house in the Carpathians. Speaking no Hungarian, he guided astonishing performances from his cast of local stage actors. He returned to Reading, then Budapest and took a job teaching while pursuing production companies for money to edit the film. Romanian producers, Oana and Tudor Giurgiu (Libra Films) came on board as co-producers, covering the cost of a blow-up from Super 16mm negatives as well as color correction and a sound mix. Strickland received the European Film Awards 2009 European Discovery of the Year.

‘Police’ bang on a door at night. They rough up a sleeping couple, looking for a ‘Katalin Varga’. Strickland cuts to a sunny meadow. Peasant Katalin Varga (Hilda Péter) traipses through the grasses picking flowers. A little girl spots her then runs away. A villager she passes rebuffs her greeting. Her neighbor rushes up the hillside to warn her, “He knows.” As if waiting for this moment to arrive, Katalin races home to confront her steely husband (László Mátray). Denouncing her as a “whore” who’s shamed him, he banishes her and “the boy”. In the local traditions, honor trumps his affection for her.

On the pretext of visiting his sick grandmother Katalin and 10-year-old Orbán (Norbert Tankó) hurry away from their tranquil village in a horse-drawn cart. Long horizontal shots reveal rolling hills and the mist wrapped Carpathian Mountains ahead of them. Like a moment from a Thomas Hardy story, stolid Katalin passes gleaners with pitchforks. The sensual beauties of nature contrast with the unfolding human tragedy.

They shelter in stranger’s barns, as she searches for the man who raped her (Orbán’s biological father) and his accomplice. We’re shocked when Katalin pulls out a cell phone to call her husband (he hangs up on her). We might have been in Feudal times. In town, Katalin asks some teenage girls (in hip tee-shirts) the way to Jadzereda. “Never thank anyone who leads you to Jadzereda” yell the laughing girls after her. Bunked down in a cowshed, worried Orbán asks her why she’s so upset. “I just miss my husband, that’s all.” “You mean Papa don’t you? Why didn’t you call him Papa?” asks the anxious, homesick little boy.

They travel through inhospitable mountain communities, as Katalin searches for Gergely (Roberto Giacomello). Gussying up, Katalin snares him at a fire lit gypsy dance. The woozy handheld sequence increases our feeling of dislocation. Later at the local bar, Katalin flirts with the arrogant womanizer (who doesn’t recognize her, although she gives her name). Blithely unconcerned with the village gossips, they leave together. At their open-air assignation, she brutally kills him. At dawn, Katalin wanders home through a meadow. Another suspicious little girl flees seeing the disreputable woman in streaked make-up. The poultry farmer (Zsolt Páll), whose coop they’ve rented, reviles her as a loose woman who leaves her child to meet men. Dressed In underpants and a neck brace he’s a grotesque émigré from a Béla Tarr flick.

Strickland, who relies on visual storytelling rather than dialogue, shows Gergely’s legs in the brush under a tree, his cell phone ringing incessantly. Once his body’s discovered, his widow’s brothers remorselessly track Katalin across the countryside, the headlights of their cars the only thing visible in the pitch-black rural night. The careless way that Katalin proceeds, making no attempt to hide her identity, adds to the doomed fabular quality. It’s clear she’s made no escape plans. Revenge is her only concern. Reaching a further town, Katalin asks farmer Antal (Tibor Palffy) if he knows a room they can rent. Antal (Orbán’s real father) and his wife Etelka (Melinda Kántor) offer them a room.

Katalin seems unmoored when she discovers Antal’s a happily married man. Etelka bonds with Katalin, confessing they’ve been unable to have children. Easy with Orbán, protective, Anton bonds with the needy boy.

All of Strickland’s stark narrative strategies come to a head in a gripping scene in a rowboat. Drifting in a sunny, idyllic lake, normally terse Katalin begins a hallucinatory monologue, detailing in the language of a children’s story, her virginal assault by two men. At first the camera watches Antal’s guilty reactions. Panning to Katalin’s calm smiling face, we watch the lifelong damage her secret has wrought. It’s a profound performance.

Katalin spares Antal, yet tragedy follows. Katalin’s revelations wreck havoc. Although her husband’s relented, Katalin’s still a hunted woman. When Antal reveals he’s Orbán’s father, the boy flees. Katalin and Antal search the fields, but it’s poor Orbán who finds Katalin’s body in the meadow. Strickland’s dark tale, as spare as a gothic by Isak Dineson, could end no other way.

Mark Gyori’s 16mm lensing is both specific and timeless. Gyori’s camera glides across the horizon, scans the sky, meditates on the ominous forest where something dreadful once happened. Everything seems to vibrate with portent. The landscape makes one woozy.

An unnerving sound design by Gyorgy Kovacs (a Tarr collaborator) heightens each natural sound (the wind, the rain, the crickets and goat bells) to create an expressionist Transylvania. In the climatic scene the furious tapping of woodpeckers announce that Katalin’s time is running out. The sound design was awarded the 2009 Golden Bear at Berlin. Steven Stapleton and Geoff Cox’s eerie chorale-electronic score increases the film’s tension. Children sing a dreadful ballad about wolves. Katalin and Orbán drone a dirge like folk song.

Strickland cites Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter” and Paradjanov’s “Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors” as influences, as well as the Popol Vuh soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu”. Strickland is a master in the making. (Originally seen at SBFF.)

I was able to see press screenings of two documentaries in the uniformly strong Documentary Competition. “Everyday Sunshine” Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler’s portrait of the Southern California’s purist punk-funk band Fishbone is a highly entertaining mix of character study and performance. Archival material and club footage, plus fascinating present day interviews with the two remaining original members, lead singer Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher, charts the dramatic, surprising story of South Central’s proto punk aggregation. Hubris, idealism, kidnapping, it’s all there.

When they were on the cusp of making it big, guitarist Kendall Ray Jones left the band. An alcoholic, Kendall was unhinged by his mother’s death and the break up of his engagement. “He went berserk, man. He went bug wild. He was seeing the devil in everything. It was some other motherfucker speaking through his body,” explained Fisher. Kendall moved with in his religious zealot father in Marin County, a man he had reviled for most of his life. His subsequent irrational behavior worried his band members.

They suspected he had joined his father’s cult L.A. health authorities recommended an intervention,suggesting Fisher apprehend Jones for hospitalization. Jone’s father and an ambitious district attorney (who saw a chance to make a name for himself) took it to the wall.

Norwood Fisher was arrested. The court case dragged on. Jones’s irrational behavior on the witness stand eventually got Fisher and his members acquitted but the damage to the band was irreparable.

The band’s supercharged, satirical live performances, full of searing lyrics, hyper fast musical chops and frenetic stage antics blasted them to the top of the emerging LA Punk club scene. The six members of the band, young black kids who had been bussed to the valley during desegregation, brought an original spin to their music. Black music fans, into soul, ignored the SKA-influenced group, but other Punk bands of the day lionized them and their outrageous mix of jazz, ska, punk, funk, metal and hip-hop. Fresh out of high school, hey toured the US, Europe and Japan with the Beastie Boys.

Despite numerous albums and EPS, the real Fishbone experience was their live performances. Records failed to do them justice. Happily there are numerous early perfs to watch in this bio. Truth and Soul (1988), Fishbone’s second album is probably their best album, an ambitious blend of heavy metal and funk, which includes their heavy -metal version of
Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Freddie’s Dead.” Drama, record label problems and the fact that their original music was simply unclassifiable kept them from the chart topping success, while other bands of the scene, like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction (all Fishbone fans) rocketed to mainstream success and financial security.

Interviews with Les Claypool, George Clinton, Flea, Eugene Hütz (Gogol Bordello), Ice-T, Tony Kanal Branford Marsalis, Vernon Reid, Tim Robbins and Gwen Stefani testify to their cultural influence, but it’s the fascinating charismatic band members themselves that make an imprint.

The band was formed by John Norwood Fisher (bass, vocals), his brother Philip “Fish” Fisher (drummer), Angelo Moore aka “Dr. Madd Vibe” (vocals, saxophones. and theremin), Kendall Jones (guitar), “Dirty” Walter A. Kibby III (vocals, trumpet), Christopher Dowd (keyboards, trombone, vocals).

Wildman vocalist Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher have kept the band alive, touring low rent clubs. Beset by family and financial woes the two aging punkers, a disgruntled “old couple” refuse to let the dream die.
The compelling story, and riveting early punk performances will please die-hard fans and Fishbone novices. I was kicking myself for missing them during their LA Madame Wong’s heyday. You will be too.

Camera, Camera” -Director Malcolm Murray comes from the commercials world. (“Up There“, Murray’s Stella Artois documentary about the dying art of hand-painted advertisement is viewable at uptherefilm.com.) Murray visited Laos at a time when a tourist influx of the previously closed off country was changing the “untouched” countryside. Visas now permitted tourists to stay more than one week. Everywhere he looked tourists with digital camera’s cruised the environment. Hustling to capture an unspoiled landscape, photogs moved other photogs out of frame to capture their fiction of a primitive Laos. As the film shows, tourists rambled to the most remote villages. Tourist bars played hospitality to young tourists up and down the Mekong. They drifted to one bar after the other on inner tubes, while western music blasted down the river.

No-where was he able to encounter a ‘raw’ experience. “I first traveled to Laos in 2006 and was immediately struck by all the flashes I saw going off.” explained Murray. “We set out to make a film about Westerners with cameras in Laos, and of course we were the Westerners with by far the biggest camera in the country. It was impossible to ask challenging questions of our subjects without asking them on an even deeper level of ourselves.””

Murray and journalist Michael Meyer decided to return. When the economy tanked, and jobs were scarce, they both had time to take off for an extended shoot in Laos. They split up the equipment before crossing the border to give the appearance of tourists, dreading government seizure.

They interviewed talking head style, tourists and expats. Others we see only via their LCD screens. Comfortable to express themselves narrating their photo slide show, they opened up to the filmmakers. “Using a macro lens, we shot the screen of people’s cameras. We have a mic on them, and they feel anonymous because we don’t see their face.” Murray and Meyer eschew titles and narration. As the audience, we become tourists as well, without a guide. Seeking a still photo esthetic, Murray often runs scenes in slo-mo. he avoided shooting the sky to increase the claustrophobic framing of a digital camera screen.

Producer Josh Haner is a New York Times staff photographer. The film explores the nature of photography and tourism, in a postmodern dialogue with Levi-Strauss’ ideas.

I’ve seen two films in the Narrative Competition. “Dog Sweat” (illegal Iranian moonshine) replaces imported black market booze, no longer available during the US war in Iran. Part vérité, part underground “Beverly Hill 90210“, Hossein Keshavarz’s “Dog Sweat” interweaves stories of six young Iranians, all preoccupied with sex, parties and social status. Keshavarz’s look at Tehran behind closed doors offers a view of Iran strictly censored by its fundamentalist theocratic government, which only allows images of pious believers. It’s eye opening for Western audiences, who mostly see the American media’s image of Iran, the potential nuclear threat, full of bearded terrorists and veiled devout women.

Keshavarz’s film shows us Iran’s youth rebelling against Iran’s renewed repression. Moral police, at random checkpoints, control how people dress. Mixed-groups of young men and women are censored or broken up. “Oddly, at the same time as this repression, there has been an explosion of parties, binge drinking and drug use. Going to an underground party is an assertion of one’s right to live the way he/she desires. In a place where every aspect of one’s dress and interaction with the opposite sex is dictated, having sexual relations with one’s boyfriend/girlfriend is taking control of one’s body.”

Focusing on the daily concerns of his young character’s lives, Keshavarz portrays women eager to live as they like, to marry whom they want, to get a higher education. The veil, the west’s symbol for Islamic women’s issues, is never even discussed. We see arranged marriages, but also a couple looking for a place where they can be alone to make love. The story of rich gay man Hooshang (Rahim Zamani) who accepts an arranged marriage (while seeking gay romance on the side) repudiates President Ahmadinjad’s recent claimed that, “Gays don’t exist in Iran.” His new wife, Mahsa (Maryam Mousavi) who struggled to have a career as a “pop singer” (strictly forbidden in present-day Iran) abandons her career for marriage as well as a romantic colleague with whom she might have been happy. Feminist Katie (Tahereh Azadi), whose married lover abandons her, flees her mother’s repressive home and strikes out on a dangerous search for freedom. It’s terrifying to imagine where her search will lead in the punitive patriarchal Shi’ite Islamic state.

Keshavarz, a Columbia University MFA who lives outside of Iran, produced several shorts that have made the festival circuit. He developed a feature script, “A Modern Love” at the Script Clinic at the Berlin Film Festival. Returning to Iran to prep his film, he met a group of film students who were making and circulating short, uncensored “un-Islamic” films (forbidden in Iran) among themselves, with no hope of distribution in International fests. Inspired by these liberated ‘underground’, films, he wrote the script for “Dog Sweat.” Events in his personal life postponed “A Modern Love” (approved during the reformist term of President Khatami.) Time spent in Iran during Ahmadinejad’s crackdown on artists and dissidents convinced him to go ahead with “Dog Sweat”. It was shot illegally before the elections of 2009.

Adam Reid’s “Hello Lonesome” is a mild mannered, humanistic study of modern loneliness. Inspired by autobiographical material, writer-director Reid seamlessly weaves three stories together. Successful voice-over artist Bill Soap (Harry Chase) has it all figured out. He lives in rural comfort, making his money with daily remote voice -over jobs he produces in his at-home studio. He’s so in the comfort zone, he works in the nude or his boxers. When his local deliveryman Omar (Kamel Boutros) shows up, he thinks nothing of wandering to the front door in sandals, period. Then his wife walks out on him. His stress-free life becomes too lonely to bear. He climbs into his daughter’s old playhouse to leave unanswered messages on his grown daughter’s voice mail. A surly insult fest with Omar morphs into a bond, as Bill lures him into his studio. (Reid cast Boutros for his opera skills as well as his acting.)

Suburban Eleanor (Lynn Cohen) dotes on her 1966 Thunderbird, polishing it till it gleams. Cruising the highway is her link to good times with her dead husband. One day as she weaves down the road (failing eyesight) the police nab her and impound her drivers’ license. When the city tows back her ‘”bird,” her acerbic young neighbor Gary (James Urbaniak) offers to drive her on errands. They go to the market and bit-by-bit their relationship develops. The have dinner; they share their intimate stories, and more.

Urban thirty-something Gordon (Nate Smith) does everything online. He gambles and searched dating sites. A date with Debby (Sabrina Lloyd) and her two dogs leads to marriage complicated by her health tragedy. Their speedy romance and Gordon’s loyalty is both painful and uplifting. Reid based this subplot on his own sister’s last year. Voice-over talent Harry Chase is spectacular n his first on-camera role. The tale of Eleanor (who played Magda in “Sex and The City”) and Gary is particularly interesting, and uncomfortable as it wanders in to Harold and Maude territory. Lynne Cohen is winsome as the widow with the “affectionate’ younger swain.

Netflix, Inc. and Film Independent (FIND) celebrate the premiere of “The Wheeler Boys,” winner of the “Netflix FIND Your Voice” filmmaking competition. First-time filmmaker Philip G. Flores received a prize package valued at more than $350,000 to produce “The Wheeler Boys”. The film premieres onscreen on Friday, June 25, but it will also be viewable as a streaming experience. Netflix members and non-members alike can enjoy “The Wheeler Boys”, streamed from Netflix for 48 hours, from 8:00 p.m. Pacific time Friday, June 25 to 8:00 p.m. Pacific time Sunday, June 27 at www.netflix.com/findyourvoice.

For Individual tickets or full festival passes go to www.lafilmfest.com
By phone 866-FILMFEST (345-6337) Phone Center Hours of Operation:
June 1-June 27: Daily 10:00am to 8:00pm.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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