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Los Angeles Film Festival Moves Downtown

by Michael Jack Lawlor | 4 July 2010 |

The Los Angeles Film Festival moved downtown this Spring after 15 years in Westwood. The Festival took over the Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 on Olympic Boulevard for eleven days in June.

More than 200 feature films, documentaries and music videos from over 40 countries were shown. Movie stars like Sylvester Stallone and Ben Affleck performed poolside chats on the roof of the Marriot at L.A. Live.

The red carpet events and gala screenings were held at the L.A. LIVE location but movies were also shown at the Grammy Museum, REDCAT, the Orpheum and California Plaza.

The annual event is produced by Film Independent, a nonprofit arts organization.

“With the move downtown it feels like the festival is being born again,” said director Adam Reid, whose film Hello Lonesome won Best Ensemble. “It feels like the first year for the festival in LA, even though its been around for a long time.”

Waiting for Superman, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim about the disgrace of public education in America, was given the gala treatment. Guggenheim, educator Geoffrey Canada and pop star John Legend all appeared on the red carpet to be photographed by the press before the screening of the film.

In Waiting for Superman Guggenheim documents the experiences of children and their parents as they submit to a lottery system that turns education into a game of chance.

Guggenheim speaks to concerned parents about the public schools that put their children at risk. He interviews remarkably intelligent children about their aspirations and dreams and shows them doing their homework.

Guggenheim also shows well intentioned families submitting to lotteries that turn the educational opportunities of intelligent children into a bingo game.

The failure of the public school system is presented as a national disgrace that contributes to the failure of the U.S economy and the rise of the prison industrial complex.

Bill Gates makes an appearance and suggests that online learning may prove to be a viable alternative for children placed at risk by public schools.

Geoffrey Canada, the president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York explains how bad schools create bad neighborhoods. The documentary shows that students often transition from bad schools to prison, a demonic parody of the power  of education to transform lives.

The title of the documentary comes from Canada who longed for superman to come and rescue everyone from the public school he attended when he was growing up.

As a social activist and educator Canada became that superman. The Harlem Children’s Zone creates an environment for poor urban kids to do well in school by offering smaller classes, more instruction and basic health-care services.  Canada’s students have produced amazing results and he has proven that poor kids are full of potential.

Canada is the author of two books: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America and Reaching Up For Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. He holds a third degree black belt and has taught, free of charge, martial arts and violence prevention two nights a week for twenty one years in New York City.

The Best Documentary Feature was awarded to Make Believe, a film that looks at six teenagers competing for the title of Teen World Champion at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas.

Filmmakers showing work at the festival are mentored by seasoned professionals at George Lucas’s Skywalker ranch.

“They get all the feature filmmakers from the festival – the narratives, the documentaries, the summer showcase, and they have a retreat that serves one purpose: to create a family of filmmakers,” said Adam Reid.

“There is no other festival that I know of doing that. They brought in Catherine Bigalow, the director of The Hurt Locker, they brought in Curtis Hansen. They share cautionary tells and how they made their films. They is so much to be learned. Film Independent are wise and forward thinking.”

“You really feel like they are grooming us to be the next generation of directors mixing at Sky Walker Sound, with mentors like George Lucas, Curtis Hansen, Catherine Bigalow. You know the Spielberg’s and Martin Scorcese’s of the world. They make us feel like they opened the books.

Professional photographers, fans and security people with wireless microphones and earpieces hang around Georgia St waiting for movie stars to walk the red carpet on their way to gala screenings. A middle aged dude with the disposition of bounty hunter enforces the law in the press pit.

“What are you shooting, sir? What are you shooting?,” he screams as I squeeze off a few test exposures before the arrival of the cast and crew of Cyrus. A big part of his job seems to be making his presence felt preemptively.

A publicist strolls along the empty runway handing out photo tip sheets, which help identify a lot of the behind the scenes people, who look lost when they arrive and do not inspire much of a response from the press.

A few photographers appear to be using the early arrivals to test exposures. Others get candid shots by warning writers, directors and producers that they will circulate unflattering photos if the arrivals don’t give it up for the camera. The red carpet scene can be a little gnarly before the stars arrive.

Things pick up a bit when John C Reilly appears. He is a decent actor and the press call out respectfully to him for candid shots. “Over here John. Thank you.” There is lots of opportunity for everyone to get the shots they need.

I strike up conversations with a few photographers about gear. Lots of people shooting Nikon these days. One guy asks me to stand behind him to block a light that is fixed to a post above us. The Red carpet press jealously guard their vantage points as they wait for the stars to arrive. By blocking the light for this guy I get a premium spot on the press line.

The press and the fans go apeshit when Marisa Tomei arrives. Marisa knows how to work the scene. She soaks up the attention, laughing and smiling for the photographers as the flashes burst and the crowd roars.

The photographer I am with suddenly yells, “Marisa, over here. Look at the fat Mexican!” She looks directly at him and laughs at his self deprecating humour, giving him a spontaneous, candid shot. “Works every time,” he says as Marisa Tomei walks away.

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