Headquartered at the swanky address of 8000 Sunset in West Hollywood*, the IFP/LA Film Festival was held between June 11th and 21st. If you're an aspiring filmmaker, you can't get any closer to the heart of the moviemaking capital unless you were actually on the set. Celebrating its 9th year, the IFP/LA Fest featured dozens of workshops and special screenings in addition to the 200 films, shorts and videos that were screened, some for the first time. Kassi Lemmons was the Fest's official artist in residence and joined a narrative director panel which also included Jodie Foster and David Fincher. Some "modern classic" films were given special treatment-Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and Rock 'N' Roll High School, were featured on the big screen outdoors, right there between Guitar Center and Virgin Megastore.
Most of the U.S. narrative films featured young, white suburban angst and/or adventures, such as festival jury winner Crude. While many of the films had made the festival circuit previously, a few including the similarly themed Jesus Freak and Virgin-had their world premieres at the fest. At least three other films-Funny Ha Ha, Piggie and Salt showcased 20something females in angst. An interesting choice for documentary selection was Flag Wars, which concerned the battle between black lower middle class families and upwardly mobile gay men infiltrating their Columbus, Ohio neighborhood. Subjects ran the gamut from the winning jury selection, Be Good, Smile Pretty, about a girl looking for her Vietnam vet dad, to a biography of flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya. Sunset Story, a much-ballyhooed documentary about a retirement home for liberal roustabouts in Los Angeles, won the audience documentary award. The centerpiece premiere was George Hickenlooper's documentary Mayor Of The Sunset Strip. The film, a biography of Los Angeles DJ/rock historian Rodney Bingenheimer, examines the life of the DJ who helped break many alternative and punk groups in America, including No Doubt, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.
Here are reviews of some of the screened films:
Directed by Gina Levy & Eric Johnson
IFP/LA Film Festival Screened June 19, 2003.
Foo-Foo Dust is a harrowing and sometimes tender documentary which chronicles the downward spiral of mother and son drug addicts living in a seedy motel room in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. Much of the short (39 minute) film consists of Stephanie, a 52 year old former Berkeley grad, screaming at her son Tony, who is nodding out from heroin use as she fervently tries to light up some crack. There is no interaction with other people shown-not with other tenants of the motel, other street people in the Tenderloin, the johns Stephanie picks up for crack money. As a cautionary tale about the monotonous, claustrophobic life of drug addicts, Foo-Foo Dust succeeds. On a deeper, personal level, there are few revelations about what brought Stephanie and Tony to this hellish existence. Tony talks about his ex-fiancée, his child, and the father he never knew. (Apparently his Dad stole to get food for Tony, a true sign of fatherly love), for a few minutes. They are evicted from their motel, and a friend in the suburbs offers to take them in. Stephanie's been an addict for thirty years, but we don't get a glimpse of what she was/might have been until she displays some of her drawings as they are packing up to move. That's when the film ends; there are no glimpses of Tony and Stephanie's attempt to start a new life in the suburbs.
Dir: Riri Riza, Indonesia
Screened at Los Angeles Film Festival, June 12 & 15,2003
Riri Riza's film Eliana, Eliana, a blow by blow account of a distressing and life-changing night in a young Indonesian woman's life, is part of Indonesia's I-Sinema movement. I-Sinema is a loose alliance between 13 young Indonesian filmmakers who vowed to produce films that are accessible but distinctly Indonesian in flavor. Riza's film, shot with one handheld digital camera, has been the most successful of the group's films so far, having screened at several film festivals worldwide. The title character, Eliana, played with petulant grace by Rachel Maryam Sayidina, has just been fired from her job after kicking a vexatious customer in the crotch. To make matters worse, her roommate Heni has disappeared, and her long-estranged mother (played by Indonesian stage actress Jajung C.Noer) has made a surprise visit, ostensibly to take her back to her hometown of Padang. (Headstrong Eliana had balked at an arranged marriage and fled for Jakarta five years earlier). Eliana and her mother traverse Jakarta in a taxi looking for Heni. Arguments and revelations fly between mother and daughter against a backdrop of all-night restaurants, street vendors, and a visit to to a friend of Eliana, who is employed in the city's red light district. Noer's powerful performance as Bunda is both touching and humorous, and the emotional tug of war between Eliana and Bunda never wavers. In the end, Eliana must decide for herself whether to emulate her friends or forge her own way through life.
Directed By Deborah Kampmeier
World Premiere IFP/LA Film Fest June 14, 2003
Rebellious small-town teen Jessie (in a nuanced performance by West Wing's Elisabeth Ross) encounters the boy she has a crush on in the woods outside a high school dance, with catastrophic results. Jessie soon discovers she is pregnant. With no memory of how she got that way, she assumes she is carrying God's child. A lost soul in a tight-knit small town, Jessie lives in the shadow of her holy roller track star sister, shoplifts, and delivers newspapers in the wee hours of the morning. Jessie's father, a stern minister, and the two other males in her life(local boys Shane and Michael) are similarly callous. The relationship between Jessie and her sister Katie (played by Stephanie Gatschet) develops nicely after a bumpy beginning, and is the only true bond that Jesse has. Their mother, played by Robin Wright Penn (who also served as executive producer) is uncommunicative after years in a brutal marriage. The symbolism in Virgin--birds, crucifixion poses, an abused alcoholic woman Jessie encounters on her travels through town, gets tiresome after awhile. Virgin is unpleasant to watch – so unpleasant that several complaining patrons couldn’t take anymore and left before the film ended- but it certainly leaves an impression. Although not as expertly drawn as Lars Von Trier's films, Virgin has the same haunting, if overwrought, effect.
Director: Morgan Nichols USA
World Premiere June 16,2003 IFP/LA Film Fest
In the dreary working class suburb of Portales, New Mexico, Lily (Laura Lee Bahr, who also wrote the script) spends her days alienating her Christian classmates, getting high on cough syrup and sleeping around with seedier local boys. Her family life provides no solace, as her inattentive mother and Nintendo obsessed brother pass by her in their tract home with minimal contact. Her friends, including her straight-laced would-be boyfriend and best gal-pal are her only support system. That is, until she encounters "Jesus" (who looks suspiciously like a migrant worker) one day in a field outside town and takes him home, announcing he is her new "boyfriend". Shot on digital by first-time feature director Morgan Nichols, the film's cast pulled in double duty as the crew. This extra work certainly didn't detract from the performances, as the ensemble cast is totally believable as a motley, troubled group of high school kids.
Director: Jim Mendiola
Running Time: 84 Minutes IFP/LA Film Festival June 14,15 & 16
Jim Mendiola's faux documentary Speeder Kills has its heart (& it's fondness for punk rock music) in the right place-but not much else. Amalia Ortiz plays a filmmaker with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, and the film follows her failed attempts to spend the money on a project that suits their specifications. Forced to come up with something quick or pay back the $45,000 grant money, Amalia hooks up with San Antonio punk rock group Speeder and films an impromptu music video as they wreck havoc on a San Antonio parade. That concept sounds promising enough, but the road Mendiola takes to get there is long, winding and at times, tedious. Narrated by Amalia, the film is dedicated to her interpretations of the San Antonio punk scene, her family and her misadventures as a filmmaker. Speeder Kills suffers from a case of tell,don't show, and just when Mendiola veers into an interesting subject, such as the history of a Hispanic all-girl punk band (a spot on parody of the Sex Pistols appearance on the Bill Grundy TV show), and Amalia's initial meetings with Speeder, the action gets bogged down by the voiceover or swerves into another mode entirely. While visually stimulating, even jarring at times, the film could have benefited from a more linear approach that concentrated on Speeder and the San Antonio music scene and less on the minutia of Amalia's day to day life.
Teesh And Trude
Directed By Melanie Rodriga
Running Time 93 Minutes Australia, 2002
Trude (Linda Cropper) is a sensible yet unkempt middle aged woman sharing a flat with a friend in a suburb of Perth, the Western Australian capital. Her roomie, Teesh (Susie Porter) is a petulant single mother who tries desperately to discipline her young, hyperactive son Kenny. This trio is initially unsympathetic as they deal with their chaotic, day to day existence. Their travails are punctuated only by the drone of the daytime soap operas on the TV. Their flat is a mess and so are their lives. Teesh's Dad shows up after being released from prison and complicates the situation, moving in and threatening to gain custody of Kenny. Teesh's boyfriend Les, a chubby, sensitive shopkeep at the nearby supermarket, provides the only spark of hope in her otherwise dreary existence. Trude is reunited briefly with her teen-aged children, whose father has custody of them. Driven to critical mass by the insolent acts of Teesh's Dad and Rod, Trude's slag of a boyfriend. (Rod's idea of a gift for Trude is a pair of shoplifted knickers), they finally take action to change their lives. While director Melanie Rodriga's no-nonsense approach suits the script, the denouement seems a bit too tidy.
Directed by Paxton Winters
83 Minutes USA/Turkey
Crude, a joint Turkish and US film production, follows the misadventures of two young travelers on the prowl in Turkey. The film starts off on a promising note as Bryce (David Connolly) and his wacky friend Gabe (Paul Schneider) pop into a barbershop for a low-tech shave. When Gabe's backpack is stolen, it leads to a wacky adventure throughout Turkey. With the aid of club-goer/local Ali (Yigit Ozsener), they traverse the country to realize a scheme of interviewing faux terrorists for money. Spoofing such subjects as pay for play journalism, fear of Islam, and cultural/political differences, the premise certainly is timely. While the low key, comic chemistry between "straight-man" Connolly and "goofball" Schneider is comparable to a kookier, pre-JLo Affleck & Damon , the plot gets bogged down in extended travelouge type scenes. These asides look beautiful but diminish the natural comic flow between the characters and lessen the tension. Crude won jury awards at both the Seattle and IFP/Los Angeles Film Festivals.
*It was swanky at the time this was written, now it's pretty much a ghost town.