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L.A. at Large

No Major Celebs and Only One Star--Silver Lake--at This Film Fest Debut


First there was Cannes. Then Toronto and Sundance. And now we have the Silver Lake Film Festival, debuting tonight at the funky and ornate Vista Theater.

But this is no red carpet affair. "We couldn't afford one," said Vangie Griego, 37, a documentary film producer and co-founder of the made-on-a-shoestring fest. And there won't be any big-name celebs. At least Griego doesn't expect any.

Unlike many of the other 500 film festivals in the world--11 of them in L.A.--which are industry-oriented and thrive on celebrity presence, the only star is Silver Lake itself. All of the 80 documentaries, features and short films that will be screened during the four-day event depict themes and lifestyles that are embraced by the neighborhood.

"We really looked at it as a community event first and then a film festival," said Griego, who brainstormed the idea with co-founder Greg Ptacek in June 1999. "We aren't trying to re-create a Sundance or Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. That's not what we're about. We're about serving the community," said the former manager of Outfest, the Los Angeles gay and lesbian film festival.

Silver Lake is reveling in its status as L.A.'s neighborhood equivalent of the Hollywood It girl, even though the community has only begun to blossom commercially in the last year with an infusion of upscale shops and cafes. But its local film scene has been sadly lacking. Still, does L.A. really need another film festival?

"I looked around one day and said, 'This is ridiculous. I have to either go to Pasadena or West Hollywood to see really interesting films, and here I am in the supposedly coolest neighborhood in L.A.,' " said Ptacek, a former publicist for Gramercy Films, New Line Cinema and Disney. "I thought, 'Why don't we do a festival so at least one time a year we can go to see the kind of cinema I'm interested in?' "

About 70% of the movies being shown were made by L.A. or California filmmakers, though not necessarily by Silver Lake residents. They were selected by an advisory panel of local artists, filmmakers and community members who, until last week when the owner of the Vista Theater donated office space to the cause, were running the fest out of Griego's house.

The films' subjects range from the lesbian boxer film "Grrrrls" and a documentary on graffiti culture to a series of shorts by students at Harvard Westlake, Roosevelt and Van Nuys high schools and "Golden Memories," a triptych of shorts for more mature filmgoers.

The festival opens tonight at 7:30 with the presentation of the Spirit of Silver Lake award to avant-garde director and "Hollywood Babylon" author Kenneth Anger. It will be followed by a screening of the "Gold Cup," a film about L.A.'s legendary, but now-defunct, Onyx coffeehouse, which had been next door to the Vista bordering Los Feliz for years.

Most of the films will be shown at Glaxa Studios, a small live-theater space, in addition to the classic Vista and Los Feliz 3 theaters, but some will be at subject-appropriate venues. "AJ's Dogumentary," about Southern California pet owners and their pampered pooches, will be screened near the dog park at Silver Lake Reservoir recreation center. "Beyond the Screams," a documentary about L.A.'s early Chicano punk scene, will be shown at Spaceland nightclub with musical performances by the Slow Riders, Los Illegals, El Chicano and other rock en espan~ol bands.

The festival closes with the presentation of a second Spirit of Silver Lake Award, to actor Mary Woronov, whose career began in Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls" (1966). It will be followed by a cocktail reception and screening of the 1926 silent film "The Temptress" at the Paramour, the multimillion-dollar estate at the top of Micheltorena Street. The film stars Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno, who once owned the Paramour mansion.

In true Silver Lake spirit, Paramour owner Dana Hollister, who purchased the property last year, donated her home to the event. Next year, she hopes, "we'll be doing it on an even bigger scale in terms of doing a couple more nights and even more films." Hollister, who hosted last year's Digital Film Festival, said, "One of the reasons my house is so important to me is being able to give to the community."

That community is the area south of Glendale, east of Hollywood, west of East L.A. and north of downtown, according to Griego, who said she has gotten some flak from neighboring Echo Park and Los Feliz residents for excluding their neighborhoods from the festival name. While she said the fest is targeted toward filmgoers "east of the Highland curtain," Griego doesn't see the term geographically.

"We refer to Silver Lake as a state of mind, not just a location," she said. "It's a mind-set of tolerance. . . . We have dykes on bikes, anarchists, little old ladies who've been in this area forever and are friends with their punk neighbors. It's this idea that people are really coming from all walks of life and living together."

Griego, who established a nonprofit to run the festival, said it has cost about $50,000 to produce. Part of the funding came from national and local sponsors, including Kodak, Peet's Coffee and the Roth Foundation. City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg also helped secure $7,500 from L.A.'s cultural affairs department. Griego hopes the rest of the costs--about $15,000--will be covered through ticket sales.

Tickets are $7 per program. A festival pass costs $150 and includes tickets to the opening and closing night galas, which, if bought individually, cost $40 each. Tickets are available through the festival's headquarters, on the second floor of the Vista Theater, and at the venues for each show.


For locations and other information, call (323) 221-1763 or log on to

Festival Reviews

* For reviews of entries in the Silver Lake Film Festival, see Screening Room in Calendar Weekend, page 36.

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