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City's life is teens' focus

WITH THE KIDS

Youths of varying backgrounds add documentaries to an international film fest's lineup.

October 05, 2006|Jessica Gelt | Special to The Times

THE girl on screen is petite, almost boyish, with cropped blond hair and black-framed glasses. "Mount Washington, a seemingly peaceful neighborhood smack-dab in the middle of fast-paced Highland Park," she says. "Full of Vietnam survivors, stray cats, speed addicts and sorcerers. The only home I've ever had," she concludes wistfully.

The girl is 16-year-old Anabel Curry, and her short film, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?," will be screened on Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at the second annual Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival.

Curry's film, which matches voyeuristic shots of the outside of homes with imaginative narration about the people inside, is part of a documentary project by teens at the Echo Park Film Center called "City of Angels."

Because it was made by youths, rather than for them, "City of Angels" is a rarity at the fledgling festival, which was founded in San Diego four years ago by a group of cinema-loving parents seeking to change their children's overall notions about film by blending education more thoroughly into their entertainment diets. It was expanded to Los Angeles in its third year.

"The idea is to introduce films from around the world and to raise kids' awareness of other cultures," says the festival's director, Dan Bennett, who has two children and works as a film critic and reporter for the Escondido-based North County Times. The festival also gives workshops (this year's are in animation), which provide children and their parents with a firsthand approach to filmmaking.

Over the next two weekends, the festival will feature more than 100 films, 19 of which are world premieres. A free 20th anniversary screening of "Stand by Me," followed by a Q&A with director Rob Reiner, kicks off opening night.

Having Reiner as part of the program is certainly a coup, but Bennett is equally excited about introducing films like those in "City of Angels" to the public. "Even though we're an international festival, it's important to speak to where we are," he says. "This is one that digs into Los Angeles and talks about what it means to live in L.A. right now."

Indeed, the 20 short documentaries featured in "City of Angels" were made by an eclectic group of kids from a broad range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

One film, "I Thought I Was in Mexico," by Louie Rodriguez, features a heart-rending interview with the filmmaker's father: "Because in El Salvador, it is true that we're poor but you don't suffer the way you suffer here, when one is an illegal immigrant."

Another short, "Los Angeles" by Stefan Weich, is an illuminating insider's look at the multiculturalism that thrives in the city. "Los Angeles" tells the story of how Weich's mother, a black woman from Jamaica, met and married Weich's father, a white man from Germany. The family now lives next door to another Echo Park teen filmmaker, Ansis Hoheisel, whose short describes what it was like to move to Lemoyne Street from Germany.

Other films explore the razing of poor neighborhoods in Chavez Ravine, the history of Echo Park, how Iranians in the U.S. view the Iraq war, and the life of a bored teenager in Eagle Rock. The most abstract film, "Iris," made by a precocious teen named Mia Valentina Martin, overlays a gritty montage of L.A. with a "Howl"-esque poem beginning, "Los Angeles, my mind is an open drawer for your dirty underwear."

Martin says she wrote parts of the poem on toilet paper in the editing room of the Echo Park Film Center, a story that vividly illustrates the level of camaraderie and comfort that can be observed in the tiny storefront micro-cinema on Alvarado Street at Sunset Boulevard.

THE nonprofit center was co-founded five years ago by Paolo Davanzo, a charismatic bicycle-riding filmmaker and activist whose dedication to exploratory education is equally matched by that of his girlfriend and partner, Lisa Marr.

"We never let our resources get in the way of our plans and projects," Davanzo says, pointing out that although the center relies heavily on donations, the students never suffer from lack of attention. "We don't edit their pieces or hold the cameras, but we're pretty progressive. We kill them with love and we teach them to be accountable for what they make."

"We don't want to add to the garbage pile," Marr adds wryly, which is precisely why "City of Angels" was picked to be a part of the Children's Film Festival.

weekend@latimes.com

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Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival

Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Oct. 14 and 15

Price: Varies

Tickets, times and info: www.lachildrensfilm.org; (760) 470-2481.

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