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UP FRONT: LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL

So many films, so little time

The theme of the event is to show it all, from the classics to the up-and-comers.

June 21, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

THERE'S a cult and a killer tiger, Vikings and Germs, Old Yeller and a fire that can't be put out. And Transformers -- can't forget the Transformers.

Perusing the schedule for the Los Angeles Film Festival, which begins tonight in Westwood, is a pretty heady experience with its eclectic mix of 233 films screening through July 1, not to mention special chats, activities such as a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" sing-along and a red-carpet world premiere.

That would be the premiere for one of the summer's most hotly anticipated movies, Michael Bay's "Transformers," starring Shia LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel.

So what's a movie like this doing in a film festival that has steadily carved out a niche for itself in recent years by spotlighting local filmmakers as well as edgy and provocative documentaries? (Such as last year's documentary winner, the controversial "Deliver Us From Evil" -- about a pedophile Catholic priest -- which went on to receive distribution from Lionsgate and was nominated for an Academy Award.)

"I don't think we have had a blockbuster like this before," concedes Rachel Rosen, director of programming for the festival. But at the end of the day, the festival is about making a connection between audiences and filmmakers -- and there's no reason you can't have some fun doing it, she said. "This is making a big studio premiere accessible to the general public."

There are several other high-profile movies screening during the 13th annual festival, including today's opening-night gala film, "Talk to Me," starring Don Cheadle as a flamboyant and influential DJ in Washington, D.C.; the centerpiece premiere film, "Joshua," George Ratliff's sophisticated psychological drama, screening Tuesday; and Danny Boyle's "Sunshine," which serves as the festival's closing-night film on July 1. (The festival is sponsored in part by the Los Angeles Times.)

Oscar-winning actor-director Clint Eastwood is receiving this year's Spirit of Independence award at a private ceremony next Thursday.

So how to navigate the lineup? Rosen has a quick and painless suggestion on where to start: "The documentary competition is always a great choice. There are so many wonderful films in that section. But I can't pick favorites."

Among the 12 feature documentaries in competition this year are Harris Fishman's "Cat Dancers," about a love triangle involving exotic-animal trainers and their deadly, adopted tiger; "Join Us," Ondi Timoner's expose about four families who escape from their pseudo-Christian pastor and check into a treatment facility for cult victims; and "The Town That Was," Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland's examination of the downfall of a small mining town in Centralia, Pa.

Other entries include "Second Chance Season," about USC basketball player Nick Young; "Resolved," a look at race and class issues against the backdrop of Long Beach high schoolers' debate squad; "Prison Town, USA," about California's ever-growing prison industry; and "Jump," about athletes and their exhilarating jump-roping routines.

But there are many categories worth perusing, among them:

* "Summer Previews" features movies set to open over the next few months, including Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris" (she writes, directs, produces, edits, scores and costars alongside Adam Goldberg); Steve Buscemi's "Interview," in which he plays a journalist in a war of words with an actress, played by Sienna Miller; the teen comedy "Charlie Bartlett," starring Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis; and "The Hottest State," a semiautobiographical film that Ethan Hawke wrote and directed.

* "Selections From Our Guest Artists" includes John Ford's 1962 "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and Samuel Fuller's 1964 "The Naked Kiss," both chosen by festival guest director Curtis Hanson. (A Q&A with Hanson follows the June 30 screening of "Liberty Valance.") Most of the screenings take place in Westwood; the newly opened Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum will host several evenings. Some outdoor screenings will take place at the Ford Amphitheatre in the Cahuenga Pass, including "Arctic Tale," the new nature documentary about global warming, and "The Iron Fist," the 1927 silent Spanish film.

* "Family Day: Live Earth Day" on June 30 features screenings of "A Christmas Story" and the 50th anniversary presentation of "Old Yeller." Have tissue on hand for that Disney weepie.

* "Narrative Competition," in which entries vie for a $50,000 cash prize, includes the comedy "Kabluey," starring Lisa Kudrow; the drama "What We Do Is Secret," about the Germs' lead singer, Darby Crash; and "Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America."

* Highlights of "The International Showcase" are Pascale Ferran's award-winning romance "Lady Chatterley," Patrice Leconte's "My Best Friend" and the South Korean drama "Ad Lib Night."

* "Movies & More" features films and conversations. Included in this year's offerings is a June 29 screening of Paul Mazursky's 1974 classic, "Harry and Tonto," preceded by a talk with Mazursky.

As far as choosing films for the festival, Rosen says LAFF's edict is "we want everything.... We want to remember the great movies from the past, and we want to discover great, exciting, new talent that people haven't heard of before."

susan.king@latimes.com

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