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What's playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival?

Look for a variety of sports movies, plus L.A.-centric pictures and a selection of Sundance titles. And stay tuned — organizers will announce the biggies later this month.

May 04, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Film Festival has a reputation for appealing to both the average popcorn-chomping moviegoer as well as the high-brow cinéaste. Take last year, when the festival hosted the premiere of the latest "Twilight" film within days of screening a retrospective of work by little-known Argentinean director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson.

This year's edition, running June 16 to 26, will again offer a wide assortment — more than 200 films, music videos and shorts from more than 30 countries will be shown (including 27 world, North American and U.S. premieres). Organizers on Tuesday unveiled the majority of titles, revealing a lineup that includes some of the most buzzed-about movies from this year's Sundance Film Festival, as well as a strong contingent of titles with L.A. roots and at least half a dozen pictures set in the sports world.

"Unlike some festivals, we really are interested in every kind of movie," said David Ansen, the event's artistic director, who formerly reviewed films for Newsweek. "Even when I was a critic, I always liked both the high and low brow."

Organizers moved the festival from its longtime home in Westwood to downtown Los Angeles last year, and saw attendance rise to new highs. In the festival's 17th year, the majority of screenings will again be held at L.A. Live.

"We broke the La Brea divide last year," festival director Rebecca Yeldham joked, referring to the avenue that is a bit of a psychological divide between eastern and western Los Angeles. "Westsiders who had only had the isolated experience of going to a cultural event at the Ahmanson or MOCA came and saw what an incredible destination downtown is."

The festival, produced by the nonprofit group Film Independent and sponsored by the L.A. Times, won't announce its opening and closing night films or details about its gala screenings and special programs until later this month. Last year, the event kicked off with a screening of eventual Oscar best picture nominee "The Kids Are All Right" and closed with the bigger-budget animated film "Despicable Me."

No matter which star-heavy studio films are brought in to the festival, a number of more commercial movies are already slated for the Summer Selection program. Film fans who were unable to trek to Utah in January will have the opportunity to see Sundance highlights including Mike Cahill's upcoming Fox Searchlight release "Another Earth"; actress-turned-director Vera Farmiga's religious drama "Higher Ground"; and "Page One," a documentary about the New York Times. Other Sundance titles are "Terri," "Tyrannosaur" and "The Future." "Senna" and "Project Nim," two popular documentaries at Sundance, will be shown in other sections of the festival.

A fair share of the films unveiled so far have a distinct L.A. pedigree, including "Crime After Crime," which raises questions about Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's role in the appeal of a 1982 murder case; "Leave It on the Floor," an African American musical; "L!fe Happens," about some Silver Lake roommates; "Mamitas," a coming-of-age story shot against L.A.'s downtown skyline; and "How to Cheat," a comedic look at an L.A. couple's struggle to get pregnant.

"We are thinking about L.A. and films that would be great for local audiences," Yeldham said. "There were a lot of good movies that were shot in L.A. about L.A., and that dovetailed wonderfully with what we're all about. And interestingly, a lot of the movies take place on the eastside in Echo Park, Silver Lake and downtown."

But the movies are hardly all California-centric. The Narrative Competition section features entries from countries including Austria, Iran and Canada. The festival also will offer an International Spotlight program focusing on four Cuban films.

Meanwhile, some of the more intriguing titles look to come from the documentary competition. One of those movies, "Once I Was a Champion," centers on the death of Ultimate Fighting Championship star Evan Tanner. Another, "Salaam Dunk," focuses on a group of young female basketball players in Iraq. And "Wish Me Away" documents country singer Chely Wright's decision to come out publicly as a lesbian.

"It's harder and harder to see some of these extraordinary films," Yeldham said, "and that's something we're trying to build for the city."

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