MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Will That be Poppyseed?

The question most asked about living in Los Angeles is: why can’t you get a good bagel in the city? Some would argue otherwise and then there’s the whole explanation that involves water and yeast.

With the Los Angeles Film Festival beginning full screenings Friday, this is one of those times of year when there’s apt to be at least one article that asks the question: why isn’t there a first class film festival in Los Angeles? Senior writers will trot out the halcyon days of FilmEx – L.A.’s hard fought for first film extravaganza back in the 1970s – to bolster their argument. Others might well invoke films that played Cannes or Sundance but aren’t on the LAFF schedule. And still others will jump to wrong-headed conclusions based upon a program of films they haven’t seen.

What the rarified realm of movie writers wants is a festival on the order of Cannes, Rotterdam or Toronto and using that yardstick disadvantages the LAFF (or the AFI Film Festival later in the year). In the immortal words of Mark Twain that scenario “ain’t gonna happen.”

Aside from the fact that the local film industry isn’t interested in a (for lack of a better term) “cutting edge” movie festival, there are myriad other reasons that a Los Angeles film festival cannot emulate the likes of those events considered part of the first tier. Unlike many other venues L.A. is one of the best advanced-screened cities in the world and in any given year there are going to be at least 50 movies that are eliminated because they’ve played some niche event or film week prior to one of the city’s two big film events.

The more daunting challenge is that neither event as presently constituted is perceived as a “discovery” venue. Perceptions are difficult to overcome and one gets into the Catch-22 argument in which a film producer insists his/her film will not benefit from screening in Los Angeles because it won’t be seen in the right environment by potential buyers. However, if you don’t have the product on view how can you tell?

In that regard everyone dreams that their event will have the out of left field equivalent of a sex, lies, & videotape screening that happened in the early days of Sundance and lifted the Utah event into the “bigs.” But like Cannes, it’s hard to imagine that there’s room for two Sundances on the festival circuit. That’s somewhat ironic because the LAFF comes under the umbrella of Film Independent. The filmmakers might well want their movie premiered via the mother organization but their sales reps prefer to work the slopes and screening rooms that other festival.

The situation isn’t much different from the majors. A couple of years ago the LAFF got very lucky with bookended screenings of The Devil Wore Prada and Little Miss Sunshine. The latter film had already played Sundance but was months away from becoming a popular success while Prada was a week away from hitting local movie screens. The majors with a little arm twisting can be convinced to screen one of their major releases (this year it’s Wanted with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy) if the timing is right as in imminently set for commercial release. Apparently the LAFF approached Universal about showing Clint Eastwood‘s The Changeling that premiered in Cannes but won’t be in theaters until October. The studio declined but you can expect the film to pop up next September in Toronto.

Sweeping all the sundry caveats aside, the LAFF is a film festival that reflects what its audience – and paying public – want. It may not be all the way there but it’s closer to how it sees itself with each edition.

The bedrock of the event is the members of Film Independent; primarily those on the rolls that are still trying to break in and get their projects realized. They aren’t by and large cinephiles, so shouldn’t be expected to embrace retrospective programming or classic cinema by international auteurs. They’re focused on what their peers are doing and that’s not necessarily confined to the borders of continental America.

In addition to the independent films that appeal to FIND members, there’s ample opportunity for them to rub shoulders with those members that have gained a toe hold or more in the industry. There are seminars, parties and, best of all, a film finance conference that holds out the carrot of a public hearing, practical advice and potential artistic confederates.

Beyond the core crowd are the people who go to the movies in greater Los Angeles. The L.A Film Fest has pursued that sizeable niche in a rather clever fashion. The festival, despite the presence of competitive sections, emphasizes the entire experience rather than singling out or weighting the program. Its slogan is that “the audience is king” and on the public record organizers underline that it’s a “summer” festival.

The unstated understanding is that it’s an event with a bias for fun. If children aren’t literally running through the backyard sprinklers, the idea is to drizzle the program with guilty pleasures from outdoor screenings and parties to, believe it or not, a swear-a-long accompanying the screening of Brian DePalma‘s Scarface.

Overall programming conveys a sense of having a short attention span. Most sections are comprised of no more than a handful of titles; especially those in partnership with the likes of UCLA archives or the Los Angeles Film Critics but also sections devoted to Midnight horror movies or vintage films produced by Hong Kong titan Run Run Shaw.

The approach is a little bit daunting for anyone simply interested in finding undiscovered gems. If there are tips, nods or pointers, they are injected so subtly that most will be undetected. But they exist for anyone willing to dig a little deeper. It is a crazy quilt and that may sum of the essence of what Los Angeles needs in a film festival … at least during this incredible heat wave.

June 19, 2008

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon