By Leonard Klady

Confessions of a Film Festival Junkie: LAFF 2015


The Los Angeles Film Festival opened Wednesday with the premiere of Grandma, a cross-generational day trip with Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner.

LAFF, for the uninitiated, is a “discovery” festival. Not a glitzy affair like Cannes or Toronto, or what one might anticipate from the movie capital of the world, it’s largely fueled by first and second works by filmmakers yet to acquire the cachet that secures invites to the A-list parties.

Both the L.A. Film Fest and the fall-dated AFI Fest (both targeted at a wide range of humanity) have learned to play the game as it exists in Tinseltown. That is program the best possible show under the circumstance and through developed relationships and suasion secure a couple of high profile studio movies to give the event the splash that ensures media attention.

It’s been a rough year for the LAFFers in respect to the latter element. Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out was screened the day before the official start as part of a focus on animation with director Pete Docter. On Sunday filmmaker Jonathan Demme will receive a tribute alongside his latest film Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep as an aging rock star coping with the family she abandoned for the road. And one can only assume that the last-minute announcement that the closing night “movie” would be a live read of Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High under the direction of Eli Roth was a fallback for something that didn’t pan out.

The festival is also hampered by timing in respect to securing vaunted foreign films that have either already popped up at Cannes or Berlin or are scheduled for fall premieres at Toronto and Venice.

It sounds like a harvest of sour grapes and that’s not at all the intention. The Los Angeles Film Festival – which come under the umbrella of Film Independent – took a look at a festival topographical map and considered the needs of its core membership and made some sage decisions. The program is chock-a-block with films by members and other indies. Ideally there ought to be a prize somewhere in this box of crackerjack. Despite the fact that many of these movies failed to make the Sundance cut (no one is infallible) the sheer volume demands that a couple of hitherto unknown gems will emerge.

It’s the equivalent of panning for gold. I’ve only seen a handful of the 74 features programmed and while they’re fest-worthy, I’ve yet to hit the motherlode. It’s really no different or rewarding than trolling through the general release schedule or trolling a large multiplex.

What may well be the festival’s greatest challenge is creating the environment of discovery that will make the Los Angeles Film Festival the movie event the city needs. It had that sense of community when it was located in Westwood but as screens shuttered there was unable to sustain the physical demands of the program regrettably. And while Downtown and the Staples Center environs is a growing destination area; situating your guest area on the roof of a parking lot falls short of creating a warm, inviting and casual breeding ground where one can expect the unexpected to occur.

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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