LOS ANGELES, CA – The Los Angeles Film Festival(LAFF), now in its 23rd year, has championed independence in visual storytelling and has supported a community of artists who embody diversity and innovation by assisting them in bringing their stories to the screen and building an audience for their projects.
In a festival with a global reach that stretches from football fields of a nearby East LAhigh school to the icy waters of Greenland, several Greek filmmakers and artists have seen their projects acknowledged for their excellence.
Most notable are two films, Don’t Come Back from the Moon, based on a Dean Bakopoulos novel, and Becks, starring Mena Suvari, which had its world premiere at LAFF.
MOON AND BECKS
Bakopoulos is a two-time National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and a faculty member in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. His novel “deftly welded magic realism with social satire” according to the New York Times. The novel reflects Bakopoulos’ experiences growing up in Detroit, MI in the 1970s and 80s when the area suffered an economic crisis from auto and manufacturing plants closing down, leaving thousands of people without work.
Bakopoulos said that “because men especially from that era associated their self-worth with the ability to bring home a paycheck to support their families, the sudden inability to do so had devastating effects on their mental state. They were unable to cope with that reality and in a lot of cases abdicated their responsibilities and looked for escape.” In his view, “women were much stronger in dealing with adversity because they had multiple ways of identifying within the society.” The novel was a Times Notable Book and the screenplay adaptation was developed by James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini Productions. Franco also stars in the film, along with Rashida Jones and Cheyenne Haynes.
Franco’s involvement with the project happened during a writers residency programthey were both attending. At the time the novel was “set up as a TV project but it was falling apart. When I spoke to James about the project, he fell in love with it and the next day I saw him at the local bookstore buying copies of the book and shipping it to his associates,” Bakopoulos said.
The film’s location is the small town of Bombay Beach, a dilapidated one-time resort of Inland Empire’s Salton Sea in Southern California where men mysteriously disappear, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves in a desolate world. Bakopoulos wanted to “film it in Michigan but it did not work out, then we tried the town of Hamilton, OH, but that did not work out either. It was our director’s suggestion to move it to California and that worked out better financially for the film and the location conveyed the sentiments of the novel.”
The film’s cinematographer-turned director Bruce Thierry Cheung received a Special Mention for Directing from LAFF.
In Becks, Tony winner and Grammy nominee Lena Hall plays the role of Becks, a Brooklyn singer and songwriter who after experiencing a tough break up from her girlfriend, comes back to town and finds herself under the same roof once again with her mother, a former nun. Suvari plays the role of Elyse, a bored housewife who rediscovers her love for music when she hires Becks to give her music lessons.
Suvari, who attained international fame from her breakout roles as Angela Hayes in American Beauty and Heather Gardner in American Pie, portrays an even more provocative character in Becks, as the two leading protagonists eventually engage in an unexpected affair. The film was inspired by the life of singer/songwriter Alyssa Robbins and won the U.S. Fiction Award.
The film thread is a violent and bloody fantasy thriller in which Niki and her son Lefteris will be forced, sooner or later, to cut the thread that binds them. Set in Athens, in 1972 during the Greek dictatorship.it was written and directed by Alexandros Voulgaris, following on the steps of his famous director father Pantelis.
Films with social economic themes were well represented at the festival. Two documentaries highlight different but very emotional subjects. The Resilient Heart illustrates the tireless work of world-renowned cardiologist Dr. Valentin Fuster, who at age 72 still travels around the world raising awareness about heart disease and bringing life-saving medicine to developing countries. Oscar-nominated director Susan Froemke said “we always have assumed that heart disease in a western world phenomenon but that is far from true. Developing countries have an escalating rise in heart disease incidents as well.”
Out of State is a fascinating look at the little known policy of Hawaii, which has decided that it is cheaper to house Hawaiian convicts in Arizona rather than keep them on the Islands. As a result, there is a for-profit prison that houses Hawaiian convicts exclusively. Director Ciara Lacy follows their lives as the prisoners “develop a cultural identity that was absent at home. And it is an organic process, as they help each other.” Her aim in making the documentary is to “make the audience feel an emotion that will create a conversation. There is no single solution to the prison problem” she told TNH. A tragic tale of child abuse and life in the fringes of poverty is skillfully shown in writer/director Harris Doran’s film Beauty Mark. A young mother who was abused as a five-year-old by her alcoholic mother’s boyfriend suddenly finds herself forced out of their home with no money and no work and at the same time is fired from her cashier job at a convenience store. In her quest for survival, she attempts to bring legal action against her abuser, only to find out that the statue of limitations has lapsed. Auden Thornton delivers a compassionate portrayal of the young mother, and her performance earned her a Special Mention for Breakout Performance. Director Doran became aware of the issue when one of his producers revealed her abuse. “I wanted to talk about the issue from a survivor’s point of view and I wanted to raise awareness about the limitations in the law. In most states the law only allows you to bring legal action forward if it has not been more than five years after your 18th birthday. Most victims are ashamed to admit the abuse, especially if they are kids, and there is no support system to help them along the way” he told TNH.
A father and son troubled relationship in the American South is the subject of Moss. Newcomer Mitchell Slaggert gives a strong performance as the isolated son Moss, who on his 18th birthday decides to embark on an adventure of rebellion and self discovery. Directed by Daniel Peddle, the film is produced by John Solomon and executive producer Gail Lyon, who was also the producer for the Academy Award film Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts. Peddle, who is a documentarian and a casting director who discovered Jennifer Lawrence, also discovered Slaggert who at the time was a fashion model.
LAFF is produced by Film Independent and its members are filmmakers, industry professionals and film lovers and more information can be found at filmindependent.org. Other signature festival programs include the Filmmaker Retreat, Diversity Speaks, Master Classes and Coffee Talks, where industry leaders discuss the art of cinema in an informal setting.