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The Los Angeles Festival of Movies, a new event, is coming

The Los Angeles Festival of Movies, a new event, is coming
The Los Angeles Festival of Movies, a new event, is coming


Los Angeles has struggled during the last few years to sustain a signature high-profile film festival, with the closing of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the collapse of Outfest and changes in leadership at AFI Fest.

At the same time, thanks to local institutions such as the Academy Museum, the American Cinematheque and the UCLA Film and Television Archive — as well as organizations such as Vidiots, the New Beverly and Mezzanine — there has arguably never been a more vibrant moment for going to the movies in Los Angeles.

A new festival, the Los Angeles Festival of Movies, co-presented by Mezzanine and the distributor and streaming platform Mubi, hopes to bridge that divide, creating a destination that will tap the enthusiasm of local audiences for both new work and retrospective titles. Set to launch its inaugural four-day edition on April 4, the festival is programmed by Micah Gottlieb, the artistic director of Mezzanine, who founded and co-produced the event with Sarah Winshall, a producer at Smudge Films.

“Often I think that new independent films struggle to gain a foothold in L.A.,” said Gottlieb, 32, in a recent joint interview with Winshall, 38, over Zoom. “Film festivals in L.A. are often defined in relation to the commercial film industry. We wanted to create a space for the kinds of films that either don’t usually play in L.A. or, if they do, they may not get the platform that they deserve.”

“L.A. is so much of a company town, but there is really an audience for movies that may not be traditionally commercial,” agreed Winshall. “I think that audience is being underestimated. And so we’re trying to find a way to show the world, L.A., the industry, whoever, that there is an audience here for these films. Let’s give them all a place to gather and celebrate these movies.”

The new showcase will open with the California premiere of Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow,” which launched at Sundance to rave reviews and will also have showings at the Berlin and South by Southwest film festivals. (Schoenbrun is expected to be in attendance at the screening.) Other titles will include the L.A. premieres of Eduardo Williams’ 2023 experimental documentary “The Human Surge 3” and a 4K restoration of Chantal Akerman’s erotically charged 1982 drama “Toute une nuit.”

Ex-Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon and “The Flamethrowers” author Rachel Kushner will appear together for a talk about their personal relationships to the city and cinema of Los Angeles. A shorts program is being organized by Andrew Theodore Balasia, Ted Gerike and Sam Raphael, all from the local L.A. microcinema Now Instant Image Hall.

The entire program, expected to include 12 features, will be announced in a few weeks, according to organizers. (The festival’s website is lafestivalofmovies.org.) Attendees will be lining up at Vidiots in Eagle Rock, 2220 Arts + Archives in Historic Filipinotown and Now Instant Image Hall in Chinatown.

2220 Arts + Archives is one of three venues that will be home to the new Los Angeles Festival of Movies, an event intended to foster community.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The choice of venues was purposeful, as they all include spaces for people to socialize and talk about the films after screenings. All three of the host sites have opened within the last few years, and all three are located east of Hollywood, an attempt to tap into the energy of the current filmgoing scene taking root there. (Previous L.A.-based festivals have more often tried to connect with industry-heavy audiences based on the city’s Westside or with the history of Hollywood itself.)

“There’s a whole new audience of predominantly young, really diverse groups of cinephiles who are coming out to these screenings,” said Gottlieb of the viewers he sees at these venues. “So we really wanted to harness this new generation of cinephiles who are discovering old classics, but also coming out to new restorations and new independent films. This is also the age of Letterboxd, where watching movies has become such a renewed social event.”

Winshall and Gottlieb met after she attended some of Gottlieb’s Mezzanine screenings and was struck by the sense of community building up around the programming.

“What Mezzanine has harnessed and tapped into is a sort of art-skewing intellectual audience that’s ready to be entertained,” said Winshall. “They also want to get dressed up and look nice and have fun out and about. But then they’re also reading philosophy, they’re reading film criticism, they’re engaging in literary conversations. Historically, Los Angeles has always been treated like we don’t have that kind of person here.”

Winshall pointed to regional festivals such as Baltimore’s New/Next Film Festival, Memphis’ Indie Memphis, BAMcinemaFest in Brooklyn and True/False in Columbia, Mo., as models for the LAFM.

“What we’re trying to do is treat Los Angeles like a small town in some ways, and create a festival for a small community that is really excited and passionate,” said Winshall. “I think in the past, it’s possible that there was too much trying to please too many audiences — trying to please film lovers and the industry, which don’t always overlap.

“We aren’t trying to do everything for everybody,” she added. “I’m very much a proponent of: Pick a thing and do it well.”

The festival’s opener, “I Saw the TV Glow” is indicative of what Winshall describes as “pop highbrow,” having connected strongly with audiences of multiple demographics when it became one of the runaway hits of this year’s Sundance. It’s the story of two teenagers who bond over a shared love of a canceled ’90s television show. Steeped in specific pop-culture references and nostalgia, the movie is also an exploration of an emerging trans identity.

Winshall is among the film’s producers (as is Emma Stone) and is careful to point out that she was not involved in any of the programming conversations or decisions around the festival’s opening night.

Two people sit on a couch in front of a TV.

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in the movie “I Saw the TV Glow,” the new festival’s opening-night selection.

(A24)

“I was going to joke that, ‘Yeah, if only there was an easier way to find a good place to premiere a film in L.A. than start your own film festival,” Winshall said with a self-deprecating laugh. “It’s definitely selfish in that I’m making independent films and I really want to be able to have a great place to show them in L.A. Historically, that’s been a struggle.”

Gottlieb describes his connection with Winshall as a shared sensibility of “a lot of the same concerns and passions and interests around exhibition in Los Angeles and film culture in general.” Of “I Saw the TV Glow,” he noted, “It’s an independent film that takes really big swings and feels very contemporary. So when I reached out to [the film’s distributor] A24 and then they were down to have us premiere the film locally, I could not be more excited about it.”

There is something purposefully tongue-in-cheek in the slight mouthful of a name for the festival itself, the Los Angeles Festival of Movies. Gottlieb and Winshall wanted viewers to know that, for all their seriousness of purpose, there was still something entertaining at the festival’s heart.

“There are all kinds of ways for this to go in the future if we are able to get our foothold and flourish,” said Winshall, suggesting there are plans to grow the festival if it becomes an established success. “We just wanted people to know that it would be fun.”

“That’s kind of what it comes down to,” said Gottlieb. “As much as we harp on curation and context and all of these things, we still want people to have a good time.”



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