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Lights … camera … (in)action

I am the type of person who doesn’t always like to go to the blockbuster movie playing down the street—the one whose commercials have been promoting it for months. Movies like Superman Returns, The Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, You, Me and Dupree, etc. Just turn on your TV, and you can add to the list yourself. These are not my movies, and I am not that type.
I like to go and scout out the indies—movies like Strangers with Candy, that give us humor that is dry but real or Art School Confidential, which was pretty dark and showed a more realistic view of an art school student (plus my friend was in it). These movies aren’t in wide release and they are never near my house. The only way I hear about, and hopefully see, a movie like this is from looking through newspapers, a good friend’s word of mouth, or hopefully a theater I’ve stopped by once or twice that I have learned to count on for good movies. This is why I was so bummed when I ended up getting not to see any of my favorite types of movies at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival.

Lack of friends, “artsy” parents, and being someone who enjoyed spending time alone led me to movies as a kid; they became an outlet. And the best ones, the ones that make you think and change your perspective, were never near me. I missed out on seeing movies like What the Bleep Do We Know?, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Paragraph 52, and Aimee and Jaguar in theaters. Instead, I was forced to hunt my local Blockbuster for the titles, and add the Sundance Channel and IFC to my cable package.

Because of this, The L.A. Film Festival at the end of June and the beginning of July has become an indie-movie lover’s dream. It’s the place where all of the documentaries and low budgeters come to play. This year it was held from June 22 to July 2 in Westwood.
The festival, presented by the Los Angeles Times and produced by Film Independent, though is not just for people like me. With tickets at only $10, some free showings, and a wide variety of films, there is something for even the most blockbuster-addicted moviegoers.
My first step: finding out what was playing. With so many movies to choose from I knew seeing all of them wasn’t a possibility, so I knew I would have to pick. The Web site www.lafilmfest.com became my tool.
There were “tribute screenings” of classic pictures such as, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Blue Velvet, but those weren’t for me. Reaching out to the youth of the community, there was the “future filmmakers showcase.” These were short films made by high school students. The idea sounds nice enough, but I’d rather see a “real” movie than a “future filmmakers” one (plus my friends who actually went, came back with a not-so-good review of it). “Music video showcases” were also included, giving you chances to shake it, and to see music video footage from such great artists as Fatboy Slim. OK, this one seemed much more up my alley. Not only am I into movies that aren’t in wide release, I also like music that’s not in the mainstream.
This year the spotlight was on Israel. The festival featured three movies that showed what life is like there. The timing was perfect. With the news playing war footage from all over the world everyday, it’s good that the festival was showing a different perspective. I hate having an “American attitude” toward things as serious as war, when I don’t even live in the Middle East. So the spotlight series struck a chord with me, because I knew I would get something out of it, and it would teach me something.

The “gala” section showed movies that are sure to make an impact: The Devil Wears Prada, Little Miss Sunshine (the newest indie hit) and Quinceañera. These three were all on my movie wish list, too.
With such a vast selection I had no idea where to begin. But then I found out that a movie I had wanted to see, “A Scanner Darkly” was playing that night. I made plans to see it with some friends. It was playing at The Landmark Regent, one of the many venues the festival occupied, along with other Westwood hotspots. One of my friends suggested that it might be a good idea to call the theater first, just in case. I am glad I did; the person on the other end of the call told me it was sold out, and that I would be lucky to find any seating. My dream was killed that afternoon.
But my dream was revived the next day. Lafilmfest.com said that Quinceañera (a movie about a teen who gets pregnant before her “sweet 15”, and the trials and tribulations that follow) was playing at the Mann. But remembering the words of that smart friend of mine, I called ahead. Yeah, my dream was now crushed and then stepped on, same answer, same scenario; plans demolished.
Later that day I got great news; someone I knew had a pass for the festival. (I’ll give you a bit of back-story on the whole “pass thing.” Passes are hundreds of dollars, but they are worth it. Prices range from $70 for a half-day pass to $1,000 for an all access VIP pass. They not only allow you to gain access into any movie playing at the festival without previously buying a ticket, but they also give you entrance to exclusives; whether it be chats with directors showcasing their work, or entrance into pass-holder-only parties.) I had already started to make plans to see Deliver Us From Evil with the pass. But of course at the last minute he noticed that a documentary he wanted to see was playing that night. So, he took the pass to see the doc, and I was left to wallow in my pity.
By this point panic had pretty much started to hit. Before I knew it, it was July 2, the last day of the film festival. And still the counter shows me as the loser: All my friends … 3 films, me … zip, nada, nothing at all.
So once again on the last day I repeated my routine: I woke up and went to my computer to see what movies were playing.

“An old Hitchcock  … they say that one’s not good … A student film … no … That’s it!”

Little Miss Sunshine, the newest “indie” darling of the festival.

“This has to be the film I see,” I said out loud. This was one of the few movies at the fest that had won the title of: “Movie you should see if you’re only gonna see one.” I started typing as fast as I could to my friend, telling her about the movie. She went online too, to see if this movie was of any interest to her. Then I see the words “HELL NO” appear in my little AIM box.

I type back: “WHY NOT?”

She responds: “HELLO IT’S LIKE $100.” I look back at the page. She is indeed right; instead of the regular ticket price of $10 it is now $100. When a movie gets as much backing as this one at the festival, prices start to rise, in this case 10 times as much. And with that my 2006 L.A. Film Festival experience ended on a bad note.

But we learn from these bad experiences, as I did in this one. I have some tips for you, so that you actually get to see a movie. All right here we go:

1. Tickets are on sale during the beginning of the first month of the festival, so you should buy up fast, to insure yourself a spot.

2. Passes, though expensive, are a good investment. They assure that you will see a movie. Plus some give you access to those all important, exclusive parties. 

3. The festival is a good time to step outside of your comfort zone. See movies that you might not have thought about seeing.

4. Go with friends. People who went alone said there are so many people it can be a bit daunting alone, I wish I had a date.

5. For all you lovers of celebrity gossip. There’s about a 77 percent chance you’ll see a famous person. Keep your eyes open (don’t blink).