A FILM FESTIVAL AS BIG AS L.A.
THE LOS ANGELES Film Festival, opening tonight, is all over the map, literally and figuratively, just as its organizers intended.
With venues in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles and a diverse range of films and special events, there's at least a little something for everyone.
``It's really eclectic,'' festival director Richard Raddon said. ``I'm always amazed when people call and say, 'The festival looks amazing this year. I can't believe you're screening ...' And then the next few words I hear are always different.
`` 'I can't believe you have early Japanese animation.' 'I can't believe you have Joyce Carol Oates talking about boxing films.' The other day, somebody said to me, 'I've been waiting to see ``Babe'' on the big screen.' ''
The festival is anchored by its box office and Target Red Room gathering spot at 8000 Sunset Blvd., where some films will play at the Laemmle Sunset 5. But with passes to 10 or more screenings priced at $200 to $1,000, and a schedule that bounces from one end of town to the other, this festival is geared more toward single-ticket sales than pleasing a smaller number of film maniacs who would sit through multiple screenings and emerge squinting like moles.
``People don't like to drive,'' Raddon said. ``Although we create a festival hub in Hollywood, I also like the fact that we have screenings and events all over the city. I think a festival should be inclusive, not exclusive.''
He said the festival expects 60,000 moviegoers this year. ``We're the most attended film festival here. There are - what? - 8 million or so people in Los Angeles (County). I think there should come a day when a festival in this city should have 300,000 attendees.''
The opening film is ``Down in the Valley,'' Van Nuys native David Jacobson's drama starring Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood and David Morse. Norton plays a folksy horseman who arrives in a San Fernando Valley community one summer day in a story that Jacobson says ``starts as a love affair, becomes a thriller and becomes almost a Western.''
He said he started writing about his youth in Van Nuys while living in Paris. At the same time, he found himself wrapped up in a series of classic American Westerns. Those multiple influences shaped ``Down in the Valley.''
``It's not your basic mall Valley movie,'' he said.
Tuesday's centerpiece is Rodrigo Garcia's ``Nine Lives,'' in which the consequences of its characters' past actions are told in real time in a single shot. It takes a cast of pros such as Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Sissy Spacek to make the concept work.
Writer-director Don Roos holds the closing-night position with ``Happy Endings,'' an ensemble film of family and personal relationships, some good, some not so good. The cast includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Tom Arnold and Roos stock player Lisa Kudrow.
--Sundance award winner ``Hustle & Flow,'' starring Terrence Howard as a street hustler with hopes of rap stardom, plays Friday at the Directors Guild of America.
--Anayansi Prado's documentary ``Maid in America,'' playing Saturday, looks at three women who left their own families behind in their Latin American countries to make a living in Los Angeles as housekeepers and nannies.
--For ``secret screenings'' on Monday and June 23 and 26 at the Directors Guild (pass-holders only), organizers insist on moviegoers' sworn silence, which could make these new films the hottest topics not being discussed around the water cooler.
--Family Day, previously a low-key affair, is a much bigger deal this year. On June 25, the Santa Monica Pier will host celebrity storytelling, live music, pony rides, magicians, karaoke and, that evening, a 10th anniversary screening of ``Babe.'' Admission is free, but some attractions may have a fee.
--The Summer Previews section offers early access to feature, documentary and foreign titles on the brink of their theatrical release, including Gus Van Sant's ``Last Days,'' France's ``The Beat That My Heart Skipped'' and Courteney Cox Arquette in ``November.'' ``L.A. is a town where people always like to get the early looks,'' Raddon said.
--The dancing stars will be on hand for the Friday screening of ``Rize,'' David LaChappelle's documentary about the very athletic dance form known as krumping that has been credited with diffusing some South Central L.A. street violence.
--On June 23, Julia Sweeney gives what may be her final live performance of her latest one-woman show, ``Letting Go of God.''
--Penguins will be on the red carpet at Saturday's screening of ``March of the Penguins'' at the Ford Amphitheatre.
On Wednesday, screenwriter Robert Towne (``Chinatown'') will show clips and talks about his use of the City of Angels as both a muse and a setting in films.
Valerie Kuklenski, (818) 713-3750
LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL
Where: Various locations in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles.
When: Tonight through June 26.
Tickets: $10 for most screenings, $100 for opening and centerpiece, $20 for closing. Passes: $115 for Low Budget seminars only, up to $1,000 for VIP all access. (866) 345-6337; www.lafilmfest.com.
(1) Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood star in ``Down in the Valley,'' a Western-style thriller.
(2) Judith, a mother of four, leaves her children back home in Guatemala to find work in Los Angeles in ``Maid in America.''