Formerly a fixture in downtown Los Angeles, the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival kicks off in its new home in Culver City on Wednesday with the opening-night premiere of Lowriders. While the festival doesn’t get the same exposure as events in Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes, LAFF has consistently offered intriguing slates of quality independent film since its inception in 1995. (Fitting, since its organizing body is Film Independent, the same outfit behind the annual Spirit Awards.) Here’s a look at seven of the most intriguing films making their world premieres at LAFF this year.
(Note: LAFF is also screening a fair share of buzzy indies that have debuted elsewhere, including the Mike Birbiglia-directed improv comedy Don’t Think Twice, the “She-Wolves of Wall Street” drama Equity, and Gravity co-writer Jonás Cuarón’s Mexican border thriller Desierto, which will close the festival on June 9.)
Demián Bichir and Gabriel Chavarria in ‘Lowriders’ (LAFF)
The festival’s opening night film from Peruvian Sundance alum Ricardo de Montreuil (Máncora) stars Gabriel Chavarria as Danny, a graffiti artist attempting to stray from the lowrider culture he’s surrounded by in East L.A. Like a blend between the criminally underseen Bomb the System and a Fast and Furious entry, the film is co-produced by Oscar winner Brian Grazer and co-stars Eva Longoria, Demián Bichir, and Tony Revolori.
72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?
First-time feature writer-director Raafi Rivero adapts a short film by Bilal Ngondoa, an aspiring filmmaker in New York City’s community-oriented Reel Works program, with this coming-of-age story about a teen who has one weekend to wrestle with the decision either to attend college on a scholarship or stay put in his Brooklyn hood. The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive clip.
Not playing on opening night but buzzy nonetheless is this R-rated, Broadway-set musical comedy. Topher Grace (also a producer) stars as Nick, a stage manager who must hold together a show spiraling into chaos after a fight between Chloe (Alana Tal) and JC Chasez (the NSYNC singer plays a fictionalized version of himself). Taye Diggs, Rob Riggle, and Anne Heche also star.
Janet McTeer and Alia Shawkat in ‘Paint It Black’ (Olive Productions/ Tangerine Entertainment)
Paint It Black
Actress Amber Tamblyn (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, 127 Hours) makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of the novel by Janet Fitch (White Oleander). The drama brings together Josie (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) and Meredith (two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer) after they’re rocked by the death of one’s boyfriend, the other’s son.
So B. It
Stephen Gyllenhaal (yes, father to Maggie and Jake, and the man behind films including Losing Isaiah and Homegrown) directs this road drama about a 12-year-old named Heidi It (Talitha Bateman) who sets out on a cross-country journey to discover her family’s true identity. Alfre Woodard, John Heard, Jacinda Barrett, and Cloris Leachman round out the cast.
They Call Us Monsters
This documentary from first-time filmmaker Benjamin Lear (son of TV great Norman Lear) goes inside a Los Angeles detention center that houses the area’s most violent juvenile offenders. Lear humanizes the incarcerated by focusing on the cases of three teens who’ve enrolled in a screenwriting class as they await trial.
Record-holding runner Alexi Pappas is having a good year. She’ll soon represent Greece in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. But before then, she makes her acting debut in this drama that she also cowrote and codirected (with Jeremy Teicher) playing… an Olympian runner in training.