Los Angeles Film Festival Director On Diversity, Plus 10 Films To Watch

The 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival is kicking off Wednesday (June 1) with the premiere of its opening night film Lowriders directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, and produced by Brian Grazer and Jason Blum. The film, starring Eva Longoria and Demián Bichir, explores East LA’s car culture and the intricacies of inner city life. It also shines a light on the plight of choosing between traditional Latino values and West Coast street culture.

“It’s about family and culture, and it’s about trying to make your way through reality,” says the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Director, Stephanie Allain, over the phone from Vancouver. “It’s so beautiful and so LA.”

Since her foray in 2014, Allain’s been pushing for diversity by giving women and more people of color a chance to showcase their work. This year a total of 42 premieres will be debuted, of which 43 percent are directed by women and 38 percent by people of color.

READ: By The Category: 21 Films To Watch At The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

You’ll see stories about undocumented immigrants crossing the border on films like Desierto directed by Jonás Cuarón, which will be shown during the festival’s closing night (June 9). You’ll also see the lived experiences of a black transgender woman fighting against a legal system that works against her in FREE CeCe! directed by Jacqueline Gares and produced by Laverne Cox.

In addition to films, there will also be an educational component to the festival. In a special event on Thursday (June 2), Nate Parker will share what it took to make his Nat Turner biopic, The Birth of a Nation. (Which garnered the Sundance Film Festival’s biggest distribution deal this year). The event will be titled Nate Parker’s Labor of Love: The Birth of a Nation Conversation. Cast members, including the likes of Gabrielle Union and Aja Naomi King, will be joining Parker.

Ava Duvernay (Selma) and her distribution company Array Releasing will be honored with the Festival’s annual Spirit of Independence Award on Saturday (June 4). Ryan Coogler, the director of the Rocky sequel, Creed, will also be in attendance presiding over a master class discussing the art and design elements of a film, and how they are put together. Creed’s sound engineer Steve Boedekker will co-host. The event is set to be sponsored by the Dolby Institute.

With the diverse line up, and prominent filmmakers of color in the house, Allain is definitely churning the proverbial melting pot at this year’s festival. She hopes that the multiplicity present eventually will gain even more access to Hollywood. And by the looks of it, what she is doing is working.

“In the last couple of years the sales from the festival have exponentially grown,” she says. “Last year we sold like 25 movies out of the festival. The fact that 25 films found homes means those filmmakers now are on the map. They are in contention for new jobs coming up—they have a place to go to when they make their next movie; to me that is the most important work that we are doing. Enough with the diversity programs, I want jobs. That’s what going to make the difference in Hollywood: people being able to practice their craft and get paid for it.”

READ: Vans Documentary Captures Latino Punk Rock Scene In East L.A.

That said, here are 10 films you should definitely be on the look out for:

72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?
Director: Raafi Rivero
“A charismatic teen is thrown into a crisis of life and love when he must decide whether to leave his rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn community to pursue a prestigious academic scholarship.”

Like Cotton Twines
Director/Writer: Leila Djansi
“An African-American volunteer accepts a teaching job in a remote Ghanaian village and is ensnared in a battle between tradition and freedom when he is compelled to save one of his students from becoming a slave to the gods.”

A Moving Image
Director/Writer: Shola Amoo
“In South London reality and fiction merge in this personal reflection on gentrification in Brixton, told from the perspective of a sincere, yet stifled, young artist who struggles with her own complicity as she confronts the changing landscape of her neighborhood.”

Jackson
Director: Maisie Crow
“This doc explores a single mother, an abortion clinic director and fervent pro-lifer as they lay bare their stakes in the fight of one of the last remaining abortion clinics to stay open against the pro-life movement’s efforts to make abortions illegal in the Deep South.”

Destined
Director/Writer: Qasim Basir
“A man navigates parallel realities: one as a hardened criminal who has spent years building his drug empire; the other as an ambitious architect who has been working his way up the corporate ladder. Ensemble includes Hill Harper and Lala Anthony.”

Kicks
Director: Justin Tipping
“After getting his dream pair of Air Jordans snatched, Brandon and his friends go on a dangerously epic mission through Oakland to get them back in this vibrant coming-of-age story bursting with magical realism. CJ Wallace makes his film debut.”

Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story
Director: Eric “Ptah” Herbert
“One of the biggest mysteries in basketball’s history is why Los Angeles legend Schea Cotton, one of the most highly touted high school athletes of a pre-social media era, never made it to the NBA.”

Jean of the Joneses
Director: Stella Maghle
“Stella Meghie delivers real black girl magic in her directorial and writing debut. Jean of the Joneses is a welcome breath of fresh air, offering a new modern depiction of Black family life anchored in the firm, albeit complicated, relationships of these dynamic women.”

Play the Devil
Director: Maria Govan
“Bursting with confidence, style and vision against the lush landscape of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, Bahamian writer/director Maria Govan’s sophomore feature complicates notions of masculinity, privilege and sexuality in this nuanced, yet brutal, coming-of-age portrait that deftly thwarts any easy moral judgments of her characters’ actions and desires.”

They Call Us Monsters
Director: Ben Lear
“With unprecedented access to the juvenile facility, Ben Lear’s evocative and daring debut documentary allows audiences to get to know these young men through a screenwriting workshop in which they collectively fictionalize their lives and dreams. Lear delves into the lives of the victims of violent crimes committed by juveniles and follows legislative debates around bill SB260, which gives children a so-called second chance by allowing them parole eligibility after 35 years.”