Festival Notes: Sports & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

The first weekend of the L.A. Film Festival settled into a lively downtown groove

In its first full days after its Thursday night kickoff, the Los Angeles Film Festival hosted Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly, showed films about circus elephants, udon noodles, rampaging toads and a young Madonna in an anniversary screening of “Desperately Seeking Susan,” as it settled into a lively downtown vibe unaffected by opening-night’s Laker madness.

A few glimpses:

The Two EscobarsMichael  Zimbalist, who directed “The Two Escobars” with his brother Michael, said that his experience living in Mexico and then Columbia, where he made the well-received movie about drug lord Pablo Escobar and murdered soccer star Andres Escobar, gave him some familiarity with the kind of violent “fans” who came downtown after the Lakers victory.

“In South America they have violence at soccer matches, and they always blame soccer for it,” he said. “But in fact, it’s just that the sport gives a certain group of low-income kids a reason to get together.  The problem isn’t the sport, it’s the problems with where they come from.  And instead of blaming soccer, people need to look into those neighborhoods for the real problem.” 

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MarwencolMeanwhile, the director of the award-winning documentary “Marwencol,” Jeff Malmberg, laughed about the different kind of crowds that will be downtown during his film’s next showing at the festival, Thursday night.  Not only is his film showing opposite the all-star documentary “Freakonomics,” but it’ll take place at the huge “festival-adjacent” premiere of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” at the Nokia Theater.

“I love it,” said Malmberg, who spent four years following a New York man who constructed an elaborate fantasy world in his back yard after being beaten into unconsciousness outside a bar. 

“My wife wasn’t sure that it was good to be playing at the same time that all those ‘Twilight’ fans will be here, but I told her, ‘No, it’ll be great.’” 

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Friday night’s big event was a star-studded screening of the Duplass brother’s comedy “Cyrus,” with John C. Reilly, Jonan Hill and Marisa Tomei.  The next night saw packed houses for a handful documentaries: “The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev’s acclaimed examination of the death of NFL star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan; Th“Everyday Sunshine,” Chris Metzler’s and Lev Anderson’s the story of the pioneering Los Angeles rock-funk band Fishbone, which was followed by an acoustic performance by  the band; “One Lucky Elephant,” director Lisa Leeman’s examination of the years-long quest to find a new home for a circus elephant who needed to be retired.

One Lucky ElephantThe documentary, which covers a 10-year period, was “a history of filmmaking over the last 10 years,” said Leeman at a post-screening Q&A: the earliest scenes were shot on BetaCam, with several different formats, cameras and cameramen stepping in as production stretched from one year to an entire decade.  

The lengthy Q&A was moderated by New York Times journalist Charles Siebert, who has written extensively about the damage done to wild animals who are placed in captivity and forced to perform for the amusement of humans: “They have minds enough to lose, and memories that can hasten that process.” 

The session was long on impassioned speeches about the best way to treat animals, though it wasn’t without lighter moments.  The biggest laugh came when behavioral and wildlife biolist Toni Frohoff described her work with parrots, and how her group endeavors to give the birds “the four Fs.”  We want them to be able to fly, to forage, to flock together …”

She paused. “And to mate, although that’s not the word we use.”

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The PeddlerMaking an independent film is tough, with lots of restrictions and challenges.  Every indie filmmaker can tell you that – and then there’s Daniel Burmeister, the subject of the Argentinian documentary “The Peddler” (“El Ambulante”), who completely redefines what independent filmmaking is all about. 

The charming doc, which screened Saturday night and Sunday evening, follows Burmeister on his regular job: he shows up in a small village in Argentina and offers to make a movie featuring the entire village, in return for room and board.  He casts, shoots and edits the ultra-DIY production in a month, then shows it on a bedsheet taped to the wall of the town hall; the result is amateurish and cut-rate, but the villagers are enraptured by seeing themselves as movie stars.

Directors Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich used a tiny crew – but, of course, it wasn’t tiny by Burmeister’s standards.  “For us, we were a small production,” said Yurcovich afterwards.  “To him, we were Hollywood.”

He was particularly fascinated in the boom microphone, she said.  “He was very interested in the cover to stop the wind,” she said.  “I’m sure he’s by now made one himself.”

Burmeister, she said, is a true jack of all trades.  “The village where we were shooting didn’t have a hotel, so they found a house for us.  But the house didn’t have hot water or heat, so Daniel came over in the middle of the shoot and repaired the boiler.  He can do anything.  I talked to him once, and he said, I don’t have a film to make right now.  But some people gave me a piano to tune, so I’m doing that.’”