Just another Los Angeles Film Festival opening night?
Not a chance.
One of the clearest signs that this one was different came the instant the end credits started to roll on “The Kids Are All Right” at the downtown Regal Cinemas, shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday night.
All across the 800-seat theater, tiny glowing screens suddenly sprang to life, as the owners of iPhones and BlackBerrys and Droids all frantically looked for the answer to a single question:
Did the Lakers win?
With internet service in the theater problematic at best, it fell to at least one usher to spread the news to guests as they left the auditorium: yes, the hometown team, which had been trailing by 11 in the third quarter when the film began, had come from behind to beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 and win the NBC championship.
And those who didn’t hear the usher could get the same message by walking out the front doors of the Regal complex, since the screening took place less than two blocks from the Staples Center, where the game had ended a few moments earlier.
But while traffic was heavy, and some rowdy fans caused property damage, and arrests were made, the worst-case scenario – LAFF guests finding themselves in the midst of a full-scale Laker riot like the ones that had occasionally erupted after past Laker championships – never came to pass.
Instead, the energy of the winner-take-all basketball game clearly gave the festival kickoff a shot of adrenaline, and made it an event in a way that a standalone screening could never have done.
“Absolutely,” said a beaming Dawn Hudson, the executive director of Film Independent, at a party that followed the screening.
“There was such excitement,” she added, “I could feel it as soon as I got here.”
Lisa Cholodenko, the director of “The Kids Are All Right,” acknowledged the crowd’s divided attention when she made a few welcoming remarks prior to the screening.
“Thanks for being here,” she said, “and giving away your tickets to the Laker game.”
Standing on a roof deck that overlooked the Staples Center (photo above), Hudson admitted she was amazed that a couple of members of the Leiweke family (Tim Leiweke is the president and CEO of AEG, which owns and runs the L.A. Live complex, which includes Staples Center and the Regal Cinemas) apparently did just that.
“They came to our movie, which is amazing,” she said. “If somebody had offered me Laker tickets, I think I would have been tempted to go.”
Actors Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska were among the cast members who attended the screening; Julianne Moore appeared on the red carpet but was then whisked away to the set of the film she’s now shooting, while Annette Bening sent her love, Cholodenko said.
(Right: David Ansen, Dawn Hudson, Mia Wasikowska, festival director Rebecca Yeldham.)
“We lost some people,” said the festival’s artistic director, David Ansen, at the party. “Some of them wanted to stay home and watch the game, and others were afraid of the traffic. But that’s okay – the people who showed up will always remember they were here.”
In fact, one director of a different film in the festival confided that he walked the red carpet for the “Kids Are All Right” premiere, and then slipped away and found a nearby bar where he managed to snag a seat and watch the game.
“I know it’s a good movie, but I can see it anytime,” he said. “Watching the basketball game in that setting, so close to the Staples Center, was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
While it’s unfair to say that the game distracted from Cholodenko’s perceptively-drawn, wonderfully-acted film, the Laker victory certainly energized the after-party, where some guests stood at the edge of the rooftop deck to watch the action on the streets below.
But despite reports of scattered vandalism and looting elsewhere downtown, with 38 arrests and several injuries, no significant disturbances took place within sight of the West Garage’s rooftop deck, which hosted the party and is also the site of the festival village.