LA Film Festival Embraces Diversity With ‘Lowriders’ Opener, Ava DuVernay Award

Ryan Coogler will serve as guest director of the festival, which is honoring the “Selma” filmmaker and Array Releasing

Last Updated: April 5, 2016 @ 11:23 AM

In the wake of controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations, the LA Film Festival is embracing diversity, announcing that Ricardo de Montreuil’s “Lowriders” will open this year’s festival, which will also honor filmmakers Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) and Ava DuVernay (“Selma”).

Coogler will serve as LAFF’s 2016 Guest Director, while DuVernay and Array Releasing will receive the festival’s annual Spirit of Independence Award, which honors those who advance the cause of independent film and champion creative freedom. The Spirit of Independence Award has previously been given to Don Cheadle, George Clooney, David O. Russell, Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, and Charlize Theron, among others.

The LA Film Festival is produced by non-profit arts organization Film Independent. Carolyn Castaño handled the artwork for this year’s festival poster. The 22nd edition of the LA Film Festival will take place June 1-9 at ArcLight Cinemas. The LA Film Festival’s mission is to showcase diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision in independent American and international cinema.

“Lowriders” was produced by Oscar winner Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind”) and Oscar nominee Jason Blum (“Whiplash”). The film stars Eva Longoria, Demián Bichir, Melissa Benoist, Theo Rossi, Tony Revolori and Gabriel Chavarria.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of East LA’s near-spiritual car culture, ‘Lowriders’ follows the story of Danny, a talented young street artist caught between the lowrider world inhabited by his old-school father and ex-con brother, and the adrenaline-fueled outlet that defines his self-expression.

“We are thrilled to open with ‘Lowriders,’ a culturally vibrant film that explores familial relationships within a second-generation Mexican family in East LA. Made by filmmakers of color, ‘Lowriders’ embodies our mission of shining the light on unique voices,” said festival director Stephanie Allain. “Spirit Award winner Ryan Coogler honors us as Guest Director – we had ‘Fruitvale Station’ at the Festival in 2013 and are so happy to have him back this year as our Guest Director.”

“We can’t imagine a more fitting recipient of the Spirit of Independence Award than Ava DuVernay and her distribution company Array Releasing,” said Film Independent president Josh Welsh. “In addition to being a brilliant filmmaker, Ava is a passionate, forward-thinking distributor, helping unique and diverse voices find their audiences. Array bought Takeshi Fukunaga’s ‘Out of My Hand’ at last year’s festival, a film that we celebrated at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards.”

“It is such an honor that the LA Film Festival has chosen ‘Lowriders’ to open this year’s Festival,” said Grazer. “From their humble beginnings to their modern-day status as works of extraordinary art, these aren’t simply cars…they hold the imagination of the people and culture that create them. Danny’s coming-of-age story is one of a son, a brother and a visionary, and we cannot wait to share Ricardo’s film with the world.”

“We are always looking to partner with filmmakers who are incredibly passionate about their projects,” said producer Jason Blum. “When Brian brought the idea for ‘Lowriders’ to Blumhouse, we got excited by the opportunity to work with Imagine and Ricardo on this powerful story, which is a unique look at two generations at a crossroads. The LA Film Festival is a wonderful event, and we look forward to being a part of this year’s unique lineup.”

Guest Director Ryan Coogler (‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Creed’) will attend the 15th annual Filmmaker Retreat. A signature program of the Festival, the Filmmaker Retreat brings together all the feature directors in this year’s Festival along with seasoned filmmakers and Film Independent Board Members who attend as honored artists. The Filmmaker Retreat is an opportunity to build community among the Festival’s filmmakers before the Festival kicks off on June 1. Past Guest Directors of the Festival include Rodrigo García, Lisa Cholodenko, David O. Russell, Mira Nair, Kathryn Bigelow, George Lucas, William Friedkin, 
Sydney Pollack, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón.

Array Releasing is an LA-based film collective dedicated to the amplification of images by people of color and women. The collective‘s film releases to date include: 2015 LA Film Festival winners “Out of my Hand” and “Ayanda,” “Ashes and Embers,” “Mississippi Damned,” “Middle of Nowhere,” “Kinyarwanda,” “Restless City,” “Vanishing Pearls,” “Big Words,” “Better Mus’ Come” and “I Will Follow.”

“In 2013 we launched a series of LA Film Festival posters designed to celebrate LA artists. Native Angelena Carolyn Castaño joins the ranks of acclaimed artists Ed Ruscha and the late Noah Davis as the 2016 poster artist,” said Mary Sweeney, Film Independent Board Chair. “Castaño’s work reflects and celebrates her deep roots and experiences in the powerful Latina culture of Los Angeles. Film Independent and the LA Film Festival support and celebrate the diversity of unique artistic voices.”

Carolyn Castaño’s work in painting, drawing, video and mixed-media installations has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, most recently at the 56th International La Bienniale di Venezia, LACMA’s Fútbol: The Beautiful Game, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City. Her site-specific installation at the Los Angeles International Airport will be unveiled in June 2016. Castano earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and her MFA from UCLA.

Festival passes are on sale to Film Independent Members starting Tuesday, April 5. Passes go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, April 12. The full line-up will be announced on Tuesday, April 26. Individual tickets go on sale to Mmmbers on Tuesday, May 5 and to the general public on Tuesday, May 10. Visit lafilmfestival.com for more information.