Light shines on fe­male, non­white di­rec­tors

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY LIND­SEY BAHR

LOS ANGELES | While Hol­ly­wood con­tin­ues to be a place of in­equal­ity for non­white male di­rec­tors, the LA Film Fes­ti­val is mak­ing a name for it­self by be­ing ex­actly the op­po­site.

The fes­ti­val, which kicked off Wed­nes­day night in Cul­ver City, has made norm-bust­ing strides in pro­gram­ming films and pan­els from an ar­ray of di­verse voices.

This year, 42 per­cent of the films are di­rected by women and 40 per­cent by film­mak­ers of color while pan­els plan to touch on top­ics such as white­wash­ing and non-trans­gen­der ac­tors play­ing trans­gen­der char­ac­ters.

The num­bers alone are sig­nif­i­cant even com­pared with those of other ma­jor fes­ti­vals. The Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, for in­stance, gen­er­ally hov­ers around 25 per­cent for fe­male di­rec­tors, al­though this year it rose to 34 per­cent.

“The fes­ti­val is re­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Film In­de­pen­dent as an or­ga­ni­za­tion which has ded­i­cated its broader mis­sion is to am­pli­fy­ing un­der­rep­re­sented voices,” said fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Cochis.

Film In­de­pen­dent is a non­profit arts or­ga­ni­za­tion that also pro­duces the an­nual In­de­pen­dent Spirit Awards.

But there are no quo­tas at the LA Film Fes­ti­val — it’s still a mer­i­toc­racy, Ms. Cochis said. She and her pro­gram­ming team take stock of their num­bers only af­ter the se­lec­tions have been made.

Ms. Cochis thinks the strong num­bers are at­trib­ut­able to a few fac­tors, in­clud­ing a di­verse pro­gram­ming team that ac­tively seeks out films that “rep­re­sent the world we live in” and ex­haus­tive out­reach to film schools and or­ga­ni­za­tions seek­ing sub­mis­sions.

It helped them find two films about Amer­i­can In­di­ans, in­clud­ing Va­lerie Red-Horse Mohl’s “Mankiller,” a doc­u­men­tary about the Chero­kee Na­tion’s first fe­male chief, and a slew of strong films fea­tur­ing strong fe­male char­ac­ters.

Ms. Cochis said some high­lights are the doc­u­men­tary “Mon­key Busi­ness” from di­rec­tor Ema Ryan Ya­mazaki, about Hans and Mar­gret Rey, who co-cre­ated “Cu­ri­ous Ge­orge”; the World War II-set com­ing-of-age anime “In This Cor­ner of the World”; and Kate Hickey’s throw­back doc­u­men­tary “Roller Dreams,” about the roller skaters who tore up the Venice Beach board­walk in the 1980s.

The fes­ti­val also fea­tures the di­rec­to­rial de­buts of a num­ber of ac­tresses: Lea Thomp­son’s “The Year of Spec­tac­u­lar Men,” in which she di­rects her­self and her real-life daugh­ters Zoey Deutch and Made­lyn Deutch (who wrote); Whit­ney Cum­mings’ en­sem­ble re­la­tion­ship pic “The Fe­male Brain,” with Sofia Ver­gara and James Mars­den; and Jen­nifer Mor­ri­son’s “Sun Dogs,” about a pair of well-in­ten­tioned mis­fits (Michael An­garano and Melissa Benoist) who form their own un­of­fi­cial coun­ter­surveil­lance team.

“I feel so hon­ored and priv­i­leged to be pre­mier­ing at the LA Film Fes­ti­val, and I don’t mean that in any hy­per­bolic way at all. It’s very cool to be part of a fes­ti­val that is run by a woman and has been so great at cham­pi­oning fe­male di­rec­tors. … They were lead­ing the way be­fore any­one else,” Ms. Mor­ri­son said. “I feel lucky to be part of that.”

The LA Film Fes­ti­val runs through June 22.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lea Thomp­son makes her di­rec­to­rial de­but at the LA Film Fes­ti­val with “The Year of Spec­tac­u­lar Men.”

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