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Take a Bow, Downtown Film Fest

By Ed Fuentes and Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, August 18, 2008, at 01:40PM
dressed to nines 2 Ed Fuentes

Animator Evan Clarke James and writer Charlotte Brewster were out on the town in a contemporary interpretation of proper Broadway Theater wear.

It's appropriate that the 1st Downtown Film Festival wrapped under the stars on Sunday night, screening Irena Salina's documentary "Flow" on Grand Avenue beneath the skyline. The Colburn School and Disney Concert Hall provided grand backdrops for a festival designed to show off the city.

Over its five day run, the Downtown Film Festival exhibited some serious smarts in the way that it made use of Downtown's varied landscape. It exhibited films in seven different venues, and successfully partnered with a number of Downtown organizations. Likely more importantly for festival organizers, though, was the impressive number of people who made their way Downtown to check out all the events had to offer.

A few days before the event, some last minute jitters were apparent. There was concern over whether people would show in the numbers needed to make the screenings a success. Wednesday night's opening offered a chance to exhale, when approximately 1200 people came out to the Orpheum to see "In Search of a Midnight Kiss."

Every first year event offers room to grow, and this was no exception. Saturday night's "Drive-In At SCI-Arc," held in the institution's parking lot, offered a fun concept but left room to improve in the execution. While a party of creative film-goers came early and tail-gated, some who walked over had no real place to sit. Yes, it was billed as a drive-in experience, but with the festival promoting green thinking, some accommodation should have been provided for those who chose to attend without their cars.

That alternative industrial venue made for a Downtown style contrast with the Los Angeles Theater, where Chinatown-born Anna May Wong was finally seen in a hometown Broadway theater. The 1929 British silent film "Piccadilly" –– offered as Friday's Centerpiece Gala presentation –- made the theater look majestic as the amber, and sometimes blue, tint of the restored film and the piano of Robert York filled the house.

Sunday's "Sustainable L.A." event brought an impressive crowd to Grand Avenue, where a farmers' market and street fair complemented discussion panels and documentary screenings at MOCA. People stayed into the evening to sit on Grand Avenue and watch "Flow," a documentary about the importance of water and the precarious nature of its allocation and distribution.

The festival's greatest strength may well have been the way it eagerly launched into Downtown partnerships. Offices and pre-festival screenings were located in space provided by Barker Block. The shorts and drive-in at SCI-Arc complemented that institution's experimental nature, while the Laemmle Grand provided a practical home for the meat of the festival schedule.

That willingness to spread the load helped make an ambitious schedule into a success, and leaves Downtown looking forward to a great 2nd annual Downtown Film Festival in 2009.


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