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The 'Gritty Utopia' That is Downtown L.A.

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, December 03, 2009, at 01:09PM
Seth and Smith Ed Fuentes

Downtown Los Angeles-based filmmakers Shaheen Seth and Sarah Adina Smith.

The balance between aspiration and making a living can be a tough one, as can the balance between work and relationship. Filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith and her husband, cinematographer Shaheen Seth, are daring to do all of them as they balance marriage, ongoing commercial work and film projects.

They are among the many filmmakers who will be screening their work this week at the Zero Film Festival, which runs until Sunday at the Downtown Independent theater. Smith and Seth have also been Downtown residents for the last 4 years. When I was living on the west side of LA, I don't think we knew any of our neighbors. Here you see familiar, friendly faces every time you walk the dog or run an errand," says Smith. "It's like our gritty little Utopia."

That Utopia can inspire, and, according to Smith, can "slap you back to reality" when the summer streets smells are harsh. It also offers the chance to look out the window and see film crews at work. "We have a game where we try to spot the AD (assistant director) on the set from our window," Seth says.

"We first came downtown looking for office space because our business was ready to graduate from what we call our 'laptops and pj's' phase," says Smith, recalling days of working on a west side couch and then commuting once they found their first space in the Spring Arts Tower. "Before long, we realized that we wanted to live closer to our work and stop donating our life to traffic."

The next step is just steps away. Smith's 12-minute "The Sirens" will premiere this Saturday, down the street from the Hellman building, where they live and work.

"I am a huge fan of the Downtown Independent Theater and I wanted to premiere my film there," says Smith. "I love their rooftop space and I wanted to have The Chapin Sisters be able to perform a concert up there after the screening."

Abigail and Lily Chapin, along with April Eckfeld, star in Smith's short, a small, small project that became a larger project than planned. "It's really important to push forward to production at a certain point," says Smith, "because a lot of the story gets worked out on set and then again in the editing room."

The Zero Film Festival is a non-profit platform for self-financed filmmakers, and opened last night with a rooftop party and outdoor screenings at The Standard Downtown L.A.

It moves to the Downtown Independent until Sunday's Award night on December 6th.

Saturday is a full afternoon of shorts, before the evening screening of "The Sirens" that will lead Saturday's closing night, highlighted by a performance by The Chapin Sisters. Then it moves into the night with more music and film.

For a full schedule of screenings: Zero Film Festival

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