The Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), produced by Film Independent, kicks off today, June 1, and runs through June 9, with a diverse slate of 56 feature films, 58 short films and 13 short episodic works representing 28 countries. The Festival’s five competitions feature 42 World Premieres, and across the five feature competition categories, 43% of the films are directed by women and 38% of the films are directed by people of color.
I scrubbed the festival’s list of feature-length films looking for titles by and/or about creatives of African descent, or that feature talent of African descent in key roles (given this blog’s above stated interests, for those just joining us), and here are the titles (in no particular order) to make note of (a number of them previously profiled on this blog, so you will already be familiar).
I’ll be covering a few of these films on this list over the next week (trailers/clips are included where available; descriptions of each are courtesy of the LAFF). For more information, including the full lineup of films, and ticket purchase information visit: https://tickets.lafilmfestival.com/Online.
- “72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?” – USA (DIRECTOR Raafi Rivero WRITERS Raafi Rivero, Bilal N’Dongo PRODUCERS Vincent Harris, Stephanie Williams CAST Melvin Mogoli, Andrea Rachel Parker, Erinn Westbrook, Bilal N’Dongo, David Shaw, Enrique Miller, Khadim Diop) – A charismatic teen is thrown into a crisis of life and love when he must decide whether to leave his rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn community to pursue a prestigious academic scholarship.
- “Kicks” – USA (DIRECTOR Justin Tipping WRITER Joshua Beirne-Golden PRODUCER David Kaplan CAST Jahking Guillory, Christopher Meyer, CJ Wallace, Kofi Siriboe, Mahershala Ali) – After getting his dream pair of Air Jordans snatched, Brandon and his friends go on a dangerously epic mission through Oakland to get them back in this vibrant coming-of-age story bursting with magical realism.
- “A Moving Image” – UK (DIRECTOR/WRITER Shola Amoo PRODUCER Rienkje Attoh CAST Tanya Fear, Hussina Raja, Yinka Oyewole, Aki Omoshaybi, Alex Austin, Yrsa Daley Ward) – Reality and fiction merge in this personal reflection on gentrification in Brixton, told from the perspective of a sincere, yet stifled, young artist who struggles with her own complicity as she confronts the changing landscape of her South London neighborhood.
- “Dreamstates” – USA/France/Rwanda (DIRECTOR/ WRITER Anisia Uzeyman PRODUCERS Maripol, Dave Guenette, Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams, Annie Maurette, Neptune Frost, Mai Lucas CAST Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman, Beau Sia, William Nadylam, CX KIDTRONIK, Guillermo Brown, Julien Chirol, Zach Prewitt, Mervin Sealy Sr.) – Created in collaboration with Saul Williams, this non-linear tale is about two wayward souls discovering their love for one another, as reality and fiction blur on a tour across the United States with pivotal figures of the Afro-Punk movement.
- “FREE CeCe!” – USA (DIRECTOR Jacqueline Gares WRITERS Laverne Cox, Jacqueline Gares PRODUCER Laverne Cox) – CeCe McDonald survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, CeCe emerges as a leader who interrogates the prison industrial complex and inspires women to fight back when attacked.
- “The House on Coco Road” – Grenada/USA (DIRECTOR/PRODUCER Damani Baker WRITERS Damani Baker, Jon Fine, Eisa Davis, Cameron Russell) – An activist and teacher abandons the racial violence permeating Oakland in the 1980’s in pursuit of the utopic possibilities of Grenada’s revolution—only to put her family in harm’s way during a brutal invasion by the U.S. military.
- “Jackson” – USA (DIRECTOR Maisie Crow PRODUCERS Maisie Crow, Jamie Boyle) – A single mother, an abortion clinic director and fervent pro-lifer lay bare their stakes in the fight of one of the last remaining abortion clinics to stay open against the pro-life movement’s efforts to make abortions illegal in the Deep South.
- “Woven” – USA (DIRECTORS Salome Mulugeta, Nagwa Ibrahim WRITERS Salome Mulugeta, Ryan Spahn, Kristin Hanggi PRODUCERS Salome Mulugeta, Nagwa Ibrahim, Ryan Spahn CAST Salome Mulugeta, Ryan O’Nan, Alemtsehay Wodajo, Larisa Polonsky, Ryan Spahn, Vincent Agnello, Mickey Macras, Tibebe Solomon Borga, Mona Ibrahim) – When a mysterious crime takes the life of her only brother, an Ethiopian American woman searches for the truth behind his death, while struggling to reconcile cultural expectations with her own pursuit of self-identity and love.
- “Jean of the Joneses” – Canada/USA (DIRECTOR/WRITER Stella Meghie PRODUCERS Amos Adetuyi, Stella Meghie, Floyd Kane CAST Taylour Paige, Sherri Shepherd, Erica Ash, Gloria Reuben, Michelle Hurst, Mamoudou Athie, Francois Arnaud, Anna Hopkins, Demore Barnes) – When the estranged patriarch of the Jones family abruptly drops dead on their doorstep, sharp-witted Jean Jones stirs up familial dysfunctions to distract herself from an unraveling love life and a stalled writing career.
- “Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story” – USA (DIRECTOR Eric “Ptah” Herbert WRITERS Michael Landers, Eric “Ptah” Herbert PRODUCERS Dr. Howard Mango, Eric “Ptah” Herbert, Oscar “Cali” Quiroz, Mack Tompkins, Jason Hart, Marcus Gradney, Schea Cotton) – One of the biggest mysteries in basketball’s history is why Los Angeles legend Schea Cotton, one of the most highly touted high school athletes of a pre-social media era, never made it to the NBA. A star studded documentary where athletes like Scoop Jackson, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Tyson Chandler, Jason Hart, and Elton Brand help tell the story of what really happened.
- “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” – USA (DIRECTOR/ WRITER Deborah Riley Draper, PRODUCERS Deborah Riley Draper, Blair Underwood, Amy Tiemann, Michael A. Draper) – Follow the historic story of 18 African American athletes who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, undermining the fallacy of Aryan supremacy and exposing the hypocrisy of life under Jim Crow laws in the U.S. During the games, they experienced things they were not expecting such as warm welcomes and integrated Olympic villages, but returned home to a short-lived glory where they are considered second class citizens and treated as such.
- “Destined” – USA (DIRECTOR/WRITER Qasim Basir PRODUCER Tommy Oliver, Rick Rosenthal, Matt Ratner CAST Cory Hardrict, Jesse Metcalfe, Hill Harper, Margot Bingham, Zulay Henao, Mo McCrae,Robert Christopher Riley, Jason Dohring, Lala Anthony, Paula Devicq, James McCaffrey, Curtiss Cook) – In one world, Rasheed Smith is a hardened criminal who has spent years building his drug empire. In another, he is an ambitious architect who has been working his way up the corporate ladder. Illustrated through parallel lives, Rasheed faces everything from street violence to corporate corruption, demonstrating that regardless of which path his life takes, there is no simple journey toward fulfilling one’s destiny.
- “11:55” – USA (DIRECTOR Ari Issler, Ben Snyder WRITER Ari Issler, Ben Snyder, Victor Almanzar PRODUCERS Danny Mendoza, Joshua Blum, Gia Walsh, Kara Baker, Matthew Thurm CAST Victor Almanzar, Shirley Rumierk, Elizabeth Rodriguez, David Zayas, Goya Robles, Julia Stiles, John Leguizamo) – After being involved in the fatal shooting of a local drug dealer, U.S. Marine Nelson Sanchez returns to the neighborhood he fled years ago. Amid the fanfare and celebration, the brother of the deceased learns of Nelson’s homecoming and vows revenge. Word reaches Nelson but instead of fleeing, he charts an unlikely path to break the cycle of violence that defined him.
- “Like Cotton Twines” – Micah, an American volunteer who takes a teaching job in a remote Ghanaian village, has great expectations for his mother’s homeland. He is enthusiastic and eager to help his students fulfill their potential, especially Tuigi, a bright 13-year-old girl. But Tuigi’s family must atone for a deadly accident committed by her father and, according to religious custom, Tuigi must abandon her education and be offered as a sex slave. Clinging to his Western moral senses, Micah pits himself in a battle against tribal culture and the state.
- “Play the Devil” – USA (DIRECTOR Maria Govan Screenwriter: Maria Govan Producers: Abigail Hadeed CAST Petrice Jones, Gareth Jenkins, Akil Nicholas, Penelope Spencer) – Gregory, a gifted student from a working class family, is favorably positioned to win a coveted medical scholarship, and yet is secretly cultivating a desire to become a photographer. James, an established businessman, uses his wealth and access to pique the young man’s latent artistic inclinations. When James cannot accept Gregory’s boundaries, the relationship spirals into a fateful, carnal dance during the “Jab” (devil) play, on Carnival’s Monday night.
- “So B. It” – USA (DIRECTOR Stephen Gyllenhaal SCREENWRITER Garry Williams PRODUCERS J. Todd Harris , Orien Richman CAST Talitha Bateman, Alfre Woodard, John Heard, Jessica Collins, Jacinda Barrett, Dash Mihok, Cloris Leachman, Mataeo Mingo, Michael Arden, Atticus Todd, Stan Davis, David Dean Bottrell, CJ Hoff, Moira O’Neill, Sherry Mandujano, Jack Plotnick, Van Epperson, Luis Moncada, Karen May) – Heidi is a precocious 12-year-old who lives happily with her autistic mother under the care of their remarkable neighbor—the brilliant but eccentric Bernadette—who never leaves her apartment. Mama always had only 22 words in her entire vocabulary, but one day a new word pops out: “soof.” This changes everything. This mysterious word propels Heidi on a cross-country journey of discovery and loss, truth and identity. As secrets boil to the surface, Heidi must face her fears and finally learns who she is and the origins of her child-like Mama.
- “A Hundred Streets” – UK (DIRECTOR Jim O’Hanlon SCREENWRITER Leon Butler PRODUCERS Pippa Cross, Leon Butler, Idris Elba, Ros Hubbard CAST Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Charlie Creed-Miles, Franz Drameh, Kierston Wareing, Tom Cullen and Ken Stott) – This multi-stranded drama is set within one specific area of contemporary London. The cast of characters face major choices and changes in their separate lives as their paths sometimes cross. All of these interconnecting stories paint a picture of a society where a person is often loneliest within a crowd. As tension mounts, relationships are strained, loyalties are tested and violence erupts.
- “Don’t Think Twice” – USA (DIRECTOR/WRITER Mike Birbiglia PRODUCERS Miranda Bailey, Mike Birbiglia, Ira Glass, Amanda Marshall CAST Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher) – For eleven years, the members of the Commune have reigned as big fish in the small pond of the New York improv theater world, while working menial jobs day after day to support themselves and returning home to shared, run-down apartments. The tight-knit group kills onstage night after night with fluid performances, but they are waiting for their big break. When scouts from a hit TV show come to a performance looking for talent but only choose two performers, the dynamic of the group is tested. Relationships begin to crack as six best friends face the truth that not all of them will make it.
- “Life, Animated” – USA (DIRECTOR Roger Ross Williams PRODUCERS Roger Ross Williams, Julie Goldman CAST Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walter Suskind) – Acclaimed journalist Ron Suskind and his wife struggle to communicate with their son Owen, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. They soon discover that what they thought was gibberish was actually Owen reciting lines from his favorite Disney movies, his own unique form of communication.
Once again, the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), produced by Film Independent, kicks off today, June 1, and runs through June 9. For more information, including the full lineup of films, and ticket purchase information visit: https://tickets.lafilmfestival.com/Online.