Last night at LAFF: Neighboring Sounds

Last night was a strange and dichotomous one at the Los Angeles Film Festival site at LA Live, at least when it came to the overall vibe surrounding the Regal theater and the screenings therein. Gone was the star-studded hoopla of the red carpet events that have taken place throughout the week. Conversely, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the corner of the mezzanine where a large crowd was lining up for the conversation with Aaron Sorkin. Beyond that, a more subdued passion was felt. For whatever reason, most of the filmgoers present were true die-hards, familiar faces seen packing theaters throughout the past nine days. There was a since of camaraderie among those most passionately seeking out excellent independent films and engaging in a sense of community. For better or worse, we later came to find out that the absence of a massive event at the festival last night may have had something to do with events taking place at both the convention center and Staples center. After my last movie got out, so did apparently everything else between there and Dodge, and it took me about twenty-five minutes to get five hundred feet to the freeway. Check your local listings for traffic.

The first film I saw was the Brazilian import Neighboring Sounds. I can’t stop thinking about this one, but my feelings about it continue to feel more and more polarized, as each extreme gets pulled further in its respective direction. Filmmaker Kleber Mendonca Filho told a very specific story about his neighborhood in Brazil, and much of it resonated deeply. Although the narrative was obviously very scripted, Filho was using his camera and his storytelling to show us around his neighborhood, and introduce the audience to its divergent inhabitants and the various ways their lives collide. Filho showed the audience what about his neighborhood moves him, interests him, and what his concerns are. Sadly, the film committed what should be considered the cardinal sin in filmmaking, which is being at least 20 minutes too long. At 130 minutes, the film is one of the longest showing at the festival. As the film dragged more and more into the third act, I found myself reediting the film in my head as I was watching it. Never a pleasant experience or a good sign.

The other film I saw last night was Return to Burma, which felt less like a cinematic experience and more like anthropological footage or a series of interviews collected for a piece on the 7’clock news. Filmmaker Midi Z shot the film guerilla-style after the recent elections in Myanmar. With interviews woven together by a loose narrative that exist somewhere fiction and reality, the film paints the portrait of a society filled with a promise of economic prosperity that has yet to be fulfilled. Though this certainly is a potent examination of the grand canyons that separate hope and change, its anthropological style and lack of cinematic sensibility leave it far from compelling.

If last night’s vibe at the festival was more laid-back, today’s wall-to-wall programming looks to truly be kicking out the jams, with several screenings already having hit “Rush” status. I’ll be getting there early this morning, to catch a commercial showing of Brave, having missed both festival screenings. I’ll then be darting between five festival films: On The Edge, Big Easy Express, Bestiaire, The Last Elvis, and It’s a Disaster. Other films on offer include About Face, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, and Vampira and Me, and A Band Called Death, all of which I’ve seen and reviewed throughout the week and would highly recommend. Since many of the films on my itinerary are literally back-to-back and/or in “Rush” status, hopefully I can find somebody to save me a seat. Maybe it’s you if I see you there.

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