Dig Baton Rouge

Director’s Cut: Louisiana International Film Festival returns for 2017

Save your Netflix queue for another time because the Louisiana International Film Festival is returning on April 20-23. Movie lovers from Baton Rouge and the rest of south Louisiana will be able to watch a diverse selection of films in the comforts of the Cinemark theater at Perkins Rowe.

Executive Director Chesley Heymsfield launched LIFF in 2013 to connect Baton Rouge residents with the active film industry in the state and to provide a forum for film education, exposure, and entertainment. This year’s festival will see a continuation of the popular “Southern Perspectives” category, which last year saw such films as “Bogalusa Charm” and “7 Days in Nepal,” which were both world premieres of films made in Louisiana by Louisiana filmmakers.

“Because that was so successful last year, we’re going to continue and expand on the Southern Perspectives category, and of course Louisiana-made films as well,” Heymsfield said. “The festival will open with the film ‘Patti Cake$,’ a Louisiana-made film. This category will always be a focus on something we’re growing on each year.”

The big highlight of this year’s festival will be the introduction of the Dan Ireland Award. Ireland served as LIFF’s artistic director since the festival’s inception in 2013 where he worked extensively over the course of the next four years to build up the non-profit film festival. He was scheduled to attend the 2016 festival but passed away at his home in Los Angeles prior to his appearance.

“We are going to, in his memory, commemorate a Dan Ireland Award, and that’s going to be for the New Voices, Bold Visions category,” Heymsfield said. “Six films will be in that category from around the world, and out of that we’re going to have a jury select who will win the Dan Ireland Award.”

Two actors who worked under Ireland, Renee Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio, will be sponsoring the award. Zellweger and D’Onofrio were both stars of Ireland’s 1996 film “The Whole Wide World,” which examined the relationship between pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard and schoolteacher Novalyne Price Ellis.

“After that Renee went on to be in Jerry Maguire and [Ireland] also helped launch the career of Jessica Chastain and a lot of other people,” Heymsfield said. “That’s why we wanted to focus on our new category of New Voices, Bold Vision, which is what Dan would be interested in. He always loved supporting up-and-coming talent and discovering talent.”

Along with the screening selections, LIFF also offers opportunities to meet special guests in attendance, attend special events and live musical performances, and participation in their mentorship program, which provides interested parties the opportunity to learn about a significant aspect of the filmmaking process.

“For movies that normally wouldn’t be seen in Louisiana or ever make it to our state, [LIFF] is a wonderful venue to allow a different approach that you wouldn’t see in Louisiana. I remember my first premiere and thought ‘Wow, we’ve never had anything like this before,’ so it’s also very educational,” said LIFF Operations Director Lettie Harkins. “We don’t randomly pick movies; we try to pick ones that are challenging and different and represent a lot of groups.”

A new campaign the festival will put on this year is called “These Boots Are Made for Walking (to the Film Festival).” Printed by Lamar 3D, this larger-than-life-sized boot will be placed in different areas in the city to promote the festival.

“We want to encourage people to go out and find the boot and take pictures in front of it and post it on social media,” Harkins said. “We’ll also have golden tickets around town too that people can find and cash them in for a free movie.”

Also new to the festival is “Bayou Burlesque,” which will be hosted on Friday, April 21. The party premiered at this year’s Sundance and was quoted to be “pretty insane” with over a thousand people in attendance. The event will be replicated for this year’s LIFF.

“Anytime we have our Sundance parties to represent Louisiana talent; we do that again here at the festival,” Heymsfield said.

The event kicked off with a mid-afternoon parade led by Louisiana singer Queen Quiana Lynell and her brass band and comedian/mc King John Dardenne. Party-goers second lined before entering the venue and were offered beads and masks as they entered. As Lynell performed, Airseekers and AcroRouge offered their own unique entertainment in the forms of aerialist performing and burlesque acrobatics. The event was a transportation to a 1920’s New Orleans speakeasy celebrating Louisiana’s world famous cocktails, cuisine, culture.

“They’re saying it was the best party for Sundance period, hands down, ever,” said Harkins. “We’ll be doing a recreation here.”

Considering the harsh year with the recent floods, LIFF also wants to use the festival as a podium to be uplifting to the community and bring everyone together in a positive way.

“I think particularly this year for our community as everyone comes together after the flood it will be really powerful,” Harkins said. “We do have some things up our sleeve for that as well.”

The Films

Check out some films that will be featured at LIFF:

Patti Cake$ (USA) 108 min.
A breakout hit at Sundance in January, this raucous and fresh tale from first-time writer-director Geremy Jasper follows burly and brash Patricia aka ‘Patti Cake$’ (newcomer Danielle Macdonald) who is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey. Despite the weight of a dead-end bar job, an alcoholic mother, and a beloved grandmother with mounting medical bills (an epic portrayal by award-winning actress Cathy Moriarty), Patti is an intoxicating mixture of swagger, vulnerability, and contagious energy. Not only does this crowd-pleasing film celebrate the aspirations of a character who dreams big, it portrays with empathy the frustrations and inner strength of three generations of women. Produced by New Orleans company The Department of Motion Pictures, Patti Cake$ announces Jasper and Macdonald as major talents.

Kedi (Turkey) 79 min.
Anyone who has ever visited Istanbul will have noticed cats, cats and kittens: in cafes, streets and shops; on chairs, on terraces, on roofs. All well fed, well-groomed and, well…friendly. A ravishing depiction of the fabled city of minarets and aquatic vistas, this deft film follows seven distinctly different cats on their daily rounds and offers a cat’s eye view of the unique bond that can exist between human and feline. Director Torun, a child of Istanbul, admits: “Without cats, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

A Quiet Passion (UK | Belgium) 125 min.
An Oscar buzz is already building around Cynthia Nixon’s vibrant and heartbreaking performance as Emily Dickinson. Ms. Nixon perfectly conveys the wit, intellectual independence and pathos of the reclusive poet whose genius only came to be recognized after her death. Acclaimed British director Terence Davies (Sunset Song, LIFF ‘16) exquisitely evokes Dickinson’s deep attachment to her close-knit family along with the manners, mores and spiritual convictions of her time, all of which she struggled with and transcended in her poetry.

The Book of Clarence (USA) 99 min.
Meet Clarence Fountain, the blind gospel singer and founding member of the Grammy award-winning ‘Blind Boys of Alabama.’ Despite illness and his more than 80 years, Clarence still performs: with long time guitar player Sam Butler Jr. in his Baton Rouge home; and in recording studios and African-American Baptist churches across the Deep South. Under the direction of Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines fame, this affectionate portrait includes footage of the Blind Boys’ classic performances, including “The Gospel at Colonus,” a celebrated theater piece that opened on Broadway in 1988.

Cezanne and I (France) 117 min.
Shot on location in Provence and Paris, this historical fiction film explores the lifelong friendship of two renowned 19th century French artists – painter Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and writer Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) By tracing their journey from schoolmates to rivals, Director Thompson reveals an epic reversal of fortune: Zola, fatherless and poor, joined the very bourgeoisie he mocked in his youth; while Cézanne, born of wealth, rejected society to focus entirely on his work. The more Zola embraced fame, the more success eluded Cezanne.

The Commune (Sweden) 111 min.
In this warm-hearted social comedy, Swedish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Ceremony) again trains his bemused gaze on the perils of family life, in this case, a trendy experiment in communal living. Bored with routine and energized by the permissiveness of ‘70s Copenhagen, happily married Anne and Erik assemble a motley crew of co-habitants in the capacious family home. Let the games begin! It is Anne (in an award-winning performance by the great Trine Dyrholm) who learns first how quickly and how painfully new values can collide with old habits.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Finland) 92 min.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, this impressive debut from Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen is based on a true story and follows the lead up to the 1962 world featherweight championship title match in Helsinki between Finland’s Olli Mäki (a delightfully appealing Jarkko Lahti) and the champion, American Davey Moore. Photographed in atmospheric black and white and featuring meticulous period detail, the film centers on Olli’s struggles to drop weight while juggling his overbearing manager, the adorable Raija with whom he has fallen head over heels in love, and a stressful media blitz. A boxing drama on the surface, but underneath a love story about a young man’s fight to balance his expectations and desires.

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (USA) 90 min.
Author Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco-set Tales of the City have inspired millions to throw off the shackles of conformity and claim their own truth. In this playful, sometimes poignant film, director Jennifer Kroot offers a disarmingly frank look at Maupin’s journey from the conservative Old South and the jungles of Vietnam to the epicenter of gay rights, the AIDS epidemic and the culture wars in which the PBS adaption of Tales played a major role. Helping tell ‘the untold tales’ are friends Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Sir Ian McKellen, Amy Tan, Margaret Cho and Jonathan Groff.

Abacus: Small Enough to Fail (USA) 88 min.
Legendary documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) chronicles the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Abacus becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves – and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community – over the course of a five-year legal battle.

Score (USA) 93 min.
This musically dense and informative documentary gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the musical challenges of the world’s most widely known music genre: the film score. Among the Hollywood composers who appear in the film are legends like Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire), Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven), and Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West). Among the renowned contemporary figures who discuss their craft are John Williams (Star Wars), Hans Zimmer (Inception), Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands), Trent Reznor (The Social Network), Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings)

Obit (USA) 96 min.
What makes a life worth remembering and how do you convey years of experience and achievement into 1000 words? Meet the small, articulate and witty staff of obituary writers at The New York Times who must every day by 5:00pm craft details, facts and oddities into fitting monuments to a notable life… be it a Nobel Prize winner or the inventor of the Slinky. At its best, a good obit rises above the daily din of war, politics, and football scores and is often the most read article in the daily paper. Gould’s eye opening, inside tour of the ‘dead beat’ proves that in a vanishing world of daily newspapers, the NYT obit department is in a class of its own.

The Ryan Francis Story (USA) 87 min.
Nearly a decade ago, 19-year-old Southern Cal guard and Baton Rouge native Ryan Francis was gunned down during a trip home for Mother’s Day. A gifted athlete who led the Glen Oaks HS basketball team to a state title, Francis is but one casualty in an epidemic of “kids killing kids.” TaRhonda Bazille’s important and heartfelt film denounces the senseless violence that cuts down men in their prime while paying tribute to a remarkable individual who lives on in the hearts of family and friends.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (USA) 80 min.
Following the huge success of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (LIFF ‘15) master filmmaker Stanley Nelson turns his eye to another branch of African American history: education. Denied formal schooling prior to the Civil War, freed slaves embraced higher learning at more than 100 Black colleges and universities that flourished in the century that followed. Nelson shows how these institutions cultivated generations of leaders in a vast array of areas – culminating in the Civil Rights movement – while redefining what it means to be black in America.

N.O.L.A Circus (France | USA) 86 min.
In a unique cross cultural initiative, 12 international athletes representing 4 different sports came together to produce French director Jean-Luc Annest’s rollicking comedy set in Algiers Point, a black neighborhood of New Orleans. Revolving around the denizens of 2 barbershops on opposite sides of the street, the film pits Will, a black hairdresser who preaches racial tolerance against Marvin, a well-known sex addict who’s having a passionate affair with a small-time pot dealer. When three Ku Klux Klan members show up to kidnap Will complications (and hilarity) ensue.

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