By Tara Bennett
The third edition of the Louisiana International Film Festival (LIFF), which took place this past weekend, saw filmmakers, actors and industry professionals from across the nation descend on Baton Rouge for four thrilling days of cinema. LIFF is headed up by Chesley Heymsfield, who has worked in feature films from screenwriting to post production to special effects. With such a wide perspective on film, Heymsfield created the festival after seeing a need to create a conduit for the filmmakers of Louisiana as a way to connect everyone and help them refine their potential.
“What I noticed was, while there was tremendous activity and a truly indigenous film industry and community, my biggest impression was there was a lot of untapped potential,” said Heymsfield. “And so how do we bring all those groups together? Really, a film festival is an amazing way to do it.”
While the festival has concluded for the year, LIFF is still going strong for 2015 with a pre-release screening of Far From the Madding Crowd on Wednesday, May 13. In the meantime, check out some of DIG’s favorite highlights from this year’s festival.
It would be silly not to list this when the festival focuses on movies, huh? This year’s festival saw a great increase not only in the quality of films, but in overall numbers. A total of 60 features, film shorts, and documentaries were enjoyed by festival goers over the duration of the weekend with a doubling in the numbers for audiences.
“When you have a film festival, you have something for everyone,” said Heymsfield. “At the same time it’s interesting to go in between films such as What We Do In The Shadows and then go to a documentary. I think it provides you with an incredible panorama of culture where you can take in different ideas all in one day. It’s a really cool experience you can get without leaving the country.”
Films that saw immense popularity at the festival included the American premieres of Spy and Frankenstein. Other films that were popular this weekend were Big Charity, What We Do in the Shadows, and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. All three of these films were given a second viewing, which sold out nearly instantly.
“I think this kind of music never gets old,” said Associate Conductor David Torns, whose favorite film score to perform is the theme from E.T. “It’s like Christmas music, you hear the same songs every year, but nobody ever gets tired of it.”
The symphony performed on the final day of the festival as a special Mother’s Day concert. Many of the themes played were iconic film selections including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” The 70+ local musicians—many already members of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the Louisiana Youth Orchestra—were well-received by the audience who surrounded the musicians on the first, and second floor of the Great Hall, and already are asking them to return for next year.
“I think we will hopefully plan on doing it again and it’ll be an annual event,” said Torns. “It also depends on the growth of the festival. Of course Louisiana is now such a hub for filmmaking, and producing, and hopefully it will be for music recording as well.”
LIFF’s Filmmakers Lounge was the #1 hub for festival activity during this year’s festival, located on the second floor of the Cinemark Perkins Rowe Great Hall. In between films, guests had the opportunity to sit down and take one of the several mentorship programs made available throughout the weekend, or converse with filmmakers and other accredited guests. Local art collective Elevator Projects also had their hand in creating the atmosphere for the lounge by adorning the walls with art and eclectic interior decorating.
Art curated in the show was created by Stephanie Landry, Sara Sicona, Mary Claire Delony, Mitch Evans, Frank Venadas, Emily LaCour, Andrea Laborde Barbier, and Melissa Tran, along with an exclusive art installation done by Chelsea Ramirez. Whether it was gazing at Ramirez’s large scale sketching made of charcoal and acrylic paint, or the decorative adornments, there were many things to admire while guests rested and refueled. And that was just during the daylight hours. When evening arrived, the lounge became the perfect after party location by providing live music, select appetizers and nightly cocktails, including the delicious but dangerous Pineapple Painkiller. If you missed out, be sure to put this on your to do list for next year’s festival.
Actor Vincent D’Onofrio, star of TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, took some time away during the filming of his current production of The Magnificent Seven in order to visit LIFF as a surprise special guest. To promote his new film Broken Horses, D’Onofrio introduced both viewings of his film and stayed for Q&A sessions with the audience afterwards.
While many fans were delighted to hear the actor speak, and applaud him for his work on Broken Horses and the new Daredevil series on Netflix, others at the festival had begun calling him a hero. While waiting for his Q&A to begin, D’Onofrio stepped in to help a festival attendee who passed out during the showing of the film Timbuktu, and stayed with him the entire time until medics arrived.
“Apparently the movie got to [the festival attendee] in a strange way, and he decided to step out, his face was kind of white, and ended up passing out on the floor,” said LIFF volunteer Mattie Harding, who witnessed the scene. “D’Onofrio was there to save the day. He kept him talking, walked him through it, asking him about the movie, it was really awesome that he was there.”
2015 LOUISIANA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AUDIENCE AWARD WINNERS
Best Film – Audience Award
“What We Do in the Shadows”
Xavier Samuel – “Frankenstein”
Blythe Danner – “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Brett Haley – “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Director: Alexander Glustrom
Producer: Catherine Rierson
Best International Short Film
Director: Zena Dell Lowe
“Alone in the Dust”
Director: Brandon Kapelow
Best Louisiana Short Film
Director: Caleb Michaelson
Producer: Jency Griffin Hogan
Best Cinematographer: Valentina Caniglia, Madeline’s Oil
Career Achievement Award
For Her Amazing Contribution of Portraying Powerful Women in Cinema