Film festival will highlight hidden movie gems February 27 to March 1
By Craig Detweiler, Co-Producer, City of the Angels Film Festival
In an era of blockbusters, who will champion the small, the smart, and the spiritual? The City of the Angels Film Festival celebrates the most important, innovative, and inspiring independent films of recent times. We present the best films you’ve never seen (and maybe never even heard of!) from February 27 to March 1 at the Directors Guild in Hollywood.
The City of the Angels Film Festival arose from the ashes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots--a time of civil unrest and deep turmoil in our city. We gathered around movies as a way to build bridges, to spark conversation, to envision a future for Los Angeles. How appropriate that our 15th annual City of the Angels Film Fest begins with The Garden, a film depicting a place set aside as an urban oasis to heal L.A. The City Council allowed Latino farmers to grow verdant crops in a wide swath of land—until a developer suggested a more profitable plan. Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s riveting documentary of the farmers’ battle to save The Garden was recently nominated for an Academy Award. It opens our festival on Friday, February 27 at 7:00 p.m., with Kennedy joining us for a post-screening discussion on how we can replant and repair our city.
The Garden is followed at 9:15 p.m. by The Exiles, a poignant portrait of Native Americans cruising through downtown L.A. circa 1961. A recently restored classic, the film shows Bunker Hill before the high-rise buildings took over. The post-screening discussion for this film will feature D.J. Waldie, acclaimed author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memo.
These two luminescent films remind us where we’ve been; the remainder of the weekend asks where we are heading.
We have faced many struggles and tensions within the city of Los Angeles, and we know that Rwanda, Brazil, Haiti, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East may face even greater challenges. But a combination of stirring art, enduring faith, and moral courage can still secure a future for those countries. The City of the Angels Film Festival highlights enduring examples of hope and love—through the best films you’ve never heard of!
Special thanks to our lead sponsors: The Brehm Center, Pepperdine University, Family Theater Productions, and Azusa Pacific University; and to our partners: the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, Priddy Brothers, and the Windrider Forum.
Following is a recap of other films to be screened at the festival. For a complete schedule and more details, visit www.cityofangelsfilmfest.org.
FAITH IN ACTION
Saturday and Sunday both will start with stirring documentaries that celebrate faith in action. The Price of Sugar, at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, follows a Catholic priest who defends the plight of Haitian sugar cane workers. Paul Newman narrates this stirring portrait of Father Christopher Hartley and his battle against powerful sugar plantation owners in the Dominican Republic. They Killed Sister Dorothy, at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, documents the heroic efforts of a nun to protect the Brazilian rainforest against ruthless loggers. Will justice prevail for the martyred Sister Dorothy? The twists in this courtroom drama will leave you shaken and stirred. Daniel Junge, the award-winning director of They Killed Sister Dorothy, will be on hand for a post-screening discussion.
The Edge of Heaven, on Saturday at 3:15 p.m., begins with a Muslim holiday celebrating Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son. It explores the religious tensions simmering in Europe, where Turks and Germans cross borders. How does the proximity to terrorism raise suspicions? How can humanity be retained when we’re wary of “the other”? The interlocking stories in The Edge of Heaven demonstrate what films like Babel and Crash also aspired to accomplish. They remind us of Cain’s haunting question: Am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper? See why The Wall Street Journal said The Edge of Heaven is “so full of life it leaves you breathless.”
Saturday night we focus on kids in crisis. Lee Isaac Chung created Munyuranagabo (screening at 7:00 p.m.) while on a summer mission trip to Rwanda. He equipped the local community to tell their stories of genocide. This modest and beautiful film wowed audiences at prestigious film festivals at Cannes, Toronto, and Berlin. Seize this rare opportunity to witness transcendent art, and hear director Isaac Chung in a post-screening discussion.
Saturday night concludes with a slice of street life from Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani at 9:15 p.m. Declared “a masterpiece” by film critic Roger Ebert, Chop Shop follows an orphaned brother and sister trying to retain hope in the alleys of Queens, New York. As the lights of nearby Shea Stadium glisten with promise, Alajandro and Isamar envision a brighter life—and their ingenuity is infectious.
The 15th City of the Angels Film Festival concludes on Sunday, March 1, with one of the most meditative and beautiful films of 2008. Silent Light (screening at 3:15 p.m.) is a slow, meditative exploration of a Mennonite community in Mexico, exploring faith, temptation, and religious bonds. A. O. Scott of the New York Times named it the second best film of 2008, declaring, “The director, Carlos Reygadas, photographs people and landscapes with a devotion as deep as the spiritual conviction that is his subject. Rarely has a film depicted religious experience with such power and clarity, bringing the audience uncannily, exaltingly close to a state of holiness.”
The festival concludes with a trip to Sri Lanka after the devastating tsunami. The Third Wave, screening at 7:00 p.m., affirms the courage of volunteers like director Alison Thompson and producer Oscar Gubernati—whose spontaneous decision to help others turned into a challenging year devoted to recovery. The Third Wave illustrates the complications that come from trying to “save a country” or even rebuild a village. Come meet these real-life heroes, Alison and Oscar, who be on hand for discussion—and join us for a closing night reception after the screening of The Third Wave.
Craig Detweiler is associate professor of theology and culture and co-director of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Seminary.