Ten Films to watch at LA Film Festival 2018!

by Tom Nguyen

The LA Film Festival (LAFF), kicked off its 24th year last night and will continue through September 28, 2018. Produced by the nonprofit arts organization Film Independent, the festival aims to elevate the conversation about the lack of diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the cameras. For this year’s nearly 200 films, 42 percent of the directors are women and 39 percent are people of color, and there is a series of “We The People” panels, to discuss everything from #OscarsSoWhite to the #MeToo movement to improving inclusion in Hollywood. There really is something for everyone and I gravitate towards foreign cinema and documentaries, so here are 10 films I look forward to seeing at this year’s LAFF!

Ashes in the Snow
(99 min, Premiere, English, Lithuania/USA, 2018)
Sep 21 2018 6:30 PM, Sep 24 2018 9:30 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
In 1941, a teenage aspiring artist and her family are deported to Siberia amidst Stalin’s brutal dismantling of the Baltic region.
[Editor’s Note: Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite has said the movie will help the world understand the Baltics: “The movie that will be shown in the West will mean that we testify our truth about our fate, about how we were destroyed and how we managed to survive, about why we want to defend ourselves today and why freedom is so important to us.” Another recommended LAFF film is The Silence of Others.] 

(109 min, World Fiction, Swedish, Sweden, 2018)
Sep 27 2018 7:30 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
Despite having the remarkable gift of being able to smell emotions, a border agent leads a mundane existence until she meets a stranger who shares her unique abilities and upends her life.

Facing the Dragon
(81 min, Documentary, Dari, USA, Afghanistan, 2018)
Sep 23 2018 1:00 PM
ArcLight Hollywood, Los Angeles
In modern Afghanistan, Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi is running for re-election to the Afghan Parliament in her province, currently under siege by the Taliban. Meanwhile, Shakila Ebrahimkhel is an investigative reporter who covers violence against women and government corruption. Both women are trying to balance their professional and family lives despite threats of violence.

Heaven Without People (Ghada’a El Eid)
(91 min, World Fiction, Arabic, Lebanon, 2017)
Sep 22 2018 8:45 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
When a large family comes together for the first time in two years over Easter lunch, tensions bubble to the surface in surprising ways as they navigate an unforeseen conflict that threatens to derail their reunion. Older and younger generations clash as each of the family members confront their own political and moral hypocrisies and slowly unravel the ties that bind.

Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl
(89 min, Premiere, English, USA, 2018)
Sep 22 2018 4:30 PM
ArcLight Hollywood, Los Angeles
“In “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl,” a platinum-selling pop dissident turns her back on the music business and learns how to survive as a punk renegade, TV wrestling queen and DIY leader of an all-girl band. This high-energy, female-centered rock odyssey reveals the treacherous line that today’s artists must walk to survive while making art on their own terms in the modern digital economy.” – Thom Geier, The Wrap
[Editor’s Note: Another compelling documentary about following one’s musical passion is Stammering Ballad, from China.]

(75 min, Documentary, Spanish, Germany, Mexico, 2018)
Sep 22 2018 11:30 AM
ArcLight Hollywood, Los Angeles
Mamacita is a force of nature: businesswoman, former beauty queen, mother and grandmother. She built her family’s wealth by spearheading an enormous Mexican beauty empire. Now at 95, this matriarch remains as strong-willed and impassioned as ever. Accustomed to the spotlight, Mamacita is overjoyed when her grandson, Jose Pablo Estrada Torrescano, finally agrees to fulfill his promise to make a film about her.

(128 min, Buzz, Spanish, Mexico 2018)
Sep 22 2018 12:00 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
Two veterinary school drop-outs find that they are in way over-their-heads when they commit Mexico’s most improbable heist — the looting of its sacred Anthropology Museum. But the invaluable treasure quickly turns into an inescapable and ruinous curse that is impossible to fence.

Renga for the West
(39 min, Free Screening, English, Swahili, USA, 2018)
Renga for The West is a 40-minute documentary that confronts Missoula, Montana’s increasingly complex cultural narrative by synthesizing first-person stories directed by the state’s new refugee residents, with the observations of the local artists who assist them along the way. The result is a radically intimate new-Americana. A deep dive into day jobs, road trips, high school pep-rallies and enchanted mountain forests as the trials and tribulations of first encounters with the American Dream lyrically unfold in all their complicated nuance.
[Editor’s Recommendation: Also check out the documentary Saint Judy.]

(87 min, Nightfall, English, Iceland, USA, 2018)
Sep 23 2018 9:00 PM, Sep 27 2018 9:55 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
When an American illustrator travels to Iceland to recover from the death of his fiancé, he brings with him enough complexes and quirks to fill up an entire fjord. As he explores the beautiful and eerie landscapes, meeting strange and interesting Icelanders along the way, he starts to wonder if his somewhat supernatural experiences are a result of his own biochemistry or if some ancient force is driving him toward a greater purpose.

United Skates
(90 min, Closing Night Documentary, English, USA, 2018)
Sep 28 2018 7:30 PM
ArcLight Culver City, Culver City
A vibrant exploration into a dynamic underground scene, celebrating an endangered art form that has evolved into a rebellious form of personal expression for African-American communities across the country. From LA to North Carolina, the history and racially motivated policies of rinks are explored, while highlighting the individual skaters who have revolutionized it into a flashy and compelling social outlet.
[Editor’s Recommendation: Another great documentary about another underground community right here in Los Angeles is Fire on the Hill.]

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