Top Picks for Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) 2019

by Tom Nguyen

The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, with the opening night screening of The Infiltrators, followed by a gala, featuring two of my favorite local artists: La Mera Candelaria and Sizzle Fantastic of Cumbiaton.

Founded in 1997, this is the second year of the film festival, following a 5 year hiatus. Following opening night, the festival will screen feature films and short films by Latinx filmmakers, at TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood, from Friday, August 1, through Sunday, August 4. The festival will also present LALIFF Legacy, LALIFF’s free student festival, featuring films produced by students from elementary, middle and high schools, as part of the statewide, public school film program. The festival closes with the world premiere of The Devil Has A Name, directed by festival co-founder and iconic actor, Edward James Olmos.

In addition to the films, there will be live musical performances each night, with more of my favorite artists, like Jarina De Marco , who will be celebrating her debut EP Malcriada, Gemma Castro, and YANGA, plus art, episodics program and special events. Here are my top feature film picks for LALIFF (in alphabetical order):

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My picks for 19th Annual Polish Film Festival (Oct. 17-25, 2018)

by Tom Nguyen

October is always teeming with great film festivals in Los Angeles! It’s as if all the cinephiles, like myself, suddenly needed a break from an overstimulating summer of competing activities, and cocoon ourselves inside a myriad of film screenings this month as a Fall transition. Next up: 19th Annual Polish Film Festival, which opened Wednesday, October 17, 2018, at Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, with a gala screening of Squadron 303, based on the true history of Polish pilots who shot down three times more Luftwaffe planes during the Battle of Britain than other Allied pilots.

The film festival continues through Thursday, October 25, at two primary venues: Laemmle Noho 7 Theatre in North Hollywood and Laemmle’s Monica Film Center in Santa Monica. There will also be free screenings at CSU Northridge and USC campuses and Hellada Gallery in Long Beach. Here are my picks (in order of appearance at the festival): Continue Reading →

Viet Film Fest 2018: My Top Picks

by Tom Nguyen

After a hiatus in 2017, Viet Film Festival presented by the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) is back this year! The 10th edition from October 12-14, 2018, at AMC Orange 30, will screen 30 films (13 features and 17 short films) from Vietnam, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Czech Republic, Germany, and Malaysia. In this era of #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, the film festival is proud that more than 50% of the films were either directed or produced by women.

The festival opens with Cao Thuy Nhi’s Summer in Closed Eyes (Nhắm Mắt Thấy Mùa Hè), a cross-cultural love story set in Hokkaido, Japan, that faced many challenges while being made, but has gone onto to become a critical and commercial success in Asia. The young Vietnamese and Japanese cast & crew will be in attendance to kick off the festival!

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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! Continue Reading →

Top Picks for Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) 2018

by Tom Nguyen

The 26th Annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) takes place this Thursday, February 8 through Monday, February 19, at the Cinemark Rave 15 Theatres at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, California. The festival is a crown jewel of the African American community in Los Angeles, the largest and most prestigious Black History Month event in the country.

It’s absolutely one of my favorite events of the year and must-see film festivals in Los Angeles. It’s the only opportunity to see so many independent films from the Black diaspora that might not otherwise make it to movie screens here. And it’s more than just a film festival…next door to the theater, inside Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, are 2 floors of fabulous art, crafts and vendors from all over the country.

PAFF has always been a platform for important discussions to inspire, nurture and elevate Black representation in filmmaking. In addition to the Q&As with filmmakers in attendance, PAFF launches a new #Talk4Reel panel series, featuring film industry and community figures, thought leaders and disruptors, for engaging talks you don’t want to miss! There is also a spoken word fest featuring Get Lit-Words Ignite!

The festival opens Thursday, February 8, with the world premiere of Love Jacked, a warm family comedy, and will close on Sunday, February 18, with the US premiere of The Forgiven, starring Forrest Whitaker, who portrays Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Spotlight Feature films include Behind the Movement, about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King of Stage: The Woodie King Jr Story, about the legendary theatre producer who will be present to accept PAFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and Nothing Like Thanksgiving, about a dying businessman who tries to groom his replacement.

Here is my list of other great films I’m excited to see. The list is by no means exhaustive, because there are too many worthy films to choose from! You can find the full list of films here and daily schedule here. So this is where I will be movie-binging the next 10 days and if you’re a MoviePass member like I am, you can use it to see one PAFF film a day!

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AFI FEST 2017 opens Nov. 9 with Mudbound. Here are my Top Picks!

by Tom Nguyen

AFI FEST 2017 is one of the largest annual film festivals in Los Angeles and the only one of its stature that is free to the public. This year’s festival opens on Thursday, November 9, with the film MUDBOUND, about two families, one black, one white, in post-World War II Jim Crow South. With the rise of white nationalism and supremacy emboldened by Trump’s presidency, I think it’s an important and timely statement to open the festival with a film directed by a woman of color, Dee Rees, and set during one of the most disgraceful chapters in this country’s history. Read the insightful Variety interview with Rees about the challenges she faced as a black filmmaker in finding a distributor and support the film when it’s released by Netflix on November 17.

The festival features upcoming filmmakers from all over the world with 11 films in its New Auteurs section, 9 of which are made by women directors, and 11 films by independent filmmakers in its American Independents section. The World Cinema section features 30 films from 39 countries, 13 of which are official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar entries.

AFI FEST 2017 will also screen 2 animated films for public middle and high school students as part of their Youth and Family Programming. The program expands this year with AFI FEST Storytelling Bootcamp to guide underserved high school students in screenwriting and storytelling.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings and Short Films too! The festival closes on Thursday, November 16, with the world premiere of ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, directed by Ridley Scott. There is something for everyone in this immense festival of films, and it can be pretty overwhelming deciding what to see — Here are my top picks for AFI FEST 2017 with trailers. Be sure to secure your FREE tickets online starting on Wednesday, November 1! Tickets go FAST!


MUDBOUND – Directed by Dee Rees and co-written by Virgil Williams and Rees, the historical period drama features cinematography by AFI Conservatory alumna Rachel Morrison (Class of 2006). The film stars Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan.


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8th Annual Hola Mexican Film Festival: Top 10 Picks and Interview with founder Samuel Douek

by Tom Nguyen


©2015 WilkiIMAGE Photo By Wilki W.K. Tom

The 8th Annual Hola Mexico Film Festival which showcases the most recent cinema from Mexico opens this Friday, May 13 and runs through Sunday, May 22, in downtown Los Angeles. I had a really enlightening conversation with founder Samuel Douek who gave me a frank, honest insider look at the challenges of putting this festival together and marketing it beyond just the Mexican American community in Los Angeles. As daunting as it is, Douek and his hard-working team have put this festival on 8 years strong and I hope you come out and support it! My top 10 picks follow our interview:

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Viet Film Fest Highlights Transgender Rights and Nail Salon History & Unsafe Working Conditions

by Tom Nguyen

This year’s Viet Film Fest impacted me greatly, not just as a Vietnamese immigrant refugee but also because the festivals highlighted social justice issues important to me: LGBTQ rights, in particular the rights of the transgender community through the film “Finding Phong” and the history and current unsafe working conditions of the nail salon industry, dominated by Vietnamese immigrants and other people of color, through the documentaries “#NailedIt: Vietnamese & The Nail Industry” and “Painted Nails”.

It’s no secret there is still a lot of homophobic and transphobic attitudes in the very traditionally conservative Vietnamese community and culture, both in the global diaspora communities and in Vietnam. In 2013, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were barred from participating in the yearly Tet Lunar New Year Parade in Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese community abroad. It was only due to a lot of civic and public pressure that members of the LGBTQ community were allowed to participate the following year.

Expecting attitudes in my native Vietnam to be even more unforgiving, I was surprised to hear about a documentary highlighting the transgender experience there. The film “Finding Phong” is a video diary of one transgender woman, Le Anh Phong, and her quest to get gender-reassignment surgery. It’s a deeply personal look at her thoughts, aspirations and insecurities.

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Top 10 Picks for Outfest 2015 LGBT Film Festival

by Tom Nguyen

With the historic Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, there is a lot to celebrate at this year’s Outfest LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles, one of the longest-running film festivals dedicated to exploring and celebrating the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lives. The festival opens July 9 with Tig, the inspiring documentary about comedian Tig Notaro’s struggles with cancer, and the festival continues through July 19 with 166 documentaries, features, shorts, and classic films from around the world. Here are my top 10 picks!

THURSDAY | July 16 | 7:00pm | DGA 1
Amidst national turmoil during 1968, 2 commentators, liberal writer Gore Vidal and hardline conservative William F. Buckley, faced off during national television in heated debates that symbolized the country’s culture war between traditional and progressive values.

SUNDAY | July 19 | 8:00pm | Theatre at Ace Hotel
A French drama about a woman who begins a love affair with her deceased best friend’s husband, who secretly dresses up in his wife’s clothes. Continue Reading →

Recent Film Reviews from German Currents, LA Brazilian and LA Eiga Film Festivals

by Tom Nguyen

It goes without saying that we’re pretty spoiled as film lovers in Los Angeles. Filmmakers from around the world flock here to premiere their films in Hollywood and our pleasant weather makes LA attractive for film festivals throughout the year! Some weeks when it’s not uncommon to have 3-5 different film festivals all over LA, I consider myself lucky if I manage to see at least one film from each! Our site’s film focus is on foreign and independent films and documentaries…so no time to waste on big budget Hollywood films here! Here are some excellent foreign films I’ve seen at 3 recent film festivals from 3 continents: German Currents, LA Brazilian Film Festival (LABRFF) and LA EigaFest.

Beloved Sisters (Die Geliebten Schwestern) – This period film is based on a complex love triangle between German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter) and two sisters, utterly devoted to each other: an unhappily married Caroline von Beulwitz (Hannah Herzsprung) and the shy younger Charlotte von Lengefeld (Henriette Confurius). Taking place in late 18th century Germany, the film is an absorbing look at the mores and values of the time, particularly within the conservative German nobility and the sisters’ conflicts between marrying for security and standing vs. marrying for love. It seems that both security and love might just be possible as they both fall in love and decide to share the same man. The costumes, set designs and cinematography were excellent but I just didn’t feel the chemistry and passion in this menage à trois. It’s Germany’s official Oscar submission so we’ll see if the film manages to raise any emotions from the Academy members.

Now how about this for an international film: Dark Valley (Das finstere Tal) is an Austrian film that is a cowboy Western taking place in the Alps, with English actor, Sam Riley, playing an American named Greider. The story is already well-traveled territory in this genre: a quiet stranger rides into a small town and both the local residents and the bullies who control the town don’t know what to make of his arrival or his motives. So does the director Andreas Prochaska succeed in putting a fresh spin on a classic tale of revenge and retribution, by setting it high up in the snowy Austrian mountains? Absolutely! Everyone was perfectly cast in this film and the purposely gray, dark cinematography really brought out the beauty, harshness and isolation of the forboding mountain setting. Even though things go predictably by the numbers plot wise, fine acting, especially by Riley, Paula Beer as the headstrong Luzi resigned to her fate, and Tobias Moretti, as the head of the band of cruel brothers, kept me engaged through the end! Austria’s got a strong Oscar contender with this one!

The two films were the opening and closing films of the 8th Annual German Currents film festival, one of my favorite and well-run festivals of the year. The festival is put on by the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles and the American Cinematheque, which runs the Egyptian Theatre where the festival screened. The Goethe-Institut Los Angeles has lots of great cultural programming throughout the year, including regular free screenings of recent German cinema, so don’t worry if you missed this festival. They’re located on Wilshire near LACMA, with convenient cheap parking (which is a blessing in the Miracle Mile area) and they are also very supportive of other community programming, like the first ever International Yemeni Film & Arts Festival they hosted this past January. The Goethe-Institut Media Lounge has a vast film catalog of German film and for a small membership fee, you can rent films for free!

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