By T.A. Hendrickson
With 50 films over three days, this year’s Highland Park Independent Film Festival is the largest and most ambitious in the festival’s six-year history.
The screenings, at the Highland Theater (5604 N. Figueroa St.) include six world premieres, four Los Angeles premieres and an Academy Award-nominated short. There are films in virtually every genre: animation, documentary, sci-fi, action/adventure, noir and foreign.
There is also a category that can best be described as hyperlocal: Nine short films, grouped under the heading “We Are HLP,” are about Highland Park or directed by Highland Park filmmakers. Eight shorts, grouped under the heading “Los Filmmakers,” are about Latino topics or directed by Latino filmmakers. Another 18 shorts are about L.A. or made by L.A.-based directors.
Over the years, the Highland Park Independent Film Festival has gained national and international stature. But local films, local audiences and local venues are still at the heart of the festival, starting with:
Opening night, Thursday, October 3:
Fans are invited to gather at 6:30 p.m. at the Highland Theater for the red-carpet arrival of actor Danny Trejo, the recipient of the festival’s 2019 Humanitarian Award.
Tickets to attend the award ceremony inside the theater, $20, also include a screening of “Machete,” starring Trejo, and an audience Q&A with Trejo after the film. If you add admission to the opening night afterparty at The Lodge Room (104 N. Avenue 56), the ticket price is $40.
Friday, October 4:
The festival starts with free screenings of eight foreign short films, an animated short and a documentary. In the evening, two feature films will be screened, including a World Premiere.
12 p.m. to 2 p.m:
The free screenings of the festival’s foreign short films include “Madre” by Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, a 2019 Academy Award nominee for Best Live Action Short Film. Other entries are from Germany, Sweden, Canada, Iran, China, Mongolia and Malaysia.
2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m: The free screenings continue with “Boxer Story,” a short animated film by Lance Myers and “How Sweet the Sound: Gospel in LA,” a KCET Art Bound documentary directed by Melinda James. “Boxer Story” about an absurdist amateur boxer, is a riff on ‘punch lines.’ “How Sweet the Sound: Gospel in L.A.” traces how artists like James Cleveland and Aretha Franklin, recordings of church services in South Central L.A. and the ferment of the ‘60s and ‘70s led to a new gospel sound and the election of L.A.’s first black mayor, Tom Bradley.
5 p.m. to 7 p.m: In “Rich Kids” a feature film by Laura Somers, a group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos,” the local mansion, and spend the day pretending to be rich. The fantasy lays bare the realities of life in a community ravaged by inequality.
8 p.m. to 10 p.m: The World Premiere of “Cicada Song,” a mystery/thriller written and directed by Michael Starr follows a woman who is forced by strange circumstances to confront the dark secrets of the town she grew up in.
Saturday, October 5:
Short films, set in L.A. or by L.A.-based directors, will be shown in each of the theaters two auditoriums, starting at noon, followed in the evening by two feature films and a closing night party.
12 p.m. to 2 p.m: Nine short films, grouped under the heading, “City of Angels” will screen in Auditorium 2, including the World Premiere of “The Great Smoky Mountains” by Christopher R. Abbey. “We Are HLP,” the grouping for nine short films made in Highland Park or by Highland Park directors, will screen in Auditorium 3, including the World Premiere of “The Happy Side” by Michelle Dos Santos, in which a burned-out retail employee makes a decision when she is told by her boss to report for work on her day off or else.
2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m: “L.A. Stories,” in Auditorium 2, is made up of nine shorts that look at L.A. from nine distinct perspectives. “Los Filmmakers,” in Auditorium 3, showcases eight shorts on Latino topics or by Latino directors, including a World Premiere,“Papi Papilloma,” by Juan Escobedo, and an L.A. premiere, “The Oficina,” by Tessa Lopez-Byford.
5 p.m. to 7 p.m: “Nathan’s Kingdom,” a feature film by Olicer Muñoz, stars Jacob Lince, an autistic actor playing an autistic young man struggling with his teenage opiate-addicted sister. The two have no place to go, to be, to hide, except their imaginations.
7:45 to 9:45 p.m: “West End,” a feature film by Joe Basile, is Hamlet, reimagined as a mob story on the Jersey shore.
10 p.m: Closing night party at the Offbeat Bar (6316 York Blvd)
General admission to the films is $10; student admission is $5. A two-day festival pass is $60. To buy tickets and for more information, visit hpifilmfest.com.
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T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times.
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