Indie Focus: Diversity, discovery and the L.A. Film Fest. And lots of Lily Tomlin



Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to this week’s Indie Focus newsletter. Think of this as your field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

It’s been a busy week here at Indie Focus HQ. And that’s the way we like it, and hope you all do too.

We’re very excited about our Indie Focus Screening Series event on Monday night with “The Overnight,” a satire of contemporary couples in L.A. We’ll have a full-boat panel after the movie for the Q&A, including director and screenwriter Patrick Brice, producer Naomi Scott and cast members Judith Godreche, Jason Schwartzman and Adam Scott.

Space is limited, but we like to think it’s worth the effort. Keep up with our Indie Focus Screening Series here:  

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

Los Angeles Film Festival

Actresses Judy Greer, left, Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner pose on the red carpet on opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival. The festival paid tribute to Tomlin and premiered her latest film, "Grandma." (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Film Festival is underway, this year with a new programming team in place and a renewed commitment to discovering new voices and showcasing new work.

Rebecca Keegan dug into the the festival’s new push toward diversity, while I got into what that means in terms of the films actually showing at the festival.

Amy Kaufman covered the tribute to the mighty Lily Tomlin that was a part of the festival’s opening night, while I wrote about the Los Angeles premiere of the Tomlin-starring “Grandma.” (And Rebecca wrote about Tomlin too, and even got a ride home from the comedy trailblazer.) 

For anyone looking for an edited edition, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will feature repeat screenings of the most popular and in-demand films from earlier in the festival, while Thursday will feature the festival's award winners. 

‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon of "Me & Earl & the Dying Girl." (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Winner of both the grand jury prize and audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” hit theaters this weekend. Warm and funny, but also with currents of depth and sadness, “Earl” isn’t the first film from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, but it does feel like something new. With a career so far as a director of television and second unit on features many would find enviable, Gomez-Rejon has at last found his own artistic voice.

“There is this version of everything I’ve done before, which is a very, very long story, and then there’s this,” said Gomez-Rejon during a recent interview in Los Angeles. “To me even though it’s my second film it really does feel like I restarted my career, my life. I found myself as a man and a filmmaker. Everything changed with this particular film. So it is a very long story and a very short one.”

‘Rebels of the Neon God’

Ah-tze (Chen Chao-jun) and Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng) in "Rebels of the Neon God." (Big World Pictures)

Few filmmakers capture the sense of being lonely in a crowd quite like Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang. His films often reconcile contradictory impulses, such as the lyrical isolation of “What Time Is It There?” or “Goodbye Dragon Inn.” He has stated that his recent “Stray Dogs” will likely be his last film. 

So it is great timing that his debut feature, 1992’s “Rebels of the Neon God,” is having its first theatrical U.S. release. (It's also among the all-time coolest movie titles.)

The film has a brief L.A. run that is worth turning up for. In his L.A. Times review, Robert Abele noted that “as a first film, it is incredibly accomplished … a director falling in love with the poetics of minimalism.” Writing recently in the N.Y. Times, A.O. Scott said the film “marks the start of one of modern cinema’s great careers.”

In a recent translated email interview, Tsai said: “Every actor in the film was so young, and so was the director outside the film. It is impossible for me to shoot a film like this ever again” 

Shakey Fest: the films of Neil Young

Neil Young performs onstage at the Dolby Theatre March 29, 2014 in Hollywood. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Cinefamily is presenting a fantastic selection of the film work by and about musician Neil Young. Though he makes films under the nom de cinema of Bernard Shakey, whom he often insists is a different person, Young has long allowed that he is authorized to speak on Shakey’s behalf.

The Cinefamily series will open with a screening of the new director’s cut of 1982's little-seen “Human Highway,” an oddball comedy on celebrity and nuclear power with standout musical performances by Devo. Also in the series is a rare 1984 concert film directed by Hal Ashby, “Solo Trans,” as well as some of Shakey’s greatest works, including “Journey Through The Past,” “Rust Never Sleeps” and “Muddy Track.”

Around midnight on a rainy Wednesday in September, I sat in a Toronto diner with Young to talk about “Human Highway” and the cinema of Bernard Shakey. I’ll be writing something soon from that omelet summit.

(Sidebar book recommendation: the 2002 Neil Young biography “Shakey,” written by Jimmy McDonough, started off authorized, ended up unauthorized and stayed awesome all the way through.)

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus