Hollywood, the site of so many blockbusters, is also the home of the annual Los Angeles Film Festival, which champions cinema's more independent cousins. Zap2it will be on hand for all 11 days to chat with stars and celebrities, consume lobster and martinis and hopefully watch whichever film will become the next "March of the Penguins" or "Sideways."

Be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of the films, guest speakers, red carpet events and our unsolicited thoughts on the World Cup.



Sunday, July 2

'Sunshine' Brightens Closing Night

Nine-year-old Abby Breslin, star of "Little Miss Sunshine," summed up the exuberant and slightly offbeat mood of the Los Angeles Film Festival's closing night when she hopped up on a speaker during the outdoor after party at the Wadsworth Theater and proceeded to boogie to Rick James' "Superfreak."

"Little Miss Sunshine," directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, centers on young Olive Hoover (Breslin), whose dreams to win the titular children's beauty pageant in California prompts her family to journey from Albuquerque in a battered VW bus. Among the wacky travelers is uptight dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), mom Sheryl (Toni Collette), silent brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), depressed uncle Frank (Steve Carell) and grandpa (Alan Arkin).

With the exception of Collette, the film's principal actors made it to the night's gala screening or after party. While most just stuck around for photos or on-air chats, Arkin deigned to speak with Zap2it for a few minutes to explain why he signed on for the project.

"I thought it was a brilliant script. It's rich, complex and unpredictable," he says. And although the adults support Olive's dream in the film, he understands that sometimes parents and kids don't always have the same goals.

"Yeah, [my parents] wanted me to be an accountant," he says. "I think they would have been happier if I'd done something stable. I think they would have preferred if I finished college, which I didn't. But there you go."

The film, which was five years in the making, was a labor of love for those involved, such as producer David Friendly, who comments, "This is a movie that's all character-driven and just all about the quality of the writing and the performances and those are the hard ones to get made because it's not obvious."

He also shares one of his favorite scenes in the film: "There's a moment in the film where Toni Collette is really mad at Greg Kinnear and she's just circling the bus. And she's not saying anything, just staring him down. I think it's a really powerful moment. Without words, the power that she can communicate is spectacular."

After the screening, festivalgoers filed outside to the aforementioned party, which was strung with orange lights. Guests consumed shish kebabs, grape leaves, flatbread, hummus and tabouli along with copious amounts of the flavored Absolut of their choice.

Others seen having a good time or giving a remarkable semblance of doing so were a shaggy-haired Haley "I see dead people" Joel Osment, Ben Foster looking very different from the "X-Men's" Angel sporting a scruffy beard and newsboy cap, "Super Size Me" guinea pig Morgan Spurlock, "Melrose Place" alum Grant Show, Willie Garson and a number of the festival's indie filmmakers.

"Little Miss Sunshine" Premiere Photos

But Really, We're All Winners Here

As previously reported, the Target Filmmaker Awards determined by the festival's jury, were handed to narrative feature "Gretchen" and documentary "Deliver Us From Evil" on Wednesday, June 28. Just before tonight's "Little Miss Sunshine" screening, LAFF Co-Chair Christina Applegate announced the audience awards, for which the non-industry viewer gets his/her say about what's worthy of coughing up $10 for the price of admission. Writer/star Jennifer Westfeldt's divorce comedy "Ira & Abby" won for the narrative category, while "Mario's Story," about a teenager jailed for life for a murder he didn't commit, took the documentary prize.

"We met Sister Janet Harris ... and she told us about this young man who had at age 16 arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison," "Mario's Story" director/producer Susan Koch tells Zap2it.com. "And it intrigued us. So we thought we'd look into it and we got hooked. And here it is seven years later with a film."