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Method Fest returns after nine-year hiatus with renewed emphasis on great performances

Method Fest returns after nine-year hiatus with renewed emphasis on great performances
John Rezaj stars in the movie "Albanian Gangster," part of the Method Fest Independent Film Festival. (Björn Knecht / Subversive Films)

Nine years ago, when the Method Fest Independent Film Festival went on hiatus, the landscape for entertainment content distribution and its promotion through social media platforms was not what it is today. For reference, back in 2010, the now-ubiquitous photo-sharing app Instagram didn’t exist, and streaming giant Netflix hadn’t begun producing original programming.

Ready to face this new playing field, industry veteran Don Franken, who founded the event in 1999, is bringing back Method Fest this week for its 13th edition. The festival takes its name from the famous Stanislavski school of acting to which so many thespians adhere, and its focus, since its inception, has been to highlight extraordinary performances. “We are the actors’ festival,” Franken said. “We are the only festival in America that puts its emphasis on acting.”

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Although the core mission has endured, Method Fest is also reentering the city’s film ecosystem after the cancellation of two major enterprises — the Los Angeles Film Festival after 18 years and the shorter-lived Sundance Next Fest — heightening its relevance as a discovery festival and a platform for emerging filmmakers and performers away from the fall awards vacuum.

By celebrating the acting craft above all else, Franken believes, Method Fest simultaneously serves as counterprogramming from the visual effects-heavy and franchise-fueled features that currently dominate the global box office. Bringing attention back to the human element in moviemaking was a priority in his decision to resurrect his one-of-a-kind venture.

Nigel Havers, from left, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell and Ben Cross in the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire."
Nigel Havers, from left, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell and Ben Cross in the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire." (Warner Bros.)

For Ernie Quiroz, who joined the organization last year as co-head programmer with Logan Taylor, having performance as the festival’s dominant force grants them the freedom to screen an eclectic slate of cinematic works, from genre films and productions with big-name casts, to projects with up-and-coming talent. “We are not pigeonholed to one particular thing,” said Quiroz, who previously programmed for the L.A. Film Festival. “The one thread that connects all of the films is really great acting.”

As part of the efforts to revamp its reach, Method Fest is relocating from its previous iteration in Calabasas to a historic venue: the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. The move brings the festivities closer to the acting community and eager cinephiles of Los Angeles. Off-screen, the festival will further live up to its name through acting panels and audition workshops at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Hollywood.

Program standouts include the true crime tale “Stockholm” starring Ethan Hawke in the absurdist role of a deranged American ex-con in Sweden (opening theatrically April 12); the post-9/11 immigration narrative “Windows on the World” led by Latino legend Edward James Olmos and directed by his son Michael Olmos (both in attendance to receive an award); Max Carlson’s “Princess of the Row” with Martin Sheen, which addresses L.A.’s pervasive homelessness problem; the moving drama “The Parting Glass” featuring Cynthia Nixon, Melissa Leo and Anna Paquin; and the world premieres of Josh Lobo’s Christmas-themed horror flick “I Trapped the Devil” and Matthew A. Brown’s “Albanian Gangster.”

Taking a break from being a catalyst for new talents, Method Fest will celebrate the 1981 Oscar-winning sports classic “Chariots of Fire” (and this weekend’s L.A. Marathon) with a March 23 afternoon presentation involving a lineup of accomplished athletes spearheaded by Olympians Wyomia Tyus and Jim Ryun.

“It’s been much harder than we ever thought it would be,” Franken said. Finding sponsorships and reclaiming relationships to resuscitate the brand has been an uphill battle in an industry where the rules of engagement have changed so profoundly.

“These films need a voice,” Franken added. “They need to find an audience, and that’s the central role of film festivals.” Willing to transform into a hashtag-friendly and selfie-ready affair, Method Fest is eager to become that launching pad in a town overflowing with big-screen aspirations.

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The Method Fest Independent Film Festival

Where: Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theater, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: March 22-28

Tickets: Screenings, $15-$25, reception and galas extra; festival passes, $75-$250

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