Silver Lake, that hip burg a stone’s throw from Downtown, is so clotted with entertainment industry types it’s a wonder that is hasn’t coalesced into one big studio back lot.
Until it does, filmmakers and their fans can content themselves with the annual Silver Lake Film Festival (SLLF). Now in its third year, the 10-day gathering, which runs from September 12-21, is comprised of features, documentaries and short films as well as related arts events including Fringe Fest, the experimental arm of the festival, and Music Fest, a showcase of independent musical artists.
This year’s festival features the world premiere of Letters of the Underground, an original SLFF production wherein 15 area filmmakers created shorts inspired by the letters, journals and diary entries of artists, from Kafka to Kerouac, considered outside the mainstream in their day. Another high point is the “Spirit of Silver Lake Spotlight” award that will be presented to local director Alison Anders (Gas Food Lodging, Grace of My Heart) in an evening dedicated to her work. Anders shot much of her Mi Vida Loca in Echo Park, just minutes from Downtown.
Among the films in this year’s festival is director Roger Roth’s feature debut Shutter, a poignant exploration of a young white man finding focus in his life through photography and an unlikely friendship with a 12-year-old African-American boy from South Central Los Angeles.
“I feel honored, and even validated, to have my first film showcased here,” says Roth. “You spend a lot of lonely nights writing and it takes months and months of preparation to get a film off the ground. I just hope Shutter finds an audience, or maybe I should say I hope an audience finds Shutter,” he adds.
Throughout the filmmaking process, Roth used the urban zeitgeist of Los Angeles as the bedrock upon which his story unfolds. Like many filmmakers, from the major studios as well as the independents, when it came time to shoot critical scenes, he turned his camera on Downtown.
“Two of the most pivotal story arcs were shot in the Toy District at Fourth and Wall,” says Roth. “Another pivotal scene shot there happens at the end of the film, when the main character Robert witnesses — and actually photographs — a shootout.”
To make the shootout as authentic as possible, Roth interviewed gang members and police officers. At one point, the film crew was embroiled in a gang-related scuffle and lost a day of work.
“There were some other scenes that were also shot Downtown at night,” Roth adds. “We took advantage of L.A. whenever possible. We ate a lot of beef sandwiches at Philippe’s,” he says, referring to the North Alameda Street landmark.
Roth had been involved with Downtown shoots before, but had yet to experience the “creative energy” that can be drawn from the city until he helmed his own work. Ultimately, he found that the urban palette became one of Shutter’s primary characters.
“This city helps define the film,” Roth observes. “It’s a story about the timeless struggle between life and art. Of course, it could happen anywhere. We’re all searching for meaning. But L.A. is the city of dreams. It’s full of contrasts.”
Other notable features premiering at the festival include director Kazuhiko Nakamura’s Bastoni – The Stick Handlers, a seriocomic exploration of a pair of married adult film stars; The Big Weird Normal, a picaresque tale of nocturnal lovebirds Astro and Marmalade whose romance becomes fodder for tabloid television, directed by Zach Passero; and directors Robert B. Martin and Aaron Priest’s Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool, wherein two “shallow, poseur casting directors” known as the Monkey Brothers try to “legitimize” their dubious efforts in the entertainment industry.
Shutter plays the Silver Lake Film Festival at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Micheltorena School, 1511 Micheltorena St.(at Sunset Blvd.). For festival schedule and venue information go to www.silverlakefilmfestival.com or call (323) 993-7225.