One of the film capital’s top movie-paloozas, LA Film Festival, has taken place near Culver Studios, where Gone With the Wind’s Atlanta set was burned down and giants like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles made movie history. From June 1-9 LAFF screened scores of Hollywood features, foreign films, indies, shorts and documentaries. For the first time the U.S. State Department co-presented a roundtable discussion of Global Media Makers, featuring filmmakers from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon Morocco and Turkey.

The filmfest’s more commercial popcorn-munching fare included The Conjuring 2, a horror flick starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga projected at what had been Grauman’s Chinese Theatre - where stars’ footprints are enshrined in concrete - on Hollywood Boulevard. As their reboots prepared to launch, the original Ghostbusters and Independence Day were shown in Downtown L.A., while 2001’s Shrek was screened at Culver City’s ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles, where most Festival movies were presented.

The focus of the annual film fete, produced by Film Independent - a nonprofit dedicated to supporting non-studio filmmakers - is on moving pictures made outside of the Tinseltown system. Written, directed and co-starring Mike Birbiglia, Don’t Think Twice is about a tight-knit improv group called the Commune which performs live in a New York club and faces a crisis when a member (Keegan-Michael Key of the Key and Peele Comedy Central TV series) scores a regular spot on an SNL-type of network TV program. Kate Micucci (the Garfunkel and Oates IFC TV show) and Tami Sagher (Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer) co-star in this edgy low budget comedy, with cameos by Lena Dunham (HBO’s Girls) and Ben Stiller (Zoolander). 

The drama Desierto deals with a subject that has dominated much of the current presidential campaign: undocumented migrants crossing a stretch of the currently wall-less - and lawless - Mexico-U.S. border. Gael Garcia Bernal (2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries) and other so-called “illegals” confront bloodhounds, snakes and racist, gun-toting vigilantes led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy) in this gripping nail biter written and directed by Jonás Cuarón (who co-scripted Gravity with his brother, that space epic’s helmer, Alfonso Cuarón).

But documentaries held pride of place for topical work at LAFF. Conservative moneybags Charles and David Koch are proverbially cast as villains in Company Town, executive produced by Media Matters for America CEO and founder David Brock and Pres. Clinton’s onetime aide and Hillary adviser Sidney Blumenthal. According to director Natalie Kottke-Masocco and co-director Erica Sardarian’s nonfiction film, the Koch Brothers’ Georgia-Pacific paper mill is responsible for cancer-causing pollution purportedly devastating Crossett, Arkansas. Various environmentalists such as activist Van Jones, formerly of the Obama administration, talk on camera - which the billionaire brothers and Koch Industries spokesmen reportedly declined to do.

The Civil War may have ended in 1865 but the battle lines are clearly drawn in Masie Crow’s tense Jackson, where mostly white, religious protesters and their state government allies, including Mississippi’s GOP Governor Phil Bryant, strive to shutter the Magnolia State’s last abortion clinic. Although abortion is a constitutionally-guaranteed right, pro-lifers seek to impose strict rules and regulations to make an end run around federal law and close Mississippi’s last remaining clinic. Those inside the embattled facility are mostly African American and the doc features a 24-year-old Black mother named April, who already has children born out of wedlock, and must decide whether or not to abort her fifth unwanted pregnancy.

With the death of Prince, Dr. Feelgood is an especially timely look at America’s opioid epidemic. Eve Marson’s evenhanded documentary examines whether Dr. William Hurwitz, a pioneer of prescription painkillers, is a demon or saint. Did this DEA and FBI target operate a “pill mill” or was he sincerely seeking to alleviate suffering by prescribing individual patients as much OxyContin, etc., as was needed to end their chronic pain?

Olympic Pride, American Prejudiceis, with the death of Muhammad Ali - who won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics - likewise of the moment. This documentary, executive produced and narrated by Blair Underwood (L.A. Law), chronicles the 18-member contingent of African American male and female athletes who, along with Jesse Owens, competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Deborah Riley Draper’s nonfiction film reveals how these Black Olympiads had to contend with both Nazi notions of Aryan superiority, as well as Jim Crow in a U.S.A. where racism was still widespread.

Jacqueline Gares’ Free CeCe! documents the spate of violence trans women of color currently contend with. Laverne Cox, who executive produced the documentary and co-stars in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, appears in this biopic about CeCe McDonald, who killed an attacker with scissors in 2011, claiming she was defending herself from a hate crime.

Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares’ Political Animals, about California’s first four openly gay State Representatives, including Sheila Kuehl (Zelda in the 1959-1963 sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), won both LAFF’s Documentary Award and Audience Awardfor Documentary Feature Film. This year’s other Festival winners are:

The U.S. Fiction Award went to Remy Auberjonois for Blood Stripe; the World Fiction Award went to Anaïs Volpé for HEIS (chronicles); the LA Muse Award was given to Heidi Saman for Namour; the Nightfall Award went to Jackson Stewart for Beyond The Gates; the Audience Award for Fiction Feature Film went toGREEN / is / GOLD, directed by Ryon Baxter;the Award for Short Fiction went to The Beast (Zvjerka), directed by Daina Oniunas Pusić; the Award for Short Documentary went to The Gatekeeper, directed by Yung Chang; the Audience Award for Short Film went to Into Darkness directed by Rachida El Garani; the Audience Award forWeb Series went to Instababy, directed by Rosie Haber. Selma director Ava DuVernay co-won the Spirit of Independence award.

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Photos of film "Dr. Feelgood."