5 Flicks to Check Out at the L.A. Film Festival

Little Armenia, women in Hollywood, basketball, and a dark chapter in medical history

The unseasonable chill may mean it doesn’t feel like summer, but we’ve still got a familiar summer event to look forward to: the Los Angeles Film Festival. From June 10-18, LA Live and other venues around the city will host screenings of the most notable films in contemporary indie (and some decidedly mainstream) cinema. And unlike some other big regional festivals, LAFF makes sure to pay special attention to its hometown. The “LA Muse” program features movies that take place right in our backyard.

Here are some of the more promising contributions.

Aram, Aram
Little Armenia gets a close-up for the first time in the history of the fest. A 12-year-old boy is uprooted from his Beirut home after an accident, and must go live with his grandfather in L.A. Once there, the boy is gradually drawn into local gang conflict. Armenian issues have received greater attention this year, thanks to the well-publicized activism marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. This film doesn’t exactly sound like an upbeat alternative to that sort of grim news, but this is an area of L.A. that typically evades the pop cultural hivemind.

Can You Dig This
Think of this as a more positive spiritual sequel to 2007’s The Garden. This documentary is also about the urban garden movement, following the efforts of burgeoning planters and growers in South Central. The main character is “gangster gardener” Ron Finley, who’s leading the charge. This is the kind of popular agriculture that tends to go ignored in favor of CSA boxes and high-end locally-sourced restaurants. But the array of citizens in focus under native Angeleno director Delila Vallot’s lens is unquestionably worth our time.

Day Out of Days
Director Zoe Cassavetes has made her first feature in eight years about the vagaries of being an aging woman in Hollywood. A once-famous actress unravels in her attempts to stay relevant over the course of a single day. More and more actresses have been speaking out against the absurd expectations their business places on them. This’ll hopefully help that trend keep running.

The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce
Former Clipper Baron Davis co-directs this documentary about a basketball venue far removed from his old Staples Center home. Originating as a safe space from gang activity in South Central, the Drew League grew to become a top pro-amateur basketball destination. The intense court action of the Drew makes for the kind of sports watching even non-fans can appreciate, while the fascinating homegrown community effort behind the league is its own story worth telling.

No Más Bebés
Historical and contemporary concerns around immigration issues and medical rights come to a head in this documentary about Madrigal v. Quilligan. The case was a 1978 federal class action lawsuit filed by immigrant Mexican women who claimed they’d been sterilized without their consent at LAC + USC Medical Center. At the time, California had one of the highest sterilization rates in the country. Documentaries are excellent at unearthing buried history, and director Renee Tajima-Peña and her crew let these women tell their stories on screen for the first time.