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Valley Film Festival Preview

A rundown of what to see and what to skip at this weekend's Valley Film Festival at the Whitefire Theatre.

As an entertainment journalist, I’ve attended major film festivals such as Sundance in Park City, Utah, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Toronto International Film Festival. This weekend's Valley Film Festival in Sherman Oaks brings some of that Hollywood-style excitement to our neighborhood, and I'll be there to capture it.

Running Friday through Sunday at the , the Valley Film Festival offers programs of short films, feature films and guest speakers. I had a chance to view some of the films in advance to present a preview of what you should see this weekend. For tickets, visit valleyfilmfest.com.

Shorts Program 1 – Beginning the festival at 7 p.m., shorts often provide a glimpse of works that suggest big Hollywood prospects for the filmmakers. I’ll be there myself hoping to discover the next Spielberg!

We Gotta Get Buscemi – The first evening’s feature film at 9:30 p.m., this dramedy is about a desperate filmmaker who drops actor Steve Buscemi’s name to help his film get financing. I’m planning to see this with all of you on Friday. Maybe Buscemi will pop up in a cameo! The short playing first, Public Museum, is a mockumentary about a kooky small town museum, very funny. It played at Cannes’ Short Film Corner, so it is a taste of the exotic festival right here.

Adventures in Plymptoons – Saturday at 3:30, this is my favorite film of the festival. I wasn’t a fan of animator Bill Plympton, but this documentary on his work was thoroughly engaging. I’ll review it in full tomorrow so you can decide if you want to buy tickets. The short playing first, How Nikola Tesla Popped My Cherry, has some well done special effects, but a vulgar sense of humor.

Few Options – Playing Saturday at 7:30, this may be the closest to an actual Hollywood movie that will show at the VFF. It has an amazing A-list cast including Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super), Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Deadwood), Michael Sheen (The Queen, Tron: Legacy, Twilight: New Moon/Breaking Dawn) and Laura San Giacomo (Pretty Woman, Just Shoot Me) in supporting roles. It stars The Shield’s Kenneth Johnson as a convict released early trying to find honest work. He gets roped back into crime by the very guy he went to prison for (Dourif). It’s a familiar story but the performances are really sincere. It is preceded by the short The Secret Friend, a gentle film about an elderly lady’s friendship with a silent caller on the other end of the phone, from Brazilian refugee Flavio Alves.

Comedy Shorts Program – If you’re looking for some laughs, this program on Saturday at 10:30 is an odd batch. Several of the shorts showing individually are much funnier, and a lot of these are dark and gruesome. It depends on your taste, so be warned!

Girls on Film Shorts – Sunday at 1 p.m., this program of short films offers a female voice on cinema with women directors. One of the shorts, 12 Hours by NoHo filmmaker Ester Brym was her submission for the feature Life in a Day. They used a few snippets of her day in North Hollywood in the film, but you can see the entire five-minute montage here. I thought Brym’s take on a day in the life was more fun and engaging than anything they used in the 90-minute Life in a Day.

Rats and Bullies – Playing Sunday afternoon at 3:30, this documentary examines the case of a Canadian teenager who committed suicide because of threats from bullies. It is an issue on many people's minds, so you will want to see this. There are some filmmaking issues like the repetition of an annoying, obvious song called “I’m Just a Kid,” some rough video effects and re-enactments of events. However, the poignancy of the story overcomes those flaws. Most relevant is that one of the bullies has true remorse and owns the consequences of her actions. That is what bullies need to see, so they can hopefully save themselves the pain of causing harm, as well as preventing future deaths.

Bad Actress – Closing the fest on Sunday at 7 p.m., this is actually a Valley movie. It’s set between Tarzana and Glendale, and you see lots of shots of the Valley, although usually very wide establishing shots or very close up so it’s hard to tell exactly what the local locations are. The movie is a silly story of a has-been actress (Beth Broderick) who murders her husband, owner of an air conditioning chain in the Valley. It’s more likely to be a TV movie but you may recognize your neighborhood. The fest’s final program is worth seeing for the short, The Potential Wives of Norman Mao, an energetically shot, sharp and polished film with a sweet sense of humor (and Star Trek’s George Takei’s voice narrating!).

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