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Downtown Film Festival Highlights L.A.’s Cinematic History

Downtown Film Festival Highlights L.A.’s Cinematic History

Articles - Festival Beat

The Downtown Film Festival – Los Angeles has become a vital part of the film scene in the historic center of L.A. The festival seeks to emphasize the area’s cinematic roots by bringing a wide variety of films, both shorts and feature-length, to downtown Los Angeles. This year’s fest lineup includes the West Coast premiere of Spike Lee’s Passing Strange The Movie, a Paul Newman tribute and an Afrique 360 Series that will focus on African films, featuring the world premiere of the documentary Soul of Ashanti.

Just days before the fest’s second annual event, MM caught up with festival founder Greg Ptacek to chat about this year’s event.

Rebecca Pahle (MM): 2008 was the first year for the Downtown Film Festival – Los Angeles. What compelled you to start the festival?

Greg Ptacek (GP): Yes, this is the first year. My colleagues and I started Downtown Film Festival – Los Angeles in an effort to create a world-class film event in heart of L.A.’s historic core. Downtown has always been the center of the city’s business community (not mention a major West Coast and Pacific Basin center of business). But with the advent of a residential population over the last three to five years, it’s also become its creative nexus.

The downtown district that once was a ghost town come 5 p.m. is now brimming with coffeehouses, lounges, music clubs, theaters, restaurants—a bona fide “cafe society” if you will. This whole new chapter in the area’s history has been dubbed appropriately the “downtown renaissance.” Also, there’s bona fide historical connection between L.A.’s downtown and the motion picture industry. The earliest movie theaters—”movie palaces” might be more apt because of their size and ornate decoration—were located here. Indeed, today downtown L.A. continues to have the largest collection of historic movie theaters in the world.

MM: Opening the festival this year is the West Coast premiere of Spike Lee’s Passing Strange The Movie, based on the award-winning rock musical. Why is this movie a good fit for the Downtown Film Festival?

GP: The creator of the eponymous hit Broadway play, Stew, was from the downtown L.A. area and his band, The Negro Problem, was a fixture for years in the local music scene. So his play—an autobiographical musical—is an especially good fit.

MM: You’ve made sure that the price of attending a screening won’t be outrageous: tickets for most single screenings are just $12. Why is it important for the film festival to be accessible as possible?

GP: We’re not attempting to be a “Hollywood event.” We want to make the festival affordable to all segments of downtown L.A.’s richly, culturally diverse community.

MM: What impact do you think the festival will have on the citizens and the arts scene in downtown Los Angeles?

GP: The tides rise for all stakeholders in downtown L.A. when its spotlighted in a positive light. We like to think that we’re building a new landmark in downtown’s already well-established cultural landscape.

MM: One of the focuses of this year’s festival is the green movement, with one of the featured movies being A Sea Change, the first documentary on ocean acidification. What can the film industry, and film festivals in particular, do to help the environment?

GP: Primarily, they can help inform and educate the public about environmental issues through compelling films like A Sea Change.

The Downtown Film Festival – Los Angeles is being held from Wednesday, August 12th to Saturday, August 22nd, 2009. For more information visit

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