After thriving in the temperamental city of Los Angeles for nearly two decades, the fiercely independent film festival Dances With Films opens May 28 for its 18th festival season until June 7.

Over the course of 11 days, 127 films will play across the longtime indie circuit favorite, which takes “Cinema Vortex” as its theme this year.

“‘Cinema Vortex’ exemplifies the creative energy that has always been the epicenter of Dances With Films. So, whether you like documentaries, music videos, or a film of any length and genre, those and more can be found here,” says Leslee Scallon, festival co-founder.

Since the festival’s founding in 1998, DWF has remained dedicated to its primary mission of finding tomorrow’s talent today. With attendance on the rise from last year, DWF 2015 boasts a record 113 premieres. This year’s opening night film—Kent Moran’s The Challenger, a drama about a man overcoming adversity through boxing—is actor Michael Clarke Duncan’s last film and features S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order) and Justin Hartley (Smallville).

The Challenger

The Challenger by director Kent Moran

DWF’s 2015 line-up includes 11 “Fusion” features, 20 “Fusion” shorts, three “Midnight” features, eight “Midnight” shorts, eight documentary features, five documentary shorts, and 10 films in the “Downbeat” music video section. These films include a record 65 premieres: 27 World, five North American, 16 West Coast, three Southern California, 13 Los Angeles, and one U.S. premiere.

In the Narrative Features category, 32 films are screening in three categories (Competitive, “Fusion” and “Midnight”). Notable competitive features titles include Superior by Edd Benda, which tells the story of two best friends trying to find normalcy during the Vietnam War, and Echo Lake by Jody McVeigh-Schultz, about a middle-age alcoholic discovering a second chance upon inheriting his father’s family cabin. On the romantic side of things, Mel Rodriguez’s In Stereo is a sharply observed comedy about the complexity of modern relationships, and Benjamin Meyer’s Fools follows two strangers as they fabricate a rich romantic history to overcome the strangeness between them.


Fools by director Benjamin Meyers

“Fusion” features include A Year and Change by R. Stephen Suettinger, the story of a drunken mistake that encourages a man to discover what he really wants in life; Actor for Hire by Marcus Mizelle, about an out of work actor finding the power of persona in the form of a cheap wig; and Welcome to Happiness by Oliver Thompson, following the life of a children’s book author as he shepherds strangers through a mysterious door in his closet.

In the Narrative Shorts category, 60 films will debut across the same sub-categories. These include “A Complicated Way to Live,” directed by Ged Hunter, where a mentally-ill man traverses a byzantine government system, and “Monkeys,” directed by Christopher Soren Kelly, in which a former couple cannot seem to find distance from one another after their toxic relationship ended. Amber Benson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame creates a world filled with feminine revenge in “Shevenge.” In Felipe Mucci’s “Vlado,” a fictionalized portrayal of the mysterious disappearance of Brazilian journalist Vladimir Herzog finds its conclusion in an alternate reality. Ashley Eberbach’s “Axiom” is a futuristic action/sci-fi film about how advancements in technology and robotics are threatening humanity, and Jeffrey Wang’s “Lifeline” is a dark comedy about the lengths people go to to lose or save themselves.

The Residents, subject of X's documentary feature Theory of Obscurity

The Residents, subject of Don Hardy’s documentary feature Theory of Obscurity

DWF has just 13 documentaries playing this year, in both short and feature categories. Among them are Don Hardy’s feature Theory of Obscurity: A Film about the Residents, a decades-long chronicling of the mysterious band The Residents; David Manougian’s The Big Lonely, which follows a homeless man and his dog as they find a new home on government-owned land; short title “Wildman Athletica” by Erin Brown, where a physical trainer expounds on his unconventional exercise techniques; and The Ataxian by Kevin Schlanser and Zack Bennett, following a man afflicted with a neuromuscular disorder and his bike team as they compete in one of the most grueling bicycle races in the world.

This year’s Alumni Spotlight feature film is the West Coast debut of writer-director Ben Bowman’s Knucklehead, a hard-hitting gritty urban drama starring Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard alongside Gbenga Akinnagbe of The Following and The Wire. The film was produced by Re’Shaun Frear, whose feature Home won the festival’s Grand Jury Prize in 2013.

Woodard and G in Knucklehead

Woodard and Akinnagbe in Ben Bowman’s Knucklehead

The festival is also continuing with its second annual innovative Dances With Kidz! children’s films section. “We decided to create the DWKidz! program because we realized that there is no age range when it comes to inventive and authentic creativity,” said co-founder Michael Trent. “The creative tools that we have as filmmakers are leveling the playing field and bringing the industry back to the true basic—the story. And kids definitely have no limits on their imagination the way many adults do.”

Watch the official festival trailer for the 18th Dances With Films here:

Dances With Films 2015 Film Festival will take place from May 28 to June 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, at the TCL Chinese Theaters at Hollywood & Highland. For any more information, visit Dances With Films’ official website. MM