In the wonderfully perverse logic that governs one of the Los Angeles’ finest theatrical experiences, it somehow makes sense that the Reel Grit screening series was born out of a Netflix account.
The account belonged to Brian Udovich, a producer of some fine films of his own including “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and “Bad Turn Worse,” who had no time to actually watch all that many films while hitting the festival circuit with “The Wackness” in 2008, but was receiving plenty of recommendations from fellow filmmakers and film critics he met along the way. Rather than write these down, Udovich simply gave his password out to anyone he spoke to, who would then add titles to his queue. When he finally returned home, his list overflowed with movies spanning decades and countries all adhering to the producer’s only criteria that they be “badass.” But since it wouldn’t be fair to have all these people create his playlist and not invite them over to watch the movies, he opened his doors on Sunday nights. There was only one problem.
“I ran out of chairs,” says Udovich, who quickly decided to find a bigger locale than his living room. After striking a deal with his alma mater AFI Conservatory, he, along with two of his friends that were there on that very first night — Tom Hammock and Dan Hooker, respectively, the director and production manager of last year’s LA Film Fest horror hit “The Well” — have presented over 250 films under the Reel Grit banner, becoming a mainstay of the campus after first showing Sergio Corbucci’s “Django” to a full house in January 2009.
True to the kinds of underseen gems that Reel Grit has often unearthed, the series has kept a low profile to preserve the casual atmosphere that Udovich always intended to be a place for “cinephiles to come hang out with other cinephiles.”
“It seems to go against the culture here to not want to keep growing and getting bigger, but that’s not what we wanted,” says Udovich, who is proud of cultivating a small but devoted following.
Where Reel Grit’s ambition lies is in their programming. Every week, they have shown films from all over the world, attempting to change the genre and country of origin each time out from the previous week. Movies that rarely make their way into the States including Michael Mann’s “Jericho Mile” and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s “Golden Slumber” have been smuggled in for Reel Grit and filmmakers haven’t only shown up for events, such as when Jorma Taccone accompanied “MacGruber” for an instantly classic screening in 2011, but continue to send Udovich suggestions for future showings. (The producer estimates that Ozploitation authority and “Not Quite Hollywood” director Mark Hartley has send him 30-40 movies over the years to show.)
Yet the event Udovich remains most proud of is the Reel Grit Six-Shooter Movie Marathon held to celebrate the series’ 100th screening. Notable AFI alums including “Black Snake Moan” cinematographer Amy Vincent, “School Ties” director (and current Conservatory Dean) Robert Mandel, and “Avatar” production designer Todd Cherniawsky were among those from each of the school’s different disciplines who came to show a film that had a great impact on them. There were surprises galore, as Udovich and crew hired thematically appropriate food trucks to follow each of the screenings, meaning when “Mandy Lane” screenwriter Jacob Forman showed Michael Ritchie’s meatpacking thriller “Prime Cut,” a sausage truck showed up. Still, the most unexpected moments were still reserved for the screen – after all, who would’ve guessed that Ben Stiller’s longtime producing partner Stuart Cornfeld would’ve selected the Jet Li classic “The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk” as an influence? Then again, that’s what Reel Grit is all about.
“Once you strip everything down, we all love to be in a dark room watching a movie with a group of other people and cheering,” says Udovich. “The reason why you fell in love with movies at 12 years old is how you should feel watching something every Sunday night.”