Interview: Miriam Bale on This Weekend’s Innovative Indie Film Fest La Di Da in New York

While we’re still at the Toronto Film Festival, anyone who’s followed the site in the past year knows where we’d most like to be this weekend – at the inaugural La Di Da Festival at the 92y Tribeca Screening Room in New York where some of the newest works from Kentucker Audley, Sam Fleichner and Josephine Decker will be featured. Described by its founders as a “scrappy organization put together with scotch tape and strong opinions,” the festival can’t help but present some of the most daringly independent productions of the moment, not to mention a few we consider to be amongst the year’s best including Josh and Ben Safdie’s adventurous “The Black Balloon” and Amy Seimetz’s lovers on the run thriller “Sun Don’t Shine.”

A motley mix of shorts and features over its three days beginning Friday, the programming is tied together by a passionate group of filmmakers deserving of a platform to show their work that’s as untethered to convention as the work itself. Although the festival’s partnership with Bomb Magazine has already yielded some intriguing dialogues between the filmmakers who will be spotlighted at La Di Da, we thought we’d get in touch with founding director Miriam Bale to talk about the launch of the event, her hope for an equal mix of good film and good conversation, and why if you’re going opening night, you’d better take a handkerchief.

Given the community of filmmakers involved, was the idea for La Di Da hatched in a fairly collaborative way?

Totally. The idea for doing it came about organically – meeting Kentucker Audley and True/False’s David Wilson at the Maryland Film Festival, talking to Josh Safdie about kids’ movies, hearing about “Kuichisan” from Dustin Guy Defa, falling in love with “Sun Don’t Shine” and talking to Amy Seimetz about gender – and just talking about movies.

I noticed all these good indie films this year, some of which hadn’t yet played New York and some that had but without really being seen, so instead of screening little one-offs, I thought let’s put them together in a little festival where we can watch only great movies and talk about movies all weekend. The timing made sense. There were so many good movies this year! Even Sean Williams [director of photography of “The Black Balloon” and “Kuichisan”], who’s notoriously picky and hates everything, could get excited about this lineup.

It’s a little crazy to do a film festival like this. I have no backers, no corporate sponsors, all I have is the support of these filmmakers who don’t care about all that slick stuff, they just care about seeing movies that push the limits a little. I’m excited to have the filmmakers watch each other’s work and learn from each other.

The festival seems to give shorts and features equal weight, which is unusual, but would seem important to the kind of filmmakers presenting their work at La Di Da. Was that balance a goal or something that came about by circumstance?

Both. We had very few slots and we were only given a weekend to do this, so I thought an emphasis on shorts would be the best way to include a lot of names of people I’m excited about, directors whose shorts I love and whose next work I’m even more excited about. But I also thought it was unusual that one of my favorite films of the year – The Safdie Brothers’ “The Black Balloon” – is a short. And that’s cool. That’s weird. I think it’s their best film so far, and it’s 20 minutes. It has no star. It stars a balloon! Why are they making a short now, after making features? I don’t quite get their trajectory, but I like it.

And shorts programs can be a drag, right? There’s usually one good one, if you’re lucky! So I thought it would be nice to take all the one good ones and put them in one program. Now it’s the thing in the festival I’m most looking forward to. All the shorts have a similar theme and talk to each other in some weird way. I’ve seen them all and I love them all, but I have no idea how it will be to see them together.

What was the guiding philosophy behind what was selected and how they were selected?

For the shorts, I was looking for that theme, childhood confusion and disillusionment. For the features, I was looking for classics. Things that could have been screened 30 years ago, 60 years ago, 20 years from now.

Since it’s the inaugural year, it makes sense that this would be a smaller-scale festival, but it also fits the films you’re showing where you’re giving them individual attention. Was it a goal to keep it small?

We’re working with what we got, but it’s the perfect length. I wanted a festival where everything is good, no filler.

Also, these films are emotionally intense! Just Friday night [the Savage Innocents shorts program and the North American premiere of “Kuichisan”] is going to wrench souls, especially for those who stay for both programs. More than three days of this, and people might lose it.

The La Di Da Festival takes place for the first time at the 92Y Tribeca in New York (200 Hudson Street) from September 15th-16th. A full schedule of events can be found here.

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