Throughout the summer, we will be highlighting some of the best places to watch movies in Los Angeles as part of our Summer in the City series.
When L.A. Times writer Mark Olsen hosted a screening of Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Eden,” a decades-spanning character study of an aspiring DJ, at the Sundance Sunset as part of his Indie Focus screening series, it was in his words, “the closing of a loop.”
Olsen had been at the Toronto Film Festival last fall for the film’s world premiere, reporting back that its director had “captured the sort of tender, delicate, complex feelings and moments which are hard to put into words, let alone onto film.” When Olsen was at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, he did a video Q & A with Hansen-Løve and the film’s star Felix De Givry and then when he learned that De Givry and Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven, who co-wrote the script based loosely on his life, he stopped at nothing to bring them in as guests for a screening before the film’s opening later this month.
“A lot of ways it’s like a best-case scenario for what I think the screening series can be,” says Olsen. “We’ve been writing about it now since September and now we’re actually going to be able to put it in front of our readers and an audience here in L.A.”
Arthouse films require such a tireless champion, especially in Los Angeles where true gems can filter in and out of theaters in just a week with little attention paid. It’s a role Olsen has taken on with relish since migrating to Los Angeles at the turn of the century, highlighting indie and foreign films at the Times for the past decade and starting the series soon after becoming a full-time writer for the paper three years ago. With the Times’ recent emphasis on expanding beyond the pages of the newspaper into live events and different platforms, Olsen seized the opportunity to take what he had been doing in print in trying to connect movies with the audiences who’d most want to see them, but didn’t necessarily know how to find them.
Roughly once or twice a month, depending on the films that are released, the series convenes at the old Sunset 5 in Hollywood (restored by Sundance to the point that no less than Seymour Bernstein, the piano virtuoso profiled in Ethan Hawke’s doc “Seymour: An Introduction” stayed an extra few minutes during a recent screening just to take in the sound). Preference is given to Times subscribers, who not only get a free screening, but $10 in free concessions that can go towards popcorn, soda and even wine and beer at the 21+ venue, though non-Times subscribers can get in on a space available basis and usually do. If there’s a wait, it’s often worth it, considering both the films and the guests that Olsen has pulled into the intimate setting, bringing in such stars as Robert Redford, Anne Hathaway, and Daniel Radcliffe for the kind of thoughtful chats he’s known for in his articles.
In March, Olsen was thrilled to surprise the crowd with a stealth appearance of Al Pacino at a screening of “Danny Collins” when only writer/director Dan Fogelman was scheduled to appear. Then again, the series is full of surprises, just by virtue of the kinds of films Olsen presents and he takes great pride in being able to introduce them to audiences in L.A. Notably when asked if he had a favorite screening, it wasn’t one of the higher-profile guests Olsen mentioned, but rather an early screening of “Afternoon Delight,” the Silverlake-set debut of future “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.
“It was so exciting also for us to place our chips on someone like Jill Soloway at that point and to see her go on to do something as tremendous as ‘Transparent’ and to have the kind of attention that she’s gotten since then,” says Olsen. “Not that we played any part in that, but it just felt really good to know that we were in early on that one.”
Olsen has also recently redoubled his efforts to get the word out about great films in the area in other ways, putting together a weekly newsletter that will give subscribers the heads up on both his screenings and all the other exciting cinematic happenings around the city. After all, he feels the place deserves it.
“Los Angeles is just a world-class movie city,” says Olsen. “Pretty much seven days a week, you can go out and there’s two or three super cool, rare, interesting things that you could go out and see, so the newsletter is a way to bring all of those things, like my work and the work of other people here at the L.A. Times and the screening series, and the world of movies in general, under one roof.”
To find out about the latest Indie Focus screenings, click here and follow @IndieFocus on Twitter.