Kicking off its 24th edition, the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), produced by Film Independent, plans on shaking things up as it shifts its previous years’ summer dates to the more serious, award-conscience, fall series of festivals. Running September 20–28 and nestled between Telluride, Toronto, and AFI, LAFF takes pride in its wide array of filmmaking talent over the usual Hollywood fare.

Diversity in talent and genres

Returning for her second outing as festival director, Jennifer Cochis echoes previous mantras saying, “Our mission of finding fresh new voices from different geographical and cultural axes remains true.” Screening some 40 features and 41 shorts from 26 countries, LAFF is proud to highlight that 42 percent of these films are directed by women and 39 percent are directed by people of color.

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In addition to theatrical films, the festival will also launch an immersive VR storytelling selection, several television premieres, web series, three popular podcasts, and a big push into documentaries, which is creating some much-deserved buzz.

Documentary feature films

This year, LAFF partnered with the International Documentary Association for their biannual conference, “Getting Real ’18,” with the intent of expanding the reach of documentaries. More than 20 documentary feature films will make their appearance at this year’s festival. The festival even offers a Documentary Film Pass for those non-fiction documentary lovers.

LAFF’s opening and closing night films showcase documentaries

LAFF opens the 2018 festival not with the usual glitzy narrative film, but rather an event-making documentary, “Echo in the Canyon.” Executive produced by Jakob Dylan and directed by Andrew Slater, the film examines the beginning of the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s with The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mama and the Papas.

Selected as the closing night documentary, “United Skates,” chronicles the underground subculture of the African American roller rinks. Directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown, the film dives into the skate culture and emotional value these rinks give communities across the United States.

Five top documentaries to track

The festival unspools a plethora of non-narrative fare, but these five docs demand to be on your radar, whether at LAFF or in the future via a theater or streaming service.

  • Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” (director: Aaron Lieber). This doc follows competitor surfer Hamilton, now a mother, as she chases a dangerous wave known as Jaws.
  • Fire on the Hill” (director: Brett Fallentine). Fallentine chronicles three black cowboys in South Central as they contemplate who burnt down Hill Stable, a stable that produced rodeo champions.
  • Funke” (director: Gabriel Taraboulsy). This portrait showcases accomplished and complex chef, Evan Funke, as he mounts a comeback.
  • Making Montgomery Clift” (directors: Hillary Demmon, Robert A. Clift). Clift’s real-life nephew co-directs this doc that is chock-full of home Movies and recordings of the complicated, compelling, and talented actor, Montgomery Clift.
  • The Great Buster: A Celebration" (director: Peter Bogdanovich). Bogdanovich presents a tribute to one of cinema’s greats, Buster Keaton.