The Los Angeles Film Festival may have come to the end of its days after its final edition last fall, the TCM Classic Film Festival wrapped its 10th year last month, and AFI Fest waits until Oscar season to trot out contenders. But now the town has a brand new festival of a very different stripe, and it is taking place right in the heart of Hollywood.
MaltinFest, the brainchild of famed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, his daughter Jessie (who pitched the idea to her dad) and wife Alice, is set to launch its first edition at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on Friday, and it will be running all weekend. It is sort of the West Coast answer to the venerable EbertFest in Chicago, which the late Pulitzer Prize-winning critic started to largely honor overlooked films he admired (it has been carried on in style by Ebert’s widow Chazz).
Maltin’s three-day festival promises to be a film lovers’ delight on its own terms including pristine and vintage prints of movies he has admired and loved over the years — largely independent gems that deserved more attention and are getting it now. Who better than Maltin to put them all together on a Mothers Day weekend (anyone who buys a pass can take along their mother for free) where it looks like there is something for everybody, from Alexander Payne’s early gem Citizen Ruth to a black-and-white 1952 curio that falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, and clearly a Maltin guilty pleasure as he told me when I hopped on the phone with him.
“Our closing night attraction is Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, a uniquely terrible movie for which I have great affection,” he said. “It turns out I’m not alone, judging from the response we’ve gotten. Aside from the imposing Mr. Lugosi it stars Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, who were the poor man’s Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis — when Dean and Jerry were the hottest act in show business. And the Academy is loaning us a 35mm print that was donated to their collection by Bela Lugosi Jr.”
As for the movies you would expect an esteemed film critic to present in this kind of forum, they are all on hand as well, getting one more chance in the limelight of an historic movie palace’s projection booth (one of the few not showing Avengers: Endgame.)
“Every critic I know likes to champion underdog movies that haven’t found the audience they deserve. This is my chance to program a whole weekend of such films, which I think of as hidden gems,” Maltin told me. “The filmmakers are grateful to get their movies back on a theater screen, which is why Alexander Payne and Laura Dern (Citizen Ruth), Nicole Holofcener (Please Give), Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Big Eyes), Phil Rosenthal (Exporting Raymond) and Holly K. Payne (The Death of ‘Superman Lives’ – What Happened?) are happy to participate,” he added of just some of the notables who will be on hand. “Director Maggie Greenwald couldn’t join us but she sent her personal 35mm print of Songcatcher, a perfect example of a movie that slipped through the cracks—even after winning a Special Jury Prize for its Acting Ensemble at Sundance.”
Maltin, who among his other activities teaches a popular film course at USC where he shows prerelease movies but peppers the experience for students with vintage shorts and cartoons, promises to do the same thing for each of the attractions at MaltinFest. “It’s my way of injecting a dollop of film history into the proceedings. We’ve gotten wonderful cooperation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, Warner Bros, Paramount and Universal to show these shorts in 35mm,” he said. Director Joe Dante, who once cast Maltin in an unflattering version of himself in a Gremlins 2 cameo, will be on hand co-hosting the podcast he does with Josh Olson called “Trailers From Hell Presents The Movies That Made Me,” and there will be book signings and other bonuses as well.
The prime opening-night film on Friday will be one most people probably missed when it came out: director John Carney’s 2016 coming-of-age movie Sing Street, which I loved just as much as Maltin. It made my Ten Best Films list that year and is not to be missed. And just to show how cutting edge this fest is turning out to be, Deadline just coincidentally reported that the film is following the path of Carney’s classic Oscar-winning Once and being turned into a Broadway musical, aimed to debut off-Broadway in the same venue where the eight-time Tony-winning Once started.
MaltinFest information and tickets can be found here.