Although the Cannes Film Festival just ended three weeks ago, there’s always another film fest around the corner trying to steal its thunder and become part of the cinematic conversation. On Thursday night, the Los Angeles Film Festival, now in its 17th year, opened with the world premiere of the Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) comedy Bernie, with stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey joining its writer-director in introducing the film at downtown L.A.’s LA Live Regal Cinemas, where the fest moved last year. Not that it’s easy navigating the Los Angeles freeways at rush hour to get downtown, an off-the-beaten track place to premiere your movie, but the unapologetic black comedy and true-life tale of a small-town undertaker who caters to the much-hated Texas town’s matron until he reaches for a gun was worth the herculean effort navigating the annoying traffic jams and $25 parking fee (I didn’t read the signs carefully) just to see this splendid trio of actors deliver terrific performances backed by a great supporting group of locals who won big laughs throughout.
Bernie is an acquistion title and likely will be snapped up immediately by some enterprising distributor even though it’s not an obvious commercial hit. It is Black’s best work in some time. It could develop a following on the indie circuit though, and it certainly had the crowd (which included well-wishers like Linklater friend Steven Soderbergh and wife Jules Asner) buzzing at the crowded after-party on the L.A. Live parking garage rooftop.
Film Independent (which runs the fest as well as the Spirit Awards) board members I spoke to at the premiere are hopeful Bernie could become the fest’s first big breakout acquisition title, and reps from many indie distribs were in attendance. In fact, the fest delayed announcement of its opening film until after the Cannes festival was over because producers did not want to be inundated with calls about acquiring the film during that market and wanted to wait until it could premiere cold in L.A., a big tribute to the growing clout of LAFF. (more…)