Hollywood is a town built on stories and the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival—produced by Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that also produces the Film Independent Spirit Awards—celebrates the power of the storyteller starting with the opening night film, Lowriders

Starring Eva Longoria, this lead feature is directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and produced by Oscar nominee Brian Grazer and Emmy Award winner Jason Blum. 

The festival closes with the visceral suspense thriller Desierto, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is directed by the father/son team Jonás Cuarón and producer Alfonso Caurón. 

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Keeping the issue of inclusion and diversity firmly upfront, director Ryan Coogler (Creed) has been added as Guest Director and will attend the 15th annual Filmmaker Retreat, a signature program that brings together all the feature directors in this year’s Festival along with seasoned filmmakers and Film Independent Board Members who attend as honored artists.

On June 2nd, actor-turned-director Nate Parker will share what it took to bring Birth of a Nation, the story of Nat Turner, the African-American preacher who helmed a slave revolt, to the big screen in “Labor of Love: The Birth of a Nation Conversation.” He will be joined by cast members Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder) and Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane).

This years’ Spirit of Independence Award, which honors those who advance the cause of independent film and champion creative freedom, will be awarded to director Ava DuVernay (Selma) and her distribution company ARRAY, on June 4th. 

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Festival Director Stephanie Allain weighed in on this year’s selections. “We are thrilled to open with Lowriders, a culturally vibrant film that explores familial relationships within a second-generation Mexican family in East LA. Spirit Award winner Ryan Coogler honors us as Guest Director—we had Fruitvale Station at the Festival in 2013 and are so happy to have him back this year as our Guest Director.” 

African-American films not to be missed at LAFF 2016 include 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story, a film about a charismatic teen who is thrown into a life crisis when he must decide whether to leave his rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn community to pursue a prestigious academic scholarship.

Like Cotton Twines tells the story of an African-American volunteer who accepts a teaching job in a remote Ghanaian village and is ensnared in a battle between tradition and freedom when he’s compelled to save one of his students from becoming a slave to the gods.

Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story tried to answer one of the biggest mysteries in basketball history: why Los Angeles legend Schea Cotton, one of the most highly touted high school athletes of a pre-social media era, never made it to the NBA?

When a mysterious crime takes the life of her only brother in Woven, an Ethiopian-American woman searches for the truth behind his death, while struggling to reconcile cultural expectations with her own pursuit of self-identity and love. 

Dying Laughing features riveting interviews that lend insight into the creative craft of comedy and the psychology behind some of the world’s greatest stand-ups, including Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld and Jamie Foxx.

Free CeCe!, written and produced by Laverne Cox, details the life of transgender activist CeCe McDonald who survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, CeCe emerges as a leader who interrogates the prison industrial complex and inspires women to fight back when attacked.

The Los Angeles Film Festival runs June 1-9.

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