by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Xinhua) -- "LA Independent," better known for their star-studded Independent Spirit Awards that celebrate achievements in independent filmmaking, social awareness, and community spirit, wrapped up their high profile LA Film Festival on Friday amongst fanfare, accolades and awards.
Capturing world attention to celebrate new voices and applaud the best in independent cinema is no mean feat in a company town beholden to the "Big Six" Hollywood studios, which routinely cater to male-driven, blockbuster fare.
But, for the past 23 years, the festival has been an enduring showcase for independent cinema and an outspoken champion for the largely unsung and diverse talents who create them.
This year's festival focus spoke to diversity and inclusiveness, and featured an enticing line up of exceptional films that included a laudable number from women, LGBT, and artists of color.
Though Asians may comprise the largest population segment in the world, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, etc., combined, only make up 3.6 percent of the U.S. population, and suffer accordingly from under-representation in American media.
Hispanics at 17.4 percent and African Americans at 12 percent, and even women at 51 percent, fare only marginally better.
The Festival highlighted excellent works by artists of color, including Asian, African American, and Hispanic filmmakers, who rarely share the spotlight in mainstream media. Their line up included the Asian-themed:
"The Housemaid," a gothic horror romance in the grand tradition of Laurence Olivier's classic, "Rebecca," written and directed by Derek Nguyen. Lead Actress, Kate Nhung, swept up a Special Jury Prize for her stirring performance.
"On the Beach Alone at Night," directed by Special Jury Prize-winner, noted Korean director, Sang-soo Hong, featuring award-winning Korean actress, Min-hee Kim.
Female directors were similarly heralded, making up 47 percent of the festival roster, an unheard of figure for Hollywood Studios, which trail with a lamentable 7 percent of female-directed releases annually.
Female-driven Festival favorites included: "The Female Brain," the directorial debut of comedian, Whitney Cummings (TV's Whitney), with a star-studded ensemble that includes, James Marsden, Sofia Vergara, Toby Kebbell, and NBA star, Blake Griffin.
"The Year of Spectacular Men," helmed by Lea Thompson, of "Back to the Future" fame, who co-stars and makes her directorial debut in this romantic drama written and co-starring her daughter, Madelyn Deutch, and daughter, Zoey Deutch, and produced by their father, Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink).
"Mankiller," the vivid, "In-Competition" documentary portrait of Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation's first female principal chief, directed by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl.
Women, LGBT and POC directors also netted many of the top awards, including:
LA Film Festival Guest Director, Miguel Arteta ( "Star Maps", "Chuck and Buck"), was honored as the 2017 Spirit of Independence Award recipient.
Special Jury Prize-winner, "Don't Come Back From The Moon," directed by Chinese-American, Bruce Thierry Cheung, film school chum and frequent collaborator of James Franco.
The LA Muse Fiction Award went to Savannah Bloch for "And Then There Was Eve," making its World Premiere at the Festival.
Fiction Feature Audience Award-winner, Karen Moncrieff for her taut supernatural thriller, "The Keeping Hours."
The Best Documentary Award went to Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp for "Liyana." The Best Short Award for "A Funeral for Lightning," directed by Emily Kai Bock.
The Audience Award for Short Film went to "Swim", directed by Mari Walker.
The Festival, known for unflinchingly taking on thorny subjects, also hosted a series of thought-provoking panels meant to be a call to action for Hollywood and the film industry.
One such panel, entitled "Whitewashing: Asian and Asian-American Representation in Film/TV," featured top Asian/Asian American celebrities and executives: Alan Yang (Master of None), Kelly Hu (The Scorpion King), Leonarda Nam (Westworld), Ally Maki (Wrecked), Bruce Thierry Cheung (Don't Come Back from the Moon), Phil Yu (the Angry Asian Man blog), and Fox VP, Gloria Fan.
They discussed the uphill battle for minorities to be heard in the predominantly white American culture and how industry creatives could redress minority stereotyping in the media.
A recent diversity study by USC's Annenberg School of Communication reported that only one out of 20 speaking roles in U.S. films and TV goes to Asians, with only one percent in leading roles.
Alan Yang, Emmy-nominated writer and producer of Netflick's Asian-American-centered "Master of None," said he tries to make his series true to his real life experiences.
"There's an episode or two about being Indian or Asian on TV, about dealing with your parents, who are immigrants - but mostly, we fall in love, we have work trouble, we have all these other stories that make the characters more well rounded," he told Variety.
Huffington Post's, Zeba Blay commented, "There's truly something to be said for solidarity among people of color, especially in the entertainment world, which so often seeks to tokenize minorities, shining a light on one 'It' person of color at a time."
But Cheung encouraged mutual support from inside the multi-ethnic community, saying, "Your burden is my burden."
Without doubt, in an industry driven largely by "paint-by-numbers" box office statistics, if the LA Film Festival has anything to say about it, there is power in the more human side of numbers that might yet make a real impact on the "face" of America.