Louisiana International Film Festival returns to Baton Rouge for second year

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The second annual Louisiana International Film Festival, aka LIFF, takes place May 8-11 at Cinemark Perkins Rowe.

This year’s slate of more than 50 films includes the second North American screenings of Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur,” the New Orleans-set, Shreveport-filmed “Elsa & Fred,” starring Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine, and “The Devil’s Violinist,” a biopic about 19th century violin star Niccolò Paganini.

Films of regional interest include the documentaries “We Won’t Bow Down,” a years-in-the-making portrait of Mardi Indians after Hurricane Katrina, and New Orleans filmmaker Lily Keber’s “Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker,” which combines film footage and photos of the amazing New Orleans pianist with commentary from peers and admirers such as Harry Connick Jr. and Dr. John.

LIFF will present its first Anne Price Lifetime Achievement Award to local actor Jerry Leggio at 11 a.m. May 10 at Cinemark. Leggio has appeared in 56 films and television programs produced in Louisiana, including “In the Heat of the Night,” “Hush-Hush Sweet Charlotte” and “Blaze.” Leggio is also known for his more than 50 roles in community theater productions.

The festival named its lifetime achievement award after The Advocate’s longtime arts writer, the late Ann Price. Price worked at the newspaper for more than 70 years, many of them spent covering theater, art and classical music.

LIFF also will present a sneak preview of a major Hollywood film, executive director Chesley Heymsfield promised, as well as master classes and workshops, the emphasis being on technology and new methods of film distribution.

“It’s our job to learn what’s new each year and relay that our local public,” Heymsfield said.

The festival opens May 8 with the gala screening of “Belle,” a film inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a British admiral, was raised by her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), and his wife (Emily Watson).

Belle enjoyed advantages in 18th century England, but her mixed-race heritage disqualified her from the fully privileged life that her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), enjoyed. Later, Belle helped shape her powerful uncle’s conviction that slavery should be banished from England.

“I’m thrilled with the lineup we have this year,” said Dan Ireland, LIFF’s Los Angeles-based artistic director.

After Ireland saw “Belle” at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January, he phoned Heymsfield in Baton Rouge, saying he’d found the opening night film for this year’s LIFF.

“It’s perfect for Louisiana,” he said this week. “You want a film that hits all the basics that an opening night film should.”

  • “Belle” screens at 7:30 p.m. May 8.

The festival’s closing night film, “Elsa & Fred,” stars Shirley MacLaine as a high-spirited retiree in New Orleans who lives next door to an uptight widower played by Christopher Plummer. Marcia Gay Harden and George Segal co-star in this remake of the Spanish-Argentine film by Michael Radford, director of “Il Postino.”

“Elsa & Fred,” Ireland said, “is really delightful. The fact that it was shot in Louisiana makes it the ideal closing-night film for us.”

  • “Elsa & Fred” screens at 7 p.m. May 11.

Ireland is especially enthusiastic about the civil rights documentary, “Freedom Summer.” LIFF already has a great track record for documentaries. Its opening night film last year, “20 Feet from Stardom,” later won the Oscar for best documentary. Ireland expects an Oscar nomination for “Freedom Summer,” too.

  • “Freedom Summer” will be screened at 4:30 p.m. May 9 and 6:15 p.m. May 11.

Also on the 2014 LIFF schedule is “God’s Pocket,” one of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final films. Christina Hendricks, from TV’s “Mad Men,” and John Turturro co-star. John Slattery, another “Mad Men” cast member, makes his directorial debut with “God’s Pocket.”

  • “God’s Pocket” screens at 9:30 p.m. May 9.

Also screening at this year’s festival, “The Devil’s Violinist” stars modern-day classical music star David Garrett as 19th-century violin virtuoso and composer Niccolò Paganini. Director Bernard Rose, who previously directed the Gary Oldman-starring Ludwig von Beethoven biopic, “Immortal Beloved,” will attend the screening.

  • “The Devil’s Violinist” will be shown at 7 p.m. May 10 and 1:30 p.m. May 11.

The two-character, Polanski-directed “Venus in Fur” stars Emmanuelle Seigner as an alluring actress who auditions for a frustrated director played by Mathieu Amalric. The film is based on the Tony Award-winning play by David Ives and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel of the same name.

  • “Venus in Fur” screens at 9:45 p.m. May 10.

Tickets for individual films can be purchased at the Cinemark box office and online closer to the festival dates. All-access passes are on sale through the festival website, lifilmfest.org. All-access passes gain entry to all of the festival’s films, gala premieres, cocktail receptions, workshops, master classes, tributes, film receptions and parties.