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It’s late June in Los Angeles, and that means: June gloom is about to give way to summer. Find out what Dances with Films has in store.

Dances with Films Dances Back to TCL Chinese Theaters for 26th Annual Edition

It’s late June in Los Angeles, and that means: June gloom is about to give way to summer, the jacaranda super bloom has colored the city in purple flowers that pop underfoot, and Dances With Films has come back to the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood. The Festival runs June 22 through July 2 at the Ovation Hollywood Complex at 6801 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

The plucky indie festival with the peculiar name “was created at a time when the Park City “dance”—aka Sundance—had so many satellite festivals swirling around it,” says DWF co-founder Leslee Scallon. “ We thought it would be funny to be the summer film festival called Dances With Films.”

26 years on, the name has stuck, and Dances with Films has grown to become one of Los Angeles flagship film festivals and one of the country’s top discovery festivals, showing a staggering 252 films in 86 screenings, and they’ve already reported sold-out houses.  “Each year, DWF has grown organically in size and momentum,” says Scallon. “After all, what’s 26 years to become an overnight success?”

“We have a groovy feeling of incredible films again!” Scallon continues. “Our selections range from narrative features and shorts to documentaries, TV, and web pilots, and even a Kidz division of films BY kids for kids— “KRAMPUS ON CAMPUS” anyone? DWF always welcomes energetic and enthusiastic filmmakers who have been selected from all over the world and locally.  We have representatives coming in from Ireland, Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, Egypt, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, South Korea, France, and Italy, as well as many of our United States.”

Reflecting the state of the world, Scallon explains, “Social relevance and diversity are two themes that have come on strong this year.  Even more fun and lighthearted films seem to have woven stories into their tapestry that are meaningful to not only the filmmakers, but also their audience. We have also always—since we started in 1998—striven to be gender and ethnically diverse in our programming. Representation is very important to the mission of all being treated equal in our fest.  We carefully curate programs to have a wide look at the world.”

And what a wide world that is. A sampling of nine DWF films to watch (seven of them world premieres) take OCD, social anxiety, dead rodents, and cringe relationship issues to the extreme; place viewers inside a tortured mind; present a heartfelt comedy influenced by THE GRADUATE but told from the perspective of a protagonist inspired by Mrs. Robinson; as well as offer a special L.A. screening of Slamdance’s Grand Jury Prize winner; and the West Coast Premiere of an audience-favorite documentary looking at a family rallying around a beloved autistic son and brother. Together, they paint a vivid cross-section of DWF’s best programming.

Fresh from a preview screening in its home state of New Jersey comes Christopher Beatty’s atmospheric, dark, horror-tinged psychological thriller, BIBI. Struggling to cope after a tragic loss, a single mother Vivian Ashwood (Elizabeth Paige, Modern Love), finds the line blurring between nightmare and reality after discovering she and her only daughter are being tormented by a stranger. 

Beatty said, “the genre allowed me to explore the fragility of the human mind and the blurred boundaries between reality and illusion. My film offers an intense and suspenseful narrative, immersing the audience in the unraveling psyche of a grieving woman who faces unimaginable challenges. I chose to delve into the themes of addiction, grief, guilt, and the lengths a person will go to protect their loved ones.” World premiere Thursday, June 29 at 7:15PM.

A few years into a strained relationship, KJ and Dan take a trip to a friend’s cabin to recapture their romance in the horror-cringe comedy GLUE TRAP, only to find a dying-but-not-quite-dead mouse stuck to a glue trap there. They compromise over how to handle it and move on—until their serenity is broken by a small woman who can be charitably described as “eccentric.” Virginia-based first-time feature director Justin Geldzahler (Euphoria, Succession), explains, “while GLUE TRAP started as my baby, it became a movie–a real, like, you know, ‘go to the theater’ movie—because of everybody else in front of and behind the camera. I just had to provide the guardrails.” World premiere Thursday, June 29 at 9:30PM. 

In actor/director Sara Friedman’s HEIGHTENED, social anxiety and OCD-riddled Nora (Friedman) returns to Maine to live with her emotionally distant parents (real-life couple Sarah Clarke and Xander Berkeley) following a mental breakdown. Nora’s world is further upended when she is sent to volunteer at a local state park. Her awkward assignment shows promise when her anxiety subsides in the company of her new supervisor Dusty (Dave Register), who is dealing with crippling issues of his own. Can Nora and Dusty can help each other overcome the obstacles their socially complicated world presents to them? World premiere Friday, June 23 at 7:15PM.

The sudden death of Ruth’s (Joan Shangold) beloved hamster reveals a decaying marriage with her curmudgeonly wife, Connie (Marilyn Busch) in Jason Laurits’ world premiere live action short GOODBYE TANGO. Ruth must either accept the death of things or keep spinning the wheel. Laurits says, “I set out to tell an endearing love story, and how grief and time, among many other forces, can threaten it. In the end, if love is there, or fighting to be there; if one brings a smile to the other; if it’s the best option for them and they want to keep, you know, spinning the wheel, well then, let them.” The film goes on to play Woods Hole after DWF. Competition Shorts Block 2, Saturday, Jun 24 2:45PM.

Inspired by true events, Nick Laurant’s THE GIRL IN THE BACKSEAT follows a young immigrant, Sofia, as she fights for her survival against her predator, Ryan, in an involuntary road trip through the mysterious landscape of a worldwide human trafficking ring. Co-writer, co-producer, and star Kika Magalhães reveals, “After moving to LA, I was feeling very lost, and had a revelation that if the work wasn’t coming to me, I had to create the work for myself. I became obsessed with human trafficking, so, I researched as much as I could, talked with victims, law enforcement and even found out that a friend of mine had been trafficked in LA. This movie is a compilation of these stories.” Saturday, July 1 at 5:00PM.

Tyrrell Shaffner’s KATIE’S MOM is a sexy re-imagining of THE GRADUATE but told from the perspective of a protagonist inspired by Mrs. Robinson. Nancy Rosenfeld (Dina Meyer, Everwood, STARSHIP TROOPERS) is a nurturing mom and recent divorcée whose beloved Jewish mashup holiday celebration with her adult children is derailed when she falls for Alex Rojas (Aaron Dominguez), her daughter’s charming new boyfriend. Their electrifying affair upends her status quo and sets her on a path to becoming the woman she was meant to be. Tyrrell asks, “can an audience empathize with a woman who made the ultimate betrayal, a mother who slept with her daughter’s boyfriend? I say the answer is yes!” Celebrate Chrismanukah at the World Premiere Sunday, July 2 at 2:45PM.

In Linh Tran’s WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE, Amy, having recently undergone dramatic weight loss, finds herself wrestling between loyalty to her best friend Kim and her attraction to Kim’s new boyfriend while on a beachside getaway. Amy’s internal maelstrom of emotions is poised to boil over at any moment as her group’s struggles to find something to do in an empty beach town turn into an unsuccessful effort by all of them to sort through attractions to each other, as well as suppress old resentments, jealousies, and desires before they leave. C.J. Prince at The Film Stage called it “a strong, precise debut,” and the film took the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film at Slamdance this past January. Southern California premiere Wednesday, June 28 at 9:15PM.

When Beth James Burns’ son Evan was diagnosed with autism in the early 90’s, treatment options were limited. Doctors offered no practical advice for daily living and advised Beth to limit his social interactions. In Alexander Jeffery’s YOU HAVE NO IDEA, Beth rejects these notions and sets out to provide her son with a life filled with purpose and friendship. Jeffery enthuses, “Dances With Films is such an amazing opportunity for our little film. This story follows one family’s journey with autism in El Dorado, Arkansas, but for a story with such humble beginnings, it resonates with audiences in a big way. Evan lights up the screen like he was always meant to be a star, so having a screening in Hollywood feels incredibly fitting.” West coast premiere, Saturday, July 1 at 2:45PM.

TV Pilots have a difficult job: in one chapter, convince the audience it has the story, characters and promise to go eight or more episodes. One of this year’s standouts is Mitch Yapko’s ingenious REMIXED. In REMIXED, a pregnant Liz, confused about her marriage and falling back into irresponsible habits, discovers a box with her best friend Aubrey that was left by Liz’s late brother. In it, they find a 15-year-old, audio-guided bucket list he made for his friends to complete. The girls recruit their friend Isaac to complete the first challenges. Along the way, they rediscover their love for each other, address unhealthy coping mechanisms, and honor the final wishes of their friend. World premiere TV Pilots Block 2, Saturday, July 1 at 1:15PM.

While many film festivals rely heavily on celebrity, DWF has instead celebrated the newest innovation, talent, creativity and sweat equity from around the world—basically serving as a festival of new talent. Numerous DWF alumni have gone on to write, direct and produce celebrity-studded vehicles, star in blockbuster movies and television series, produce multi-million-dollar films and create hit TV shows…AND they even have had several OSCAR® nominees.

However, the fest’s “no stars” policy has relaxed somewhat in recent years. “In the beginning we were very strict about it,” Scallon recalls. “But to be honest, we have—at  26 years—have so many festival alumni connected with bigger films, so there is that aspect.  Also, with the temperature of the press being so much about “stars,” we do realize that it helps the other films who may not have a “star” in their film to get more buzz.  And frankly, we are buzzworthy!”

Despite the writers’ strike environment amid other restive unions, “We think it is an exciting time,” Scallon concludes. “When you see anyone being able to sit down, write a story, film it and get it out there through the many channels we have, and once-prohibitive costs have declined, it means more voices heard, talents discovered and incredible creatives being able to do what they want: create!”

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