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Los Angeles Film Fest 2014: 'Lake Los Angeles' review

Theatrical Still from Lake Los Angeles
Theatrical Still from Lake Los Angeles
courtesy Small Form Films/Los Angeles Film Festival

Lake Los Angeles


Making its World Premiere as well as vying for Best Film in the Narrative category at the Los Angeles Film Festival is Mike Ott’s “Lake Los Angeles.” Completing the trilogy of his “Antelope Valley” films, which includes “Littlerock” (2010) and “Pearblossom Hwy” (2012), “Lake Los Angeles” is a study of two lost souls in the nearly ghost-like town of Lake Los Angeles. It’s a moving film with fine performances from its two leads, Roberto Sanchez as Francisco and the young Johanna Trujillo as Cecilia.

The story on surface is simple enough – a middle-aged man, Francisco lives and runs a halfway-type of home for immigrants crossing the border. He himself came from Cuba some years ago and yearns for his wife and sons left behind whom he talks to via tape recordings and letters. Has he come to America for the American dream? Has he escaped Cuba for political reasons? Will he ever reunite with loved ones, or forever be a lonely soul on the outskirts of life?

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Cecilia lurks in the shadow of Francisco’s journey; in some ways a mirror image. She has crossed the border, motherless. She resides at Francisco’s home a shade longer than others, and when a situation turns questionably dire, she takes off on her own. The desert is an inhospitable place, but Cecilia shows creativity in her survival tactics, as well as having an imaginative friend as a companion with the “old man” in her beloved snow shaker (a fitting object to juxtapose the desert lake bed).

Cecilia too is on a search – a missing father, a place to call home and be safe, while Francisco searches for self and possibly even self-forgiveness.

Ott does a fine job with the direction of his actors for his understated, yet realistically portrayed characters. Credit goes also to the creative team he as assembled and continues to work with throughout the trilogy. Ott, who also co-wrote the script with co-writer and producer Atsuko Okatsuka fashion a taut script that is smart and complex in emotional resonance. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis does beautiful work in capturing the poetry of the desolate landscape, while editor Santos S. Santos does a fine job with the film’s leisurely paced editing that allows the characters to explore the minutia of their internal emotions in realistic ways.

Ott has worked with Okatsuka on his previous two films, and Gioulakis and Santos worked on his last, “Pearblossom Hwy.” Actor Sanchez has appeared in all three films of Ott’s Antelope Valley trilogy.

“Lake Los Angeles” is a poignant film that examines both the experience of being an immigrant as well as the universal experience of finding one’s place and battling loneliness. Ott explains in his film’s press notes that using landscape as character, he hopes to “…re-[examine] America through foreign eyes, and the struggle for the American dream by all the dreamers who society has forgotten.” He has succeeded in his goals with the winning “Lake Los Angeles.”

“Lake Los Angeles” is 85 minutes, Unrated and in Spanish with English subtitles. For additional screenings and ticket information, visit LAFF.