There's no better sign that the center of L.A.'s gravity has shifted back downtown than the Weinstein Company deciding to showcase its 2014 Lexus Shorts project at L.A. Live. If Hollywood is willing to brave the 10 at rush hour to venture all the way from the Westside, you know the transition is complete. Sure, the L.A. Film Fest has been downtown for years; but when Harvey Weinstein wants to give Lexus a big show to thank it for sponsoring their shorts project, I guess L.A. Live is the go to venue (with Wolfgang Puck's WP 24 hosting the after party). 2013's inaugural event was a low-key event at the DGA. But this year, even the great Harvey himself battled that glacial parking lot of a freeway to get here, as did plenty of scenesters in short black dresses and pork-pie hats.
Interestingly, one of the two shorts selected this year was shot in downtown and manages to capture its transition perfectly. First, what is Lexus Short Films? Basically, it's an aspiring directors' dream. Lexus, in partnership with the Weinstein Co., scours film festivals the world round for a lucky few directors, pairs them with mentors like Philip Noyce and Antoine Fuqua, and gives them the kind of budget and resources to make a short film that many indie features would kill for. Other shorts programs might give you advice, or if you're lucky equipment. Lexus Short Films basically green lights your short and takes it to festivals around the year. This year's films from up and coming directors Jon Goldman and Satsuki Okawa were polished pieces that dazzled even on the Regal Cinemas' 60 foot main screen. Okawa's film Operation Barn Owl featured a tale of unrequited love while Goldman's--who full disclosure I've known for a while as a colleague and friend--showcased none other than Grand Market itself.
Anyone who's lived downtown awhile has watched Grand Market transition from a dingy, reliably cheap lunch stop to a potpourri of foodie culture. It's always been a utility spot for a great taco--Roast-to-Go's carnitas will give you a heart attack and send you straight to heaven--but now with the downtown renaissance, it's become a necessary lunch stop. I'm as likely to see French tourists sampling G&B coffee as I am a family of natives picking up pupusas to go. It's both exciting and a tad melancholy. Who doesn't love the breakfast sandwiches at Egg Slut? But you also miss the worn edges that are being slowly sanded off. (Though I'll be honest, I'm literally salivating over the soon-to-open Oyster bar.) Goldman's short Market Hours captures that moment of change, preserving the last traces of Grand Market's old energy as it transforms itself for its second century.
In fact, that's what got his pitch picked by the Weinstein Co. Backpacking around Asia, Goldman had fallen in love with China's night markets, only to discover that L.A. had its own polyglot (day) version right in his own backyard. He'd been there once before, but on his return he saw it in a whole new light--even as it was changing radically. "I wanted to capture it in this moment of transition," Goldman told me at the after party, the revitalized L.A. skyline sparkling in the background. "It's so exciting because it has this cross section of the city--abuelitas doing their daily shopping, Chinese apothecaries--it's L.A. in a nutshell. I was excited about the place and the time." So Goldman concocted a touching story of a whimsical security guard who imagines the thoughts and dreams of all the market's varied denizens, ultimately catching the eye of the lovely lady at a pastry stall. In addition to being a charming ode to the wonder of spontaneous connection, Goldman's film function as a time capsule, capturing both Grand Market's vanishing scruffy charm, as well as its voguish future (a starlet stops for coffee pulling up in the latest model Lexus to set off the film's climactic action sequence.) Okawa's film was touching and beautifully produced in its own right, but Market Hours struck a chord in me for its snapshot of a downtown that's changing moment-to-moment; it's like that high school yearbook photo that gets the last traces of your childhood and the inevitability of your future self.
It sent me walking home through the rising residential towers of South Park and past the turn-of-last-century brick offices with a twang of nostalgia. Downtown L.A.'s long since past the tipping point of urban renewal, but I'll always treasure the humble, half-forgotten metropolis it was less than a decade ago.