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New Orleans Film Fest returns with 230 films, filmmakers and more 

The festival runs Oct. 11-19

click to enlarge Willem Dafoe stars in 
The Florida Project.

COURTESY A24

Willem Dafoe stars in The Florida Project.

The opening night film screening is usually a big event for a film festival, but for the New Orleans Film Society's Fallon Young, who came on as executive director in March, it'll be satisfying for another reason.

  "I haven't seen many of the films yet," she says with a laugh. "I am excited to see The Florida Project. I love Willem Dafoe."

  The Florida Project is the latest film from director Sean Baker, who used an iPhone to shoot Tangerine, about a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend/pimp is cheating on her.

  The New Orleans Film Festival (Oct. 11-19) includes more than 230 films, from advanced releases from major studios to narrative and documentary films in juried competitions for festival awards to showcases of experimental and animated shorts. A handful of films were curated but most were selected by juries from more than 5,000 entries. There are more than 50 Louisiana-made films, programs of Caribbean and Cuban films, a New French Cinema section and a new Change-Makers program with films about social activism. Screenings take place at venues including Cinebarre Canal Place 9 and Orpheum, The Prytania and Broad theaters.

  Patricia Clarkson is scheduled for a live interview, and Gabourey Sidibe will record an interview for Slate's "Represent" podcast. Sidibe starred in Precious and directed the short film The Tale of Four, which is being screened at the festival. There also are virtual reality experiences, music videos, parties, panel discussions and more.

  The Florida Project is about children who live in a budget motel near Disneyland in Florida and imagine their own wonderland. Among the festival's other films with upcoming theatrical releases is Mudbound, in which an African-American veteran returns from World War II and moves his family from Memphis to a rural Mississippi where they struggle to learn to farm while suffering racial resentment from the community. The Upside, a remake of the French film Les Intouchables, stars comedian Kevin Hart as an ex-con who gets a fresh start in life as an assistant to a billionaire who's been paralyzed in a  hang-gliding accident.

  The narrative film competition includes After Louie, in which Alan Cumming plays an early HIV/AIDS activist who is startled by the generation gap when he later gets involved with a younger man. In the offbeat She's Allergic to Cats, an aspiring filmmaker works as a dog groomer while remaking the horror film Carrie using internet cat videos and copes with his own petty horrors and animal attractions.

  The documentary competition includes The World is Mine, which is not really a documentary, but is a strange dive into Tokyo's cosplay scene. Filmmaker Ann Oren presents herself as a cosplayer fascinated with Hatsune Miku, an animated teenaged girl with long blue ponytails who is essentially created by fan fiction and voiced by a synthesizer program.

  Behind the scenes, the film society has facilitated more than 350 meetings between filmmakers and producers and industry professionals during the festival. The ongoing Emerging Voices program connects filmmakers of color with producers as well.

  "There's magic in the experience of being able to interface with (other) audience members," Young says. "Ninety percent of films have filmmakers present for Q&As, so you get a chance to be in the community. It's not just nine days of films; it's nine days of parties and connecting and having Hollywood South be introduced to a larger community. You get to be in presence of those creative visionaries you're watching on screen and ask them about their creative process and what they're trying to achieve with a film."

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