It’s film festival season, and while there are plenty of promising venues screening indies throughout the city, the First Look series at the Museum of the Moving Image is one not to be missed.
To kick off the week-long film fest, dozens crowded into the museum’s theater last Friday to watch the U.S. premiere of Alexandre Rockwell’s “Little Feet.”
Hailed by critics as the “first great film of 2014,” the drama tells the story of Lana and Nico — Rockwell’s real-life children with the same names — who decide to bring their goldfish Curly to the LA River after its mate dies in their fishbowl.
The children don’t live in ideal conditions by any means but given the harshness of their world topped with the death of their mother and a neglectful father — who drunkenly passes out on the couch on a regular basis — the young ones have learned to take care of themselves and have fun doing it, probably out of necessity.
What “Little Feet” does best is portray the limitlessness of a child’s mind.
When little Nico asks Lana to tell him a bedtime story, she creates a world where a panda bear, who lost his wife, lives the rest of his life in a closet.
Perhaps the film portrayal of childhood imagination is so dead-on due, in part, to Rockwell’s co-writer: his daughter Lana.
“I had her and I sit down and she’d just tell me what she wanted to see in the movie and we’d paint pictures and discuss,” Rockwell said. “It really shows the almost demented thoughts kids have and how they can become fixated on a small thing and stick to it.”
“Little Feet” is a gorgeously stripped-down film that revolves around the innocent and imaginative minds of children and the harsh world they are forced to navigate.
During a brief Q & A session, the director compared the film to listening to live acoustic music where moments of artistic beauty can be found “in the mud.”
It’s true, though the film was grainy, lacking the polished look of modern movies, there were diamonds that shown brightly throughout the film, amidst the mud.
One such moment takes place in the beginning of the film when Nico, who is supposed to be getting ready for bed, instead pretends to shave his chin with some shaving cream and a spoon.
Lana finds him and tells him it’s time to whiten his teeth, presenting a bottle of White Out. She paints the boy’s teeth for a few seconds before he wrenches his head away, telling her to stop because it’s sour.
The 11-year-old girl acts as Nico’s caretaker of sorts but it’s moments like the White Out scene that show the audience that, despite her independence, she’s still a little girl.
The grainy quality of the production, shot on 16-millimeter film, is due, in part, due to the fact Rockwell did not have the money to buy new film reels.
“Most people are very careful with exposing the film but I welcome it,” Rockwell said. “Those little things are like listening to live music. We’ve become so obsessed with getting everything polished and perfect, but the imperfections can add richness to a film. So if the film was a little overexposed at one point, so what?”
Many attendees were mostly impressed with Rockwell’s ability to get Nico and Lana to perform as well as they did throughout the film.
“When you’re working with kids, it’s important to just talk to them,” he said. “Ask them questions and have them explain themselves and their thinking. Also, for any actor, old or young, it always makes a difference if you have them doing something while they’re on screen. It draws them in and makes them part of the environment. Having a pocket filled with candy doesn’t hurt either.”