The Third American Essentials Film Festival announces its packed program

The American Essentials Film Festival will celebrate its third outing from 8 May across Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, exclusively at Palace Cinemas. The festival will look to present twenty-two of the best contemporary American independent films in honour of L.A. The festival will be presented by Discover Los Angeles in association with American Airlines.

The festival will open with The Boy Downstairs, Sophie Brook’s directorial debut which stars Girls actress Zosia Mamet as Diana, an aspiring writer who finds her dream Brooklyn apartment only to realise her downstairs neighbour happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The opening night will also feature a New York style food, accompanied by live music.

The lineup will feature hard hitting dramas such as 55 Steps, based on the true story of a friendship between lawyer Colette Hughes, played by Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), and psychiatric patient Eleanor Riese, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club), revolving around the 1987 San Francisco case for patients’ rights .

Lynn Shelton’s drama Outside In follows an ex-con played by Jay Duplass (Transparent), as he struggles to readjust to life outside prison in a small town. My Days of Mercy stars Ellen Page (Juno) and Kate Mara (The Martian) as lovers against the backdrop of a death penalty case, whose relationship becomes strained by their differing political views. Based on the acclaimed novel by Kevin Powers,The Yellow Birds follows two young soldiers as they face the horrors of the Iraq War. Kodachrome follows an ailing photographer played by Ed Harris (Westworld), his nurse played by Elizabeth Olsen (Avengers: Age of Ultron)and his estranged son played by Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses), as they embark on a memorable road-trip across America. I Kill Giants comes to us from the producers of Harry Potter, as a rebellious teenage girl escapes her mundane school life to a fantasy world filled with evil giants. Finally, The Ballad of Lefty Brown sees Bill Pullman as Lefty Brown in an old school western tale of revenge.

 The festival will have no shortage of crime dramas and thrillers, featuring Never Here, a thriller starring Mireille Enos (The Killing) and the late Sam Shepard (Mud) in his final role. Mom and Dad is black comedy starring Nicolas Cage (Kick-Ass) and Selma Blair (Hellboy) as a suburban couple caught in a bizarre phenomenon that turns parents into viscous killers. Gotti stars John Travolta (Grease) as he transforms into the infamous John Gotti, as the film chronicles the rise of the mafia kingpin over three decades.

Comedies include Humor Me, a heartfelt comedy starring Jemaine Clement (Moana) as a struggling playwright who moves in with his wisecracking father played by Elliot Gould (Ocean’s Eleven) in his New Jersey retirement community. Carol Brandt’s directorial effort Pet Names centres around a former couple as they find themselves in close quarters.

Musical oriented features include American Folk, as two musicians played by Joe Purdy  and Amber Rubarth take a road trip to New York days after 9/11 after being stranded in California. Stuck stars Ashanti and Giancarlo Esposito as  a group of strangers stranded on a New York subway train together. How They Got Over features rare interviews from the genre’s pioneers as they explore the origins of African-American gospel quartets during the 30’s and 40’s, as they created a sound that led to rock ‘n’ roll.

The documentary RBG delves into the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the woman behind the robe, and the moments that shape her legacy to this very day.

WATTSTAX comes to viewers as more than a simple concert film, but a deep look into mid-1970’s African-American culture, seven years after the Watts riots, featuring performances from musical legends such as the Staple Singers. Killer Sheep will screen with WATTSTAX in a double feature and centres around a struggling African-American family in L.A. Watts neighbourhood and is widely regarded as an American masterpiece.

Classics will also return with a 4K remaster of the epic crime drama Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Chinatown will also hit the big screen again as Jack Nicholson stars as a private investigator in 1930’s Los Angeles. Shampoo starring Warren Beatty will also return, as a Beverly Hills hairdresser who dreams of opening his own salon.

The American Essentials Film Festival is presented by Discover Los Angeles and American Airlines. For more information, you can visit


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Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.