Sing Street And A Gorilla: The Movies At This Hollywood Festival Are All Crowd Pleasers

From the MaltinFest poster (Courtesy MaltinFest)

There are a small number of legendary movie critics, and L.A.'s Leonard Maltin is one of them. After more than 50 years of film criticism, he's found something that he's never done before — host his own film festival.

"He's just always been busy, and so this is the first time in our life and his career where he had time for something like this," his daughter Jessie said.

MaltinFest, set for this weekend at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre, has a lineup filled with crowd pleasers, celebrity guests, and some of the truly weird — like Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (not that we aren't hyped for that).

"I have a perverse fascination with this tacky movie from 1951," Leonard said. "And it turns out, I'm not alone. If ever a film has a cult following, this is it."

Film critic Leonard Maltin (Courtesy MaltinFest)

The festival aims to introduce people to movies that they might not have seen otherwise, with the Maltin family hosting and Leonard interviewing guests.

"I don't know any film critic who doesn't love the idea of championing an underdog movie — getting behind a film that doesn't have an Avengers type of marketing budget, and I'm no exception to that," Leonard said.

But it includes plenty of recent movies — it's not trying to compete with something like the Turner Classic Movies festival, which Maltin is also involved with.

"The stuff that we love as a family are the hidden gems, the stuff that we see that a lot of people don't ever see," Jessie said.

That includes selections like writer/director Alexander Payne's first feature Citizen Ruth, with Payne and actress Laura Dern appearing at the festival. You've also got recent critical favorite Sing Street alongside documentaries like The Death of 'Superman Lives' and Exporting Raymond.

"It's always fun hearing a filmmaker after you've just seen their work — fun and illuminating," Leonard said.

PUTTING TOGETHER A FESTIVAL

Maltin On Movies graphic with Jessie and Leonard Maltin. (Courtesy MaltinFest)

Maltin is the face of the festival, but it's a family affair. Daughter Jessie takes the lead on logistics. She has her own long history in movies, helping write for Leonard's famed movie guide while she was growing up.

She takes credit for helping get her dad on social media and convincing him to start a podcast, particularly after book sales declined, and they stopped publishing his annual movie guide.

Leonard has his own special treat he's excited for as part of the festival — pairing the films with some of his favorite classic shorts, which they're keeping under wraps until this weekend.

"We've worked with archives all over Los Angeles, getting some really fun stuff," Jessie said.

While not announcing the films, he wants crowds to get ready to follow the bouncing ball — and daughter Jessie promises he'll find you if you don't. (We didn't realize Leonard was such an enforcer.)

We did manage to pry loose one of the films being screened — the 1936 Tex Avery classic I Love to Singa.

They're also hosting several podcasts, including one that has had its own fascination for years with Leonard — Doug Loves Movies, hosted by comedian Doug Benson. Each episode includes guests playing the Leonard Maltin Game, where you have to guess the name of a film using the names of the cast, starting with the lowest billed up. Leonard's appeared on the show himself over the years.

Leonard's also getting the tables turned, playing guest on podcast the Movies that Made Me.

"I'll be the me that week," Leonard said.

TAKING MOVIES ON THE ROAD

The Maltins hope to make this festival not just an annual L.A. event, but one that they take on the road, touring classic theaters and bringing film fans together.

"One of the things that people say to us all the time is, 'I wish we had this where we live,'" Jessie said. "My reaction to that is, 'OK!'"

Connecting with other movie fans is something that's not as easy to do elsewhere, she added.

"We live in L.A. and we're spoiled in that way. You can talk to your waiter about movies, and he's probably made seven of them," Jessie said.

"More people have access to movies than ever before, but that access is for mainly watching it alone, or maybe your spouse or your family," Leonard said. "But how much nicer would it be, to be able to present that possibility to people in a variety of cities, and give them access to a theatrical showing?"

WATCHING THE AUDIENCE

When we spoke with them, Leonard expressed just the slightest trepidation about how this might all work out — but Jessie insisted that it's definitely coming together, come hell or high water.

After all these years, Leonard said that it's the sense of discovery that still gets him going.

"Walking into a film, knowing nothing about it, and coming out feeling like you've just uncovered a hidden gem, or an actor you've never seen before, or a filmmaker whose work you're not familiar with — that's always stimulating and fun," Leonard said.

Leonard said they're excited to vicariously experiencing these movies through new eyes.

"We're not just going to be watching the movies, we're going to be watching the audience watching the movies," Leonard said.

Your chance to watch and be watched starts this Friday and runs through Sunday in the inaugural MaltinFest. The first film begins Friday at 4 p.m., with everything wrapping up Sunday night.

See the full MaltinFest schedule below:

(Courtesy MaltinFest)