By Travis Johnson

Presented by Discover Los Angeles and American Airlines, the third American Essentials Film Festival is hitting Palace Cinemas in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Canberra this May, showcasing the best and most exciting indie cinema that the US has to offer.

All up 22 contemporary American films will be screened, headed up be this year’s opening night film, The Boy Downstairs. The directorial debut of Sophie Brooks, the film sees Zosia Mamet as an ambitious aspiring writer who is dismayed to discover her new downstairs neighbour is her ex-boyfriend.

Other highlights on the slate this year include:

55 Steps – based on the true story of the friendship between lawyer Colette Hughes (Hilary Swank) and psychiatric patient Eleanor Riese (Helena Bonham Carter) and their 1987 San Francisco case for patients’ rights.

55 Steps

Outside In –  Lynn Shelton’s new film, which follows an ex-con (Jay Duplass) struggling to readjust to life in his small town.

My Days of Mercy –  Ellen Page and Kate Mara star as lovers against the backdrop of a death penalty case, whose burgeoning relationship is tested by their opposing political views.

The Yellow Birds –  based on the acclaimed novel by American poet and veteran Kevin Powers, the film follows two young soldiers who face the terrors of the Iraq War.

Kodachrome – an ailing photographer (Ed Harris), his nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) and his estranged son (Jason Sudeikis) embark on a road-trip across America.

I Kill Giants – a defiant teenage girl escape her family and school life into a fantasy world where she fights evil giants.

I Kill Giants

The Ballad of Lefty Brown–  Bill Pullman is Lefty Brown in this classic bounty huntin’, revenge dealin’ old school Western adventure where a busted-out loser meets a quick shooting gang on the open range.

Never Here –  a haunting Lynchian thriller starring Mireille Enos (The Killing) and the late Sam Shepard in his last screen appearance;

Mom and Dad –  Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair star as a suburban couple who are caught in a bizarre phenomenon that fills parents with a murderous rage.

Mom and Dad

Gotti – John Travolta transforms into the late John Gotti, aka “Teflon Don,” for a chronicle of the mafia kingpin’s rise to power over three decades.

Humor Me –  Jemaine Clement stars as a struggling playwright who moves into his wisecracking father’s (Elliott Gould) New Jersey retirement community.

Pet Names – a former couple find themselves in close quarters in a Wisconsin-set feature directed by Carol Brandt.

American Folk –  two musicians (played by Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth) stranded in California, who take a road trip to New York in the days after 9/11.

American Folk

Stuck – based on the award-winning Off-Broadway musical, a group of strangers are stranded on a New York subway train together, starring Ashanti and Giancarlo Esposito.

How They Got Over – featuring rare interviews with the genre’s pioneers, this incredible documentary traces the origins of African-American gospel quartets in the 1930s and ’40s, creating a sound that foreshadowed rock ‘n’ roll.

RBG – a triumphant look at the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealing the woman behind the robe and the experiences that continue to shape her legacy.

The retrospective program invites to revisit some absolutely crucial moments in the history of American cinema, with a specific focus this year on vibrant, seductive and occasionally dark metropolis of Los Angeles.

Wattstax – this spectacular concert film captures a heady moment in mid-1970s African-American culture, just seven years after the Watts riots.


Killer of Sheep – screening as a special double feature with Wattstax,  this lyrical and starkly neorealist portrait of a struggling African-American family in L.A.’s Watts neighbourhood influenced generations of filmmakers and is widely regarded as an American masterpiece.

Heat – presented in a searing new 4K restoration, Michael Mann’s masterpiece sees Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on opposite sides of the law and features one of cinema’s greatest showdowns.

Chinatown – in one of his most iconic roles, Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a dogged private investigator in ‘30s Los Angeles.

Shampoo –  a pleasure-seeking Beverly Hills hairdresser (Warren Beatty) dreams of opening his own salon in Hal Ashby’s screwball classic.

American Essentials runs at Sydney’s Palace Central from May 8 – 20, Canberra’s Palace Electric from May 9 – 20, Brisbane’s Palace Centro from May 9 – 20, and Melbourne’s The Astor Theatre & Kino Cinemas from May 10 – 20. Tickets are on sale now.




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