A tale of two LA festivals

Mon Jun 29, 2009 2:35pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood might be the heart of English-language moviemaking, but when it comes to film festivals, the city lacks a major-league franchise.

Not that Los Angeles has no film festivals. One of its two big ones, the Los Angeles Film Festival, successfully wrapped its 2009 edition Sunday. But the casual movie fan couldn't be blamed for puzzling over the identities of the two festivals, LAFF and AFI Fest. However, recent leadership changes at both fests and economic realities of the recession might more forcefully define those identities.

LAFF, which has settled into the cozy confines of Westwood Village and nearby venues for several editions, is produced by parent organization Film Independent (FIND). Rebecca Yeldham, producer of such films as "The Motorcycle Diaries" and "The Kite Runner," came on board as festival director only three months before the current edition began, following the resignation of Rich Raddon.

Although she did inherit a significant support network in FIND exec director Dawn Hudson and LAFF director of programing Rachel Rosen, the wrapped fest was a learning experience for her. Where things go from here is, as she put it, "to be determined."

At the moment, the festival is a bit of this and a bit of that. But like AFI Fest, you won't find many acquisition execs at its screenings. Neither festival tends to premiere must-see indie films. In its recent edition, LAFF showed several Sundance hits, and even in its narrative competition -- a place where one would expect new films -- "Turistas" played at Venice last year. The fest also included splashy premieres of such studio films as "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "Public Enemies" to bring crowds to Westwood.

Yeldham did open the festival for the first time with a world premiere of a film without a distributor. "Paper Man" did the trick: It attracted an audience filled with film scouts, studio execs and heads of independent companies.

Yeldham pronounced herself pleased with the results -- "It was a magical night for the audience and the filmmakers," she said -- but reviews of the film were tepid, and few of the execs at opening night were seen during the remainder of the festival.

Because major premieres of new works are unlikely only a few weeks after Cannes has wrapped, LAFF seeks to create "events." These range from a screening of a restored print of the 1971 cult film "Billy Jack" to "Poolside Chats" at the W Hotel and "Festival Conversations" at various venues where festivalgoers interact with filmmakers, writers and others.   Continued...