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Spotlight: IFP West – Los Angeles Film Festival

One year after merging with the Independent Feature Project West, the Los Angeles Film Festival has emerged as one of the most filmmaker-friendly, community-oriented festivals around.

Director of programming Rachel Rosen, who joined the fest from the San Francisco Intl. Film Fest this year, feels like the event has started to evolve as an important part of the calendar for U.S. independent and foreign films.

Now that the 8-year-old event has succeeded in drawing top specialty films (“Lovely and Amazing” opened the fest, while “The Good Girl” closed it) while programming a number of popular retrospectives and events, the challenge is to bring the rest of the selections up to the same level.

Rosen thinks that the quality will continue to improve, but that it will take a few years for filmmakers and distributors to realize that the June fest is a worthy premiere venue situated in a period between the Cannes and Toronto titans.

“There were a lot of films I wanted that I didn’t end up with. We hadn’t had international films before — that’s one area that I’m hoping the success of this year will help with,” Rosen says.

Documentary selections were well received, but many of the narrative film centerpieces and selections had already played Sundance and other fests, including the grand prize-winning “Paradox Lake.” Rosen thinks the $50,000 cash prize should lure more narrative submissions in the future.

Last year, “Kissing Jessica Stein” was acquired out of the fest, but this year’s selection didn’t deliver similar pickup potential, although some films are in negotiation. “I don’t need all the films I show to get distributed,” says Rosen, who prefers to concentrate on interesting cinematic voices.

Filmmakers praised the one-of-a-kind Filmmakers Retreat, a one-day getaway at an Ojai spa where young helmers mingled with the likes of Sydney Pollack, Alfonso Cuaron and Miguel Arteta, and chatted about each other’s films.

“The thing that most distinguished LAFF from other festivals would be the retreat,” says Scott Kennedy, director of prize-winning doc “OT: Our Town.” “It set a wonderful tone.”

Kennedy also appreciated the extra screening the fest arranged so that the high school drama class profiled in the film could be bused in to see it in a festival setting.

“It was a great vibe — it didn’t feel too Hollywood, but you still had that energy going on with the premieres and everything,” says Kennedy.

The fest provided numerous networking opportunities to participants, from the Filmmakers Retreat to Speed Dating, poolside chats at the Chateau Marmont, and a filmmakers lounge with food, drinks and comfy booths.

Eric Byler, director of narrative feature “Charlotte Sometimes,” which sold out two screenings, liked the Speed Dating program, in which filmmakers met with distribs and other advisers in 10-minute chunks of time.

“It was great practice for meetings, and I made some friends, too,” he says. “I appreciated how many staff members there were who took a big interest in how things were going for the filmmakers.”

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