Pitching to the majors

Honors give new talent chance to connect with established pros

For up-and-coming filmmakers looking for a break, the Hollywood Movie Awards is the ultimate networking opportunity.

Capping the five-day Hollywood Film Festival and conference, tonight’s Discovery Awards will shine a spotlight on new films before an audience of 1,200 industryites, including studio execs, agents and celebs. Top talents such as Ron Howard, Anthony Hopkins, Goldie Hawn and Amy Pascal also will be saluted.

This year, 48 independent films, shorts and docus have been chosen from over 1,500 submissions for inclusion in the five-day event. Submissions were up this year by 20%, an indication of the festival’s growing recognition. From those selections, five Discovery Awards will be presented at tonight’s $1,000-a-head gala ceremony at the BevHilton: feature, short, documentary, animated film and European feature.

Event organizer Carlos de Abreu says the competition is designed to emphasize quality not quantity, thus allowing finalists closer access to industry folk they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet. “All through the different areas of the festival, filmmakers who participate are able to rub shoulders with agents, distributors, directors and people who can help their careers.”

While the 7-year-old awards event offers no cash prize, the exposure it offers has helped past winners kickstart their careers. De Abreu can rattle off a laundry list of names of previous Discovery Awards honorees who have gone on to greater success, such as director Robert De Franco, whose 1998 feature “Telling You” was picked up by Miramax; writer-director Craig Brewer, a recent Independent Feature Project “new face” who won for digital feature in 2000 for “The Poor and Hungry” and who’s currently juggling prospects from various studios; and 2000 doc winner Janine Hosking, who subsequently sold her moving account of an Aussie charity worker, “My Khmer Heart,” to HBO.

Former Hollywood Film Festival young filmmaker of the year Zoe Clarke-Williams is another de Abreu discovery who met with success after her win for “Men,” her first film. She went on to direct the $13 million “New Best Friend” for MGM.

“My agent got me that project, but I’m sure that winning the award at the Hollywood Film Festival helped,” says Clarke-Williams, who is producing a series of shorts based on Edna O’Brien novel “The Love Object.” “To be acknowledged by your peers at a festival that so many people in L.A. go to, gives you a much wider exposure. It was very helpful to my career and I think it opened doors.”

The awards will wrap the festival and a film conference that this year includes panels, social and networking events, and back-to-back screenings at the ArcLight and the U.S. premieres of indies “Shattered Glass,” “11:14,” “The Singing Detective,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and documentary “Khachaturian.” This year’s Discovery Awards judges include producer Paula Wagner, cinematographer and former Hollywood Movie Award honoree Laszlo Kovacs and screenwriter George Gallo.

But for de Abreu, it’s discovering and encouraging new directing and writing talent that seems to drive him the most.

“Carlos (pulls) everything together,” says former Discovery honoree Joshua Beckett, whose 1997 feature win for “Always Say Goodbye” helped him make the transition from TV to feature directing. As a young fest, the Hollywood Film Festival has a way to go before it fully achieves its goals, notes Beckett. For him, there was little gap bridging at the fest, and he failed to find a distributor for his winning feature.

“It doesn’t have the recognition of a Sundance, Berlin, Cannes or Telluride win,” says the writer-director, whose most recent screenplay is being developed by producer Rachel Rothman for low-budget indie Maverick Films. “That said, winning the festival certainly opened doors for me at production companies. It meant my film was publicly screened at the Hollywood Galaxy and because of that it was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.”

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