Town & company

Showcase takes extra steps to lure locals as well as industryites

As the annual Los Angeles Film Festival heads into its second decade, pic selections are more streamlined and its sideshows increasingly ambitious.

In its fourth year under the auspices of Film Independent (FIND), the nonprofit support org behind the Independent Spirit Awards, LAFF will offer 79 features, including eight world preems. The lineup was culled from some 1,200 feature submissions — significantly more than in prior years — but the fest also programmed fewer competition slots.

Eight narrative features will vie for the filmmaker award, and 11 nonfiction features for the documentary award. Both come with a $50,000 prize, underwritten by Target.

Since FIND’s association, LAFF has put more emphasis on the talent behind the lineup, adding a filmmaker-only weekend retreat before the fest’s start. Among the perks is the presence of a few established filmmakers who share war stories with the up-and-comers. Fest guest director Sydney Pollack headed this year’s vet pack, which included Robert Towne, Ed Zwick, Miguel Arteta, Paul Haggis, Catherine Hardwicke and Randy Barbato.

“It’s about deep connections and giving filmmakers the ability to get to know other filmmakers on an intimate level,” says fest topper Rich Raddon.

FIND exec director Dawn Hudson calls it building a community of artists. “Film Independent filmmakers already are a group of outsiders, so this helps connect them to another group of like-minded outsiders.”

Along the same lines, when George Clooney receives LAFF’s inaugural Spirit of Independence Award on June 25, it will be filmmakers sitting in the audience as Clooney shares clips of his work and dishes stories from the set.

Most other events at the fest, however, will be open to the public and the industry.

But staging a film fest in the filmmaking capital of the world has been an ongoing challenge for the L.A. showcase, and it has forced organizers to innovate.

“This year we have continued to branch out with events, parties and conversations that appeal to different cultures and ages,” says Raddon.

As in the past few years, the pics will be surrounded by creative powwows, live performances and some inspired musical accompaniment. For instance, THE RZA, the fest’s artist in residence, will mix a live soundtrack to a night of animation at the Ford Ampitheater in a sesh dubbed “Toontime With THE RZA.” A founding member of hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan, RZA has scored films such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.”

“We don’t always get it right,” says chief programmer Rachel Rosen of the fest’s eclectic aspirations, “but when we do, even the most jaded industry person gets inspired.”

Rosen and her team have dug up a few rare treasures for this year’s edition, such as an archival 35mm print of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970). One of three selections by Pollack, pic’s an uncut and undubbed version that includes the rarely seen “Dance of the Blind” sequence.

Among RZA’s picks for the fest are restored 35mm prints of 1977’s “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and 1966’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Both a sure draw for the likes of Tarantino, if he’s in town.

“A festival that supports independent films is part of a bigger structure that encompasses other countries and films from a long time ago,” explains Rosen of the fest’s mix. “We like to think out of the normal film festival box. We search for a broader sense of things, and for stuff that might also appeal to the industry in L.A., and bring it around.”

Along with the film offerings, for instance, Julia Sweeney will put on her one-woman show “Letting Go of God.” Her agents at Endeavor hope that the performance will spur interest in transferring the property to film. Her “God Said, ‘Ha!'” made the jump in 1998.

There also are a number of key pics screening that will help industryites catch up on titles they might have missed at Sundance and Cannes.

Among the last-minute add-ons to the sked is a conversation with scribe-turned-helmer Shane Black, who will discuss and show clips of his directorial debut, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang,” fresh from its Cannes bow.

Last year, it was a sideshow to one of the competition doc screenings that stoked a distrib’s interest. Former Newmarket partner and newly anointed Picturehouse topper Bob Berney picked up “Rock School” at LAFF. He says that seeing the kids featured in the doc playing live music after the pic’s unspooling helped nudge the purchase. “It was a nice event and with ‘Rock School’ you wanted to see that aspect to make sense of it.”

“LAFF was a perfect platform for (‘Rock School’),” says the doc’s sales rep, Micah Green of Cinetic Media. “We had the kids perform in the Sunset 5 courtyard right after the screening. I can’t think of another festival where that would be possible.”

“I think people would like (LAFF) to blossom and become more of a market,” Berney adds. “In a world of so many festivals and markets, it takes a couple key films to be bought or break out. But how many films are bought and how many world premieres (there are) is the wrong barometer; yet it’s one people use. It should be the quality of films and the participation of the community … rather than trying to compete with Sundance and Cannes on sales (volume).”

UTA’s co-head of indie packaging Richard Klubeck predicts that LAFF is “poised to become the next major festival, because of its timetable, location and the association with FIND.

“After Cannes, it is sort of wide open for film festivals. I’ve seen LAFF becoming more mindful about sales. They realize it’s a central characteristic of film festivals. They’re very supportive of films up for distribution in the same way as Sundance. A festival six months (after Sundance) is well timed for films whose production schedules don’t sync up with Sundance. And it’s in L.A., so (acquisitions execs) don’t have to travel to see a small film.”

Though some industryites say the available pics this year are still quite small, even for specialty distribution, a few titles boast sales reps: WMI and Endeavor hope to secure a sale for opening night pic “Down in the Valley.” UTA reps Spanish-lingo pic “Promedio rojo,” unspooling in the Dark Wave section. Cinetic has narrative competition pic “Nearing Grace” and docu “Stagedoor,” a South by Southwest bow in March. Eastgate Pics reps competish doc “Stolen.” And Submarine has doc “Romantico” and Dark Wave entry “The Roost.”

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