Soph sesh in new location adds energy

Though only in its second year at its new location, the Los Angeles Film Festival’s bold move to downtown’s L.A. Live — amid state-of-the-art theaters, a clutch of restaurants and night life — seems already to have paid off for the fest, better synthesizing an L.A. vibe that brings a knowledgeable crowd to filmmakers, and delivers what industry festgoers care about most — easy parking.

The 2010 event drew the fest’s highest attendance ever, notes festival director Rebecca Yeldham. “There was an incredible vitality and sense of community among festgoers, and when they came, they really wanted to stay.”

Sure to lure showbizzers back this year: Yeldham and team’s carefully selected slate of 200-plus films, shorts and musicvids that range from festival standouts, such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” direct from Cannes and James Marsh’s docu “Project Nim” from Sundance to world premieres, among them locally shot indie comedy “Life Happens,” helmed by Kat Coiro, opening nighter “Bernie” from Richard Linklater and Chris Weitz’s “A Better Life.” Crowdpleasers include a screening of tentpole pic “Green Lantern,” free outdoor unspoolings and poolside conversations at the J.W. Marriott with James Franco and Julie Taymor.

“An incredible array of talent will be coming together in and around the festival,” promises Yeldham.

Backing the festival’s move downtown, and helping maximize marketing and sponsorship efforts, is AEG, developer of L.A. Live, home to the Nokia Theater, Grammy Museum, Regal Cinemas, the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels, and enough bars and restaurants to keep festgoers well tended.

“L.A. Live is a perfect fit for the festival,” says Scott Hanley, vice president of events for AEG and L.A. Live. “We’re shooting for 80,000 attendees this year,” he adds, noting that this year’s fest will utilize multiple venues, including a vast tented event deck and a clubby outdoor terrace just above the Grammy Museum, in addition to the seven stadium-style theaters at the Regal Cinemas, lauded by filmmakers and distribs for their superb projection and sound.

“The L.A. Film Festival under Rebecca Yeldham has started to embrace Los Angeles and all that it has to offer,” says Tom Bernard, Sony Pictures Classics co-topperw. By spotlighting L.A.-based artists and technicians and utilizing the L.A. movie scene, there are more reasons than ever to attend the fest, from a distributors’ point-of-view, he adds. SPC is presenting three pics at the festival: docu “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” Brendan Gleeson starrer “The Guard” and the Vera Farmiga-helmed “Higher Ground.”

Though the Los Angeles fest doesn’t feature the kind of market vibe of a Toronto or a Sundance, it does offer is a genuine filmgoing audience.

“These days, one can sell a film anywhere, anytime,” says WME’s Alexis Garcia, who is repping “Life Happens” and co-repping “Bernie” with Cinetic. “But what LAFF can provide is audience and press buzz in the entertainment capital of the world, which is a critical component of distributor analysis on a film.”

For those films with distribution, the major-market media noise engendered by a successful LAFF screening raises a film’s profile and marketing momentum, and can also jump-start awards season conversations.

“The Kids Are All Right” preemed at Sundance 2010, but its LAFF screening ignited Oscar talk. SPC’s Bernard confirms that “Animal Kingdom’s” Oscar campaign got its start at LAFF. “What you want is critics, the public, the guilds, the Academy to see films in the best possible scenario, and they got it,” Bernard says.

Film Independent, which operates LAFF, works year-round to build the audience for indie pics.

“When we fall in love with films and the talent in those films, we really dedicate ourselves to supporting those films and filmmakers all the way through,” Yeldham says.

Filmmakers experience that support firsthand. Scribe-helmer Miranda July (“The Future”) anticipates a lively “hometown” screening that includes cast and crew, while three-time LAFF filmmaker Ti West (“The Innkeepers”) looks forward to the pre-fest retreat and the opportunity to network.

“You put your life on hold to make a film, shoot, edit, and distribute,” West says. “It’s great to meet like-minded people who understand the pain of it all.”

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