L.A. takes top billing at LAFF

Fest features a variety of locally shot pics

Perhaps the biggest star at the 17th Los Angeles Film Festival, opening today downtown Los Angeles, is Los Angeles itself.

Fest, which runs to June 26, features a number of locally shot pics such as Kat Coiro’s comedy “Life Happens,” Chris Weitz’s family drama “A Better Life,” Sheldon Larry’s voguing feature “Leave It on the Floor,” Nicholas Ozeki’s Echo Park-set “Mamitas” and Azazel Jacobs’ teen pic “Terri.”

“We shot ‘A Better Life’ in 69 different locations in L.A., so we never really though about shooting anywhere else,” Weitz told Variety. “To have my film open in the heart of Los Angeles just feels right. As someone who’s lived here for 20 years, this is a nice way to break through.”

The festival drew 92,000 attendees last year after moving downtown from Westwood. The event, produced by Film Independent, received more than 5,025 submissions from filmmakers compared to more than 4,700 in 2010.

Last year’s event was similarly strong on pics set in L.A., including “The Kids Are All Right” and “Cyrus,” while the 2009 edition screened “(500) Days of Summer.”

Though the Los Angeles fest doesn’t have the acquisitions scene of events like Cannes, Toronto or Sundance, filmmakers say there’s a real zing to being able to screen a film where shooting took place.

“The festival is like having a little Sundance in our own backyard,” Coiro said. “So having everyone who worked on the film — which was shot in Silver Lake and Eagle Rock — is going to be a lot of fun and very unique. I think it would lose a lot if it weren’t shot in L.A. because it deals with these L.A. girls raising a baby so it feels believable to have shot it here. When you think of L.A. in film, you normally think of Sunset Boulevard and Malibu.”

Silver Lake resident Coiro just finished the titles for “Life Happens,” which screens Saturday. “I had to do two 24-hour editing sessions,” she added.

Both “Terri” and “A Better Life” qualified for tax credits under California’s incentive program.

“Getting my film into the Los Angeles festival is a huge deal for me,” Jacobs said. “I wasn’t able to figure out how to make in New York so I came out here to start studying at AFI. So I’ve been able to make it work out here.”

Jacobs shot “Terri” in Altadena last summer in search of an “Anytown, USA” kind of look. “I’m so pleased that the cast and crew are going to be there at the screening,” he added.

Jacobs is a repeat L.A. fest filmmaker whose first film “Momma’s Man” screened several years ago — enabling him to meet producer Alison Dickey and actor John C. Reilly, which led to their participation in “Terri.”

Lee Tamahori said he was overjoyed that his mystery “Devil’s Double” — shot in Malta — was added to the screening schedule after being shown in Sundance and Berlin. It’s his first festival pic since his debut with “We Were Warriors” 16 years ago in Montreal.

“I’m impressed that the L.A. Festival keeps upping the ante,” he added. “This takes me back to my beginnings with ‘Warriors.’ ”

The festival also announced its juries Wednesday, with the narrative jury consisting of director Lynn Shelton, Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura and screenwriter Daniel Waters. The docu jury comprises helmer Jeff Malmberg, Intl. Documentary Assn. exec director Michael Lumpkin and Laurie Ochoa, co-editor of Slake magazine.

Casting director Margery Simkin, film critic Alonso Duralde and actress Lisa Gay Hamilton are on the shorts jury. Cash awards include $15,000 for best narrative and docu features.

The winners will be announced June 26 at the awards brunch, hosted by Allison Janney and Reilly.

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