Woody Allen expected at his pic's N. American preem

The Los Angeles Film Festival kicks off its 18th edition Thursday in downtown Los Angeles — premiering an Italy-set film by a New York-based director. Woody Allen is expected to appear for the North American preem of “To Rome With Love,” which already opened in Italy.

That’s a coup for the 11-day fest, now in its third year downtown after earlier berths in Westwood and Hollywood.

Run by Film Independent, organizers are aiming to cement the fest’s position as an event for bizzers and aspiring filmmakers as well as film fans across the city.

Film fest director Stephanie Allain, who came on board in January as a replacement for Rebecca Yeldham, has been pressing the flesh in recent months to present the event as a place to discover young talent — “they shouldn’t have to go to Sundance or Toronto for that” — and touting the growing attributes of downtown L.A.

“People in Los Angeles have become much more accustomed to coming downtown, which is becoming one of the most diverse areas of the city,” Allain told Variety. She says organizers are also emphasizing that “going to the festival will give you a better understanding of what it takes to make a movie.”

It’s not always easy to lure Angelenos downtown, but the fest has managed to liven up the corporate surroundings of the L.A. Live complex with a bustling filmmaker lounge on the roof of the Regal Cinemas and cross-pollinating conversations with artists-in-residence such as chef Michael Voltaggio, composer Danny Elfman and musician Raphael Saadiq.

The preem of Stephen Soderbergh’s male stripper saga “Magic Mike” closes the fest June 24. In between, some of the higher-proflle screenings include Pixar’s “Brave,” DreamWorks’ “People Like Us,” Focus’ “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” Fox Searchlight’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Other Sundance titles include documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” “Celeste and Jesse Forever” and “Robot and Frank.”

Fest will screen more than 200 features, shorts and musicvideos, from more than 30 countries. And the Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. will hold its annual Locations show at the L.A. Convention Center in conjunction with LAFF with a keynote by Chris McGurk.

Allain, producer of pics including “Hustle and Flow” and “Black Snake Moan,” has also been amping up the musical portion. A trio of music documentaries — “Ballads, Blues, Bluegrass,” a 1961 film that features Doc Watson; “Neil Young Journeys” from Jonathan Demme and “Searching for Sugar Man” about singer-guitarist Rodriguez who became an inspiration in the anti-apartheid movement — will screen, with a live performance from Rodriguez June 21 at the Grammy Museum.

Events for bizzers and aspiring filmmakers include the filmmaker retreat that took place earlier this week, poolside chats and coffee talks. featuring high-profile panelists. Aaron Sorkin will talk about his upcoming HBO series, “The Newsroom”; “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan and stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn will discuss the final season; and Wally Pfister will showcase scenes from “Insomnia,” “Laurel Canyon” and “Inception.”

While most screenings are at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, fest has outdoor screenings for “E.T.” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” at 7th and Figueroa; “Brave” at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood; a “Dirty Dancing” dance-along at California Plaza and a screening of guest fest director William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater.

Other events include panels with composers, screenwriters and directors along with a celebration of women in animation.

Many pics in the narrative and doc competitions are still available for distribution. The 10 films for its narrative competition are: “All Is Well,” by Pocas Pascoal; “Breakfast With Curtis,” Laura Colella; “The Compass Is Carried by the Dead Man,” Arturo Pons; “Crazy and Thief,” Cory McAbee; “Dead Man’s Burden,” Jared Moshe; “Four,” Joshua Sanchez; “A Night Too Young,” Olmo Omerzu; “Pincus,” David Fenster; “Red Flag,” Alex Karpovsky; and “Thursday till Sunday,” Dominga Sotomayor.

The fest held a soft launch on Monday — coinciding with the Los Angeles Kings’ easy win of the Stanley Cup a few blocks away — premiering Kat Coiro’s 26-minute romancer “Departure Date” shot on several Virgin Airlines flights, said to be first movie filmed at 35,000 ft.

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