palm-springs-fest

Thirty-nine filmmakers, plus Hollywood honchos including Sue Kroll, Catherine Hardwicke and Nancy Utley, descended on the Parker Meridien Palm Springs hotel this week for an event that’s totally unique on the festival circuit: a day-and-a-half retreat allowing filmmakers to relax in advance of the kickoff of the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival.

Most filmmakers described their first festival experience as confusing, lonely or intimidating. To counter this, the LAFF and Film Independent devised the out-of-town getaway because “we want to build a community,” said fest director Stephanie Allain. “It’s an opportunity for the filmmakers to meet fellow artists and future collaborators.” The idea, she said, started in 2002 with Alfonso Cuaron, who said, “Filmmakers need a chance to chill out.”

This year’s event, which began Tuesday, was the 13th annual retreat, and Variety’s presence marked the first time a member of the media was ever invited.

While there were a few hours of instructive sessions, the emphasis is on socializing and relaxation. The fest, running June 11-19 at the Regal Cinema downtown, offers 71 feature films, plus another 120 shorts and music videos.

Josh Welsh, Film Independent president, said: “At most festivals, a filmmaker only meets others at a reception, where it’s hard to have a conversation. Here, they can spend time with one another, with people from Film Independent and from the festival staff. So they know they’re not in this alone.”

The retreat also included nine industry pros, billed as honored guests, who met the filmmakers, answered questions and gave insights into the industry. Aside from Hardwicke, WB’s Kroll and Fox Searchlight’s Utley, the roster included producers Effie T. Brown and Michael A. Helfant, documaker Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), and filmmakers James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), Mary Sweeney (writer-producer of “The Straight Story”) and Lucy Walker (“The Crash Reel”).

Geeta Patel, who directed “Meet the Patels” with her brother Ravi Patel, said the event was about “focused interaction. Filmmakers had the time and space to share stories, thoughts, and advice about various distribution methods and companies.” Ravi Patel added, “For me, it was just a great way to bond with all these incredible minds on a level playing field minus all the social anxiety that might usually accompany a film festival environment.”

Two sponsors offered hour-long info sessions. In an EFilm session, director Justin Simien presented a case study of his comedy “Dear White People,” showing before-and-after clips of his post-production work with the company. He shot the film, a comedy about “being a black face in a white place,” with a Red camera, and worked with EFilm to achieve the look of “hyper-reality” he wanted.

That was followed by a session with Vimeo. Jeremy Boxer outlined the company’s business structure, designed “to give filmmakers the opportunity to take control of their own work” via direct-distribution.

In a conversation with LAFF artistic director David Ansen, guest director Lisa Cholodenko talked about nuts and bolts of filmmaking, with insights about writing, casting, budgets and preparation on her three films and her upcoming HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge.” Cholodenko also talked about the importance of “the weird, innate confidence in finding your own voice,” adding, “The thing I’m most grateful for is confidence, drive, the will to get things done.”

Other than those three scheduled events, the agenda was casual: A cocktail reception, dinner, after-dinner party, an off-the-record brunch of Wednesday with stories from the honored guests, and free time so filmmakers could roam the Parker premises or loaf by the pool.

Thomas G. Miller, whose docu “Limited Partnership” has its world premiere Saturday (June 14), said the retreat was a welcome opportunity: “Most of us have been working non-stop, so this is great; it forces us out of our bubble.”

Ansen, artistic director of the festival, said he loves the mood and energy of the retreat, “which carries over into the festival. The filmmakers have bonded with each other, they want to see each other’s films. At most other festivals, they often don’t even get to meet other filmmakers.”

Ansen assumed his role in 2010, the same year the festival moved downtown. One of his chief goals was to make it more international, which was reflected in this year’s retreat, which included filmmakers from Argentina, France, Hungary, Korea and Mexico, among other countries.

One of the fest’s innovations this year is a special section called L.A. Muse. Allain told Variety they wanted to do something new to observe the festival’s 20th anniversary, to spotlight Los Angeles and “the active energy here that attracts and inspires people. It will also celebrate the cultural renaissance of downtown L.A. and our place in it.” Allain said downtown has become the most eclectic and diverse area of L.A., in terms of race, ethnicity, age demos and economy.

L.A. Muse will showcase 11 films made in Los Angeles or inspired by the city.

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