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Restored ‘El Cid’ kicks off 7th AFI/LA fest

The seventh annual American Film Institute-sponsored Los Angeles International Film Festival kicks off tonight with the restored version of the 1961 epic “El Cid.” Star Charlton Heston will attend the curtain-raiser, which starts the three-week festival centered at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 at Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards.

“We’re very excited about the new location,” said fest director Ken Wlaschin. “It’s very central and we truly attempt to respond to the needs of the L.A. audience. That’s why we expanded to three weeks and attempted to have both a day and an evening screening of every film.”

One of the largest North American festivals, AFI/LA FEST this year will include special tributes to Poland’s Andrzej Wajda, Yugoslavian Dusan Makavejev and author and sometime screenwriter Ray Bradbury. Also, there are special sections focusing on Latino Cinema and films from Asia, and a salute to Miramax (which is relaunching “El Cid”) that will include West Coast premieres of upcoming releases “Into the West” and “House of Cards.”

“One of the things we’re most excited about is our First Film Competition,” said Wlaschin. “Because it’s so difficult for first-time filmmakers working independently to get attention, we thought this was very important. It’s a spotlight and hopefully a boost.”

The festival is also notable for its programming of theatrical shorts. Some 40 have been selected from more than 400 titles submitted.

Wlaschin said that after seven years, he’s yet to identify the prototypical film that appeals to the L.A. community. Because of the broad, multiethnic composition of the city, he feels almost any film has a potential audience at the festival.

Two ongoing criticisms of the event are that its programming is too staid, and that it generally fails to attract the involvement of Hollywood studios.

“It’s not going to be for everyone,” Wlaschin conceded. “But our audience has increased steadily, so we definitely have a constituency.”