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Cushioning the ride

Fest fuels top-of-the-line ambitions via hookups with Audi, AFM

TIP SHEET
What: AFI Fest 2004 presented by Audi
When: Nov. 4-14
Where: ArcLight Hollywood
Size: 135 films from 42 countries
Bragging points: 24 world, 11 North American, 28 U.S. premieres
Highlights: Six red-carpet galas: “Beyond the Sea,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “The Sea Inside,” “Bad Education,” “House of Flying Daggers,” “A Very Long Engagement”
Sidebars: European Showcase, Asian New Classics, Latin Cinema Series, Made in Germany
Tribute: Pedro Almodovar
Tickets and info:
1-866-AFI-FEST,
www.AFI.com

Some 350 attending filmmakers, half a dozen red-carpet galas, a transportation fleet of top-of-the-line Audis, a rich new sponsorship, a name change and a first-time alliance with North America’s largest film market.

So what’s new at this year’s AFI Film Festival?

“The hope is all of this will raise our profile,” says festival director Christian Gaines, “but we’re careful not to build the hype. We are just going to do what we do and let that speak for itself.”

He’s referring to the impact of two major new developments — a late-breaking and generous title sponsorship from the German carmaker and a partnership with the American Film Market (AFM), one of the reasons the mart shifted its dates from February to November.

Though the Audi infusion came too late to have much effect on such programming tasks as scouting films around the globe, Gaines says the funds will be immediately deployed — along with new support from American Airlines and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — to provide a better experience for attending filmmakers in areas such as hospitality, industry access, transportation and housing. Not to mention parties.

“You’ll see an upgrade of events on a case-by-case basis, and more galas than before,” says Gaines, pointing out that six red-carpet preems is a record number, with extra celebrity participation expected. “The money affords us the ability to plan properly and put on a good show. And it certainly assists in the transportation infrastructure which, with AFM, is mission-critical this year.”

Most of that transport – hourly and twice-hourly shuttles between the Santa Monica-based film bazaar and the AFI in central Hollywood — will be accomplished via motorcoaches with a 56-passenger capacity, per AFM officials, who are sharing the cost for the service.

But on the festival end, for tasks such as delivering VIPsS to special occasions, a fleet of $120,000 Audi A8s are part of the perks package.

There’s also an expanded lounge space at the ArcLight’s AFI Fest Village, an official greenroom, a private photo area and other new frills.

“It trickles down to everything we do, whether it’s parties and better gift bags, or connecting our filmmakers to the right people,” says AFI sponsorship and marketing director Daniele Neuharth.

In return, AFI has agreed to alter its nomenclature to “AFI Fest 2004 Presented by Audi.”

The specter of corporate control has raised the hackles of some longtime festgoers, but Gaines maintains that the Audi sponsorship has actually enabled the fest to reduce its list of corporate sponsors by 30%.

It still maintains key relatinships with partners like Phillips Electronics, Best Buy and Absolut.

“We want to do this as well as we possibly can, and Audi allows us to do that,” says Gaines.

“Anyone who says we’re selling out to commercial interests has never meaningfully tried to raise money for cultural organizations before,” Gaines says. “Thank God there’s been a complementary relationship developed between the arts and the private sector over the years.”

In addition to underwriting a large chunk of AFI Fest 2004, the Audi deal covers costs of the yearlong AFI at ArcLight film series for 2005. Execs on both sides declined to say just how much cash the car maker has driven to the fest, but reliable industry estimates put the value for this year alone in the neighborhood of mid-six figures.

Audi execs claim they feel a real kinship with AFI, a key reason the Michigan-based automaker pursued the partnership.

“AFI has celebrated innovation, excellence and passion, and there’s a nice resonance when you look at the worldwide scale of AFI and AFM and the worldwide reach of Audi,” says Stephen Berkov, marketing director for Audi of America, adding that he hopes the one-year pact will turn into a multiyear deal.

“We fight the same battles daily in being perhaps smaller and less known (than competitors), but having an important brand that’s very powerful.”

As for the AFI-AFM matchup, some 38 films are screening at both events in this inaugural year, which would indicate a reasonable amount of confluence and the likelihood of cross-traffic related to those projects, if nothing else.

Kirk D’Amico, prexy of Myriad Pictures, who’s screening Christian Slater starrer “The Deal” at both events, says he’s among the AFM members who pushed for this alliance.

“The press covering the festival can help elevate a film,” he points out. Plus, “You have the cast showing up for the premiere and party, and you can then (invite) the buyers, which is something the foreign distributors love,” he says.

“To the extent we can get AFM buyers to go to Hollywood for the screening with an upbeat fest audience, we will have succeeded.”

The film mart’s managing director, Jonathan Wolf, says he hopes the alliance will begin to attract quality, small-scale movies and talent that previously would not have thought to participate in AFM.

“Over time, you’ll see more talent and filmmakers coming to the AFM,” he says.

Accommodations this first year will include coordinators posted at each end of the shuttle run to pass out information, issue tickets and answer questions.

All of AFI’s attending filmmakers will be issued complimentary credentials for attending AFM, which takes place at Loews Santa Monica Hotel Nov. 3 -10.

On the market end, AFM attendees with buyers’ credentials can pick up free tickets to AFI films. About 1,400 buyers credentials are being issued this year, but no one seems to expect overcrowding at AFI screenings to result.

“Most likely we’ll see maybe 12-15 buyers showing up for any given AFI screening,” predicts Wolf. “They’ll probably only attend those films to which they’ve been specifically invited.”

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