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Hollywood fest spotlights new talent

Freshman directors find friend in annual event

The Hollywood Awards mark the season’s first movie-kudos presentation on the L.A. sked. But not to be overlooked in the autumn rush of starry photo ops and freshly rolled-out red carpets is the attendant Hollywood Film Festival, which plays the serious sister in this family of events. For the last 11 years, fest founder Carlos de Abreu has leveraged the HFF brand as a boilerplate for frosh filmmakers and hard-hitting stories. This year’s fest (Oct. 17-21) presented 75 films comprising 27 features, 14 docs and 34 shorts.

If some industryites gripe that the Hollywood Awards event dwarfs the fest’s indie component, microdistribs invariably praise HFF as a prime acquisition mart with its lack of classic label competish. But for frosh filmmakers, an HFF playdate is a definite means to an end. Deal or no deal, HFF alums assess the event as a pivotal place to raise a film’s profile prior to its journey on the fest route.

In 1997, when other festivals were snubbing violent product, de Abreu gave a slot to “Pariah,” a drama about an interracial couple’s run-in with skinheads. The positive attention “Pariah” received at the HFF not only gave it entree into other fests, notably Slamdance, but the pic’s director, Randolph Kret, landed meetings at Samuel Goldwyn and Artisan.

And don’t underestimate that Hollywood Awards gala either, says producer Emjay Rechsteiner, whose Danish teen romance-thriller, “Moonlight,” picked up the fest’s 2003 European Film Award.

“The Hollywood Festival recognizes glamour and knows what it means. Films are meant to be enjoyed in a glamorous atmosphere,” he says. “When we accepted our award, it was right in front of George Lucas, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Tom Hanks.”

Indican distrib veep Randy Hamilton agrees. “Having the celebrity awards helps to keep the Hollywood Film Fest alive and competitive with other festivals,” says Hamilton, who has a history of snapping up domestic rights to a string of HFF titles, including “Moonlight” and “Pariah.”

While festivals such as Sundance make a point to change up the thematic flavor of their annual lineups, de Abreu’s motto for the HFF has remained consistent during its 11-year run: booking those films overlooked by other fests, especially ones boasting a social justice message.

In public, de Abreu consistently exclaims the fest’s slogan’s in barker fashion (“Giving a voice to the voiceless” and “Bridging a gap between Hollywood and emerging filmmakers”), but behind closed doors, his associates, such as Hamilton, assert “that he’s totally about social issues and looks beyond the Hollywood stuff. When he booked the film ‘Pure’ in 2004 it wasn’t because it starred Keira Knightley; rather it was a socially relevant film about how drugs destroyed a family.”

Some of this year’s socially conscious headliner pictures included Charles Oliver’s death-row drama “Take” and Steven Sawalich’s “Music Within,” a biopic about disabilities activist Richard Pimentel. Other human rights films on the Hollywood Film Feste bill in 2007: Amir Mann’s “The Fifth Patient,” set in an African hospital; Alan Brown’s Iraqi war-vet postmortem drama “Superheroes”; and the docu “Generation Tehran,” about Iran’s dominant twentysomething population.

In recent years, with the American Film Market’s move to early November, the HFF has turned into a coveted stop for those filmmakers looking to heat up their projects’ commercial aspects prior to the sales confab. Canadian helmer Maurice Devereaux has already unspooled his horror film “End of the Line” at various fests. However, landing a prime timeslot in the HFF’s Horror and Sci-Fi sidebar was quite a break.

“If I get lucky and receive decent reviews in the L.A. papers, who knows what could happen at AFM,” Devereaux exclaims. The HFF West Coast premiere of James Franco’s dramedy “Good Time Max” was another title looking to raise its AFM wattage.

At the bare minimum, the biggest perk for cinematic rookies at the HFF: a showtime at the ArcLight. As Franco’s producing partner Vince Jolivette puts it, “Some filmmakers may never get the chance to show their film in a venue like the ArcLight.”

TIP SHEET

What: Hollywood Awards

Where: Beverly Hilton Hotel

When: Tonight

Honorees: Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Brad Bird, Diablo Cody, Jennifer Connelly, Marion Cotillard, Scott Farrar, Dante Ferretti, Marc Forster, Richard Gere, Stephen Goldblatt, Christopher Hampton, Joe Hutshing, Mark Isham, Ellen Page, John Travolta, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and the cast of “Hairspray,” which receives the ensemble award

Hollywood World Award Nominees

“Secret Sunshine,” d. Lee Chang-dong, Korea

“Edge of Heaven,” d. Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” d. Julian Schnabel, France

“Alexandra,” d. Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” d. Cristian Mungiu, Romania

“Import/Export,” d. Ulrich Seidl, Austria

“Persepolis,” d. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, France

“Silent Light,” d. Carlos Reygadas, Mexico

“The Band’s Visit,” d. Eran Kolirin, Israel

“Control,” d. Anton Corbijn, U.K.