Stephanie Allain stepped into the Los Angeles Film Festival’s top spot in March, taking the reins from Rebecca Yeldham for the June 14-24 event. Kathy A. McDonald spoke with Allain about her plans for a festival that she says must court the next generation of moviegoers by reflecting their ethnically diverse stories. The tyro topper — an ex-Columbia Pictures exec, indie film producer (“Hustle & Flow”) and former Film Independent board member — feels the setting (AEG’s L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown L.A.) is ideal to infuse live music into the mix.
KM: What inspired you to take on the festival role?
SA: As a filmmaker, I have participated in a lot of festivals. I knew the experience as a filmmaker. I’ve been on the Film Independent board off and on for 20 years, and was part of the first class of mentors for (Film Independent’s diversity program) Project Involve. I’ve seen Film Independent grow, become a tour de force in shaping artists’ development in getting films out and supporting filmmakers. That’s where I started. When Rebecca (Yeldham) left, there was a hole. I felt compelled to put myself up for the job. And they accepted me.
KM: It seems the festival is reaching out to a younger, multicultural audience. How important is it to represent the region’s diversity at the festival?
SA: I feel like there is an opportunity for cultural exchange. There is a whole new generation out there that does not see the world way we saw it. I want the festival to reflect Film Independent, which brings unique and diverse voices to the world. (One of its spotlights is Afro-cinema.) For instance, we have a series of free community screenings, including “Luv” starring Common, that represents the best of Project Involve, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. (Project Involve is Film Independent’s diversity program in which minority filmmakers are paired with an industry mentor for nine months. Participants work on a short film, attend seminars and are involved in other career-advancing activities.)
KM: What else will be unique?
SA: Two days before the festival, we will be taking 45 filmmakers up to (Lucasfilm’s) Skywalker Ranch (in Northern California), with no press, to engage in off-the-record conversations and share experiences. Often at festivals, what’s missing is the opportunity for filmmakers to create and find community; we’ll create a situation where (we can do that) before the festival.
KM: What’s the festival’s appeal for those in the biz?
SA: It’s easier to drive 50 minutes downtown than to get on a plane. One thing we can offer is a more relaxed and accessible atmosphere for connecting filmmakers to the industry. The Filmmaker Lounge — like Sundance in the old days — is a great place to connect.
KM: Although you just started in March, can you impact the programs this year?
SA: Absolutely. My job is to have an overview and (try) to create a festival that is not only a place to come and see filmmakers and movies, but also a place to be culturally enlightened. To that end, I really wanted to bring in music (to) the festival this year.
KM: How do you plan to do that?
SA: As it turns out, a lot of the films we selected have a musical component, including “Searching for Sugar Man,” and “Neil Young Journeys,” Jonathan Demme’s third movie with Neil Young. We also have movies that no one has seen before, including Alan Lomax’s “Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass,” filmed in 1961 at an impromptu concert in his Greenwich Village apartment. Additionally, at the Grammy Museum (at L.A. Live), we will be offering three nights of music and film. After we screen the world premiere of the Lomax film, we are going to re-create the experience of the movie onstage with performers such as Father John Misty. The next night is inspired by (“Searching for Sugar Man’s”) Rodriguez, and he will be there to perform. The third night is ladies’ night: Goapele and Yuna, both artists who have songs in movies that are coming out this year, will perform. The idea is to underline that connection between music and film.
- Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, June 14, 7:30 p.m.: Woody Allen ‘s “To Rome With Love” opens the Los Angeles Film Festival. Expect Woody to attend the film’s North American preem. An opening night party/schmooze fest follows on the L.A. Live event deck.
- Los Angeles Convention Center, June 16, 10 a.m.: Chris McGurk of digital distrib Cinedigm, delivers the keynote address in association with the American Film Commissioners Intl. convention. The speech kicks off the festival’s broad spectrum of industry-related coffee talks and panels.
- Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, June 17, 11 a.m.: The festival’s popular coffee talks include a free-wheeling sesh with helmers scheduled to include Catherine Hardwicke and Lawrence Kasdan to discuss project development and directing.
- Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, June 17, 2:30 p.m.: Behind the Scenes: Movies Made From Scratch: Women in Animation features top femmes in a section of the biz where women are well represented in creative and exec ranks. The panel will be moderated by Kristine Belson , executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon.”
- Industry passes that include day passes to the Filmmaker Lounge and access to all regular screenings, panels and events are available for $600 for working members of the biz. This year, events have been consolidated at L.A. Live venues.