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L.A. Film Fest Sidebars Add to Awards Bounty

There are many ways to be a winner at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. In addition to the standard fiction and documentary sections, the 21st edition includes three other competitive categories: L.A. Muse (now in its second year, with 10 films), Nightfall (eight tales of the bizarre and horrifying) and Zeitgeist (six stories about young people).

“There were so many strong world premieres by emerging directors, we couldn’t put 50-plus films in one or two competitions,” says associate director of programming and curated content Roya Rastegar.

The new sections were set up not only to accommodate the influx of films, but also as a way to “create a context, so these films can connect with their audiences, and have a bright light on them for press and industry,” Rastegar says.

Director Will Slocombe, in this year’s L.A. Muse competition with “The Escort,” agrees. “I love any time you can have more curation in a film festival,” he says. “Whenever you’re trying to present a film, you’re looking for ways to delineate it. Being in this specific category helps that.”

Last year, the festival experimented with the competitive L.A. Muse sidebar as a way to celebrate the high concentration of independent filmmakers in the City of Angels. “As a festival inspired by and based in L.A., we wanted to showcase original voices that offer distinct perspectives that capture the spirit of the city and the energy of its diverse communities,” Rastegar says.

Like Sundance’s Next section, however, L.A. Muse — which featured the David Oyelowo film “Nightingale” last year — and its new sister categories may not be considered as prestigious as the main competitive sections. But filmmakers aren’t complaining.

Last year’s inaugural L.A. Muse winner Damian John Harper, whose film “Los Angeles” is actually set in Oaxaca, Mexico, says he was honored to be in the sidebar because it “felt more concentrated and tailored.” And his prize, he says, helped boost the film’s profile with the Cannes Film Festival, where he was accepted into the Cinéfondation residency program.

“If the film had only won prizes in Europe and Latin America, I don’t think it would have been the same,” he says. “They viewed it as if my very small, neorealisic film had struck a chord at the heart of Hollywood.”

Jamie Zelermyer, producer of Nightfall entry “Ratter,” doesn’t see any downsides to the new competition. “It’s great that more films have a chance of winning an award,” he says, “and receiving the visibility that comes along with that.”

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