The Los Angeles Film Festival began with a bang June 13 and runs through this Sunday, June 23rd
Our new Festival Spotlight Friday series threads together MovieMaker’s long-running Festival Beat, a collective journal featuring some of the year’s most interesting film festivals. Each week we’ll report from cities across North America and beyond to give you the lowdown on current festival circuit standouts. Our writers are spectators and participants, critics, curators and judges; they may or may not share your taste but we can attest to their moviemaking chops. Think of this as our “travel section,” where our coverage will take you from snowy mountain towns to beaches in the South of France in pursuit of cinematic excellence. We think it’s the perfect way to lead into the weekend with MovieMaker.com. The series kicks off this week a little bit closer to home: with the Los Angeles Film Festival, which opened with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s new comedy I’m So Excited.
Now in its 19th year, LAFF has expanded from a small, five-day festival in Hollywood to effectively occupying Downtown Los Angeles at L.A. Live with screenings also taking place at LACMA and the GRAMMY Museum, among other venues. From rooftop parties to a conversation with Spike Jonze moderated by fellow director David O. Russell, to master classes with former SNL funny lady Maya Rudolph to world class cinema, LAFF seems to have everything you’d expect in a film festival that calls Los Angeles its home. MovieMaker spoke with LAFF’s Senior Programmer Maggie MacKay to get the inside scoop on the successful festival’s inner workings. LAFF closes this Sunday with the The Way, Way Back, starring Steve Carell and Toni Collete.
Lara Colocino (MM): Can you tell us a little about the history of LAFF?
Maggie MacKay (LAFF): The Los Angeles Film Festival began as the Los Angeles International Film Festival [LAIFF] in 1995. The first LAIFF took place over the course of five days in a single location: Hollywood’s historic Raleigh Studios. The LAIFF ran for seven years until it was absorbed by Film Independent (formerly IFP/West) in 2001. At its height, LAIFF attracted 19,000 attendees. Today LAFF attracts as many as 92,000 visitors. In 2010, the festival joined the independent arts community in downtown Los Angeles. With each year, the LAFF continues to grow by leaps and bounds, both in film submissions and attendance, as well as the caliber of work that the festival screens. Over the past 18 years, the festival has grown from being held in a single theater with 5,700 attendees to include a sprawling list of event venues that attract as many as 92,000 attendees.
MM: What has been LAFF’s biggest draw so far?
LAFF: Several films premiering in our competition sections have played to multiple sold-out crowds. Those titles include Code Black and American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, both world premiering in the Documentary Competition, Four Dogs and All Together Now, also both world premiering in the Narrative Competition, and of course several high profile films soon-to-be opening in theatres.
MM: What are some of the highlights of at this year’s LAFF?
LAFF: Highlights include the return of auteur director Nicholas Winding Refn to the festival with the North American Premiere of Only God Forgives, the Gala world premiere screening of Doug Pray’s Levitated Mass: The Story of Michael Heizer’s Monolithic Sculpture, screening at LACMA, just yards away from the sculpture itself. And finally, a spirited conversation between Film Independent’s own Elvis Mitchell and festival guest director David O. Russell.
MM: The LAFF website talks about a Filmmaker Retreat along with intimate coffee talks. How did those begin and what are filmmakers’ reactions to them?
LAFF: The Filmmaker Retreat, the LAFF’s signature event, which takes place annually two days before the start of the festival at George Lucas’ beautiful Skywalker Ranch, was created more than 10 years ago when Film Independent took over. The retreat offers a unique opportunity to meet one another and get to know the staff of the festival, thus fostering a sense of community that runs throughout LAFF. Coffee talks and other educational programs allow audiences up-close-and-personal interaction with masters in the field, drawing on the festival’s unique proximity to the industry in Los Angeles.
MM: How many submissions did you receive this year?
LAFF: This year, the Festival received 5,428 submissions from filmmakers around the world. The final selections represent 35 World, North American and US premieres.
MM: How does LAFF go about their selection process for films?
LAFF: We have an amazing team of Screeners, Associate Programmers and Programmers who meticulously watch films and meet to discuss what they’ve seen each week for several months leading up to the festival.
MM: What can festival attendees expect from this weekend’s closing festivities?
LAFF: Though we’re getting close to the end of the festival, new filmmakers arrive every day to premiere their films and become part of the festival family. There are still plenty of films yet to be seen too, including the North American premiere of Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and the world premiere of Jeff Broadway’s Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (This is Stones Throw Records). And, of course, there’s the closing night festivities.
MM: What does LAFF do better than any other festival around?
LAFF: In keeping with the spirit of Film Independent, LAFF is very focused on creating a community of filmmakers, audience members and the industry. We are especially known for bringing filmmakers into a familial setting where the support of their work is paramount. This starts with the Retreat’s summer camp vibe, as filmmakers spend time together before the festival, and continues during the festival as filmmakers are brought together for daily networking events, evening parties, and special events aimed at fostering a sense of community. The gratifying proof is seeing filmmakers attend each other’s screenings. Filmmakers who have met at the festival have become friends, gone on to work together on other film projects and even, in a few special cases, got married and started a family.
MM: Next year is LAFF’s 20th anniversary, what can we expect a year from now?
LAFF: We can’t share specifics yet, but you can assume it will be a banner year.
Speaking of banner years, MovieMaker.com is changing it up — with sleek new series of themed web content for your daily digestion. Every weekday, we’ll release a new article covering one of five different elements of contemporary moviemaking: DIY Mondays, Trailblazer Tuesdays, Wisdom Wednesdays, our Weekend Pick on Thursdays, and Festival Spotlight Fridays. Some of them are classic MovieMaker features you know and love, and some are fresh new additions to our slate. All of them will, we hope, become fixtures in your week, nourishing and enriching your moviemaking lifestyle every morning (you know — kind of like breakfast).