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Indie films' day in the sun

The organizers of the Los Angeles Film Festival hope to give the city a world-class event along the lines of Sundance.

June 11, 2003|Jessica Hundley | Special to The Times

Europe may have Berlin, Venice and Cannes, but stateside the film festival circuit is more or less dominated by the monolithic Sundance event, a 10-day whirlwind atop the snowy Utah mountains, miles and worlds away from L.A.'s sun and smog. But the IFP/ Los Angeles Film Festival is campaigning to change all that. In its third year as an Independent Film Project event, the festival is intended to provide the film capital of the world with something it has so far been lacking: a world-class film festival.

Although L.A. is now home to numerous film festivals, including Outfest and AFI Fest, none has the international profile of Sundance, Toronto or the established European events.

The L.A. Film Festival was founded nine years ago and changed hands in 2000, when the Independent Film Project/West took over directorial and programming duties, a partnership that so far seems to have benefited both parties.

"IFP had programs which took care of filmmakers across the board," says IFP/West Executive Director Dawn Hudson, "but the one gap was exhibition. We give them career guidance and budget and contract information and recognition at the Independent Spirit Awards and with mentor programs, but this festival gives these filmmakers the opportunity to show the films as well. It was a natural fit, and it suits our mission perfectly."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 12, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie organization name -- The Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles runs the IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival. An article about the festival in Wednesday's Calendar incorrectly identified the organization as Independent Film Project/West.

Still, running a film festival proved to be a daunting task, even for an organization as experienced as IFP.

"The first year it was more about observing and learning the ropes," admits Hudson, "but it's become much more exciting ... and we've gotten so much support and attention from the community. We're a little like independent filmmakers in that we also rely heavily on word of mouth and the support of press and of audiences."

More diverse selections

Several of the festival's veteran staff continue under the IFP structure, including director Richard Radden, in his fourth year with the project.

"When we started with IFP," remembers Radden, "it immediately became larger and more diversified in scope. But I would say the biggest change since IFP took over is the international section, which we had never had before. Now we're screening films from different continents and different cultures."

This year, the festival's diverse array of international productions includes films made in locales as distant as Jakarta, Argentina, Armenia and North Korea. There is also a special spotlight section focusing on Chinese-made films and accompanied by a retrospective of the work of Chinese director Chen Kaige.

In addition to its new international section, the festival offers a healthy dose of American independent features and documentaries, films made by a bevy of young directors hoping to ply their wares to both public and industry audiences. Among these are films from writer-director Alison Bagnall (co-writer of cult favorite "Buffalo 66") and Jennifer Elster, who wrote, directed and stars in her feature debut, "Particles of Truth."

"It's interesting because the two sections really go hand in hand," says Hudson of the festival's variety. "The foreign films are actually very complementary to the American indies. Their motivations are remarkably similar, and I think in watching them you see that there is a universality to filmmaking. I think it helps everyone feel part of a larger whole."

"Part of my job is to make sure that there is a mixture of films that look and feel different to the audience but have some sort of commonalty between them," explains festival programmer Rachel Rosen. "Hopefully the audience will find films that please them and maybe they'll also find films that challenge them, which is not a terrible thing either.

"I don't have a set criteria going in," says Rosen of her film selection process. "Programming is not wholly without skill, but it is not wholly objective either. We can look and evaluate whether something is well crafted or well put together on a certain level, but there's also an emotional or visual or intellectual connection with the material. It's that extra level of commitment -- something that makes you want to include them, whether it's a great story or great performances or just great heart."

Along with the fest's selection of international and indie productions, there are plenty of high-profile, hotly anticipated Los Angeles premieres, among them the opening night film "The Cooler" and closing night's "Camp," both of which first gained attention at Sundance.

For Sean Furst, "The Cooler's" producer, the festival is the perfect opportunity to screen his film to a hometown crowd.

"I grew up in L.A.," says Furst, "and it's great to be able to show it to the people we work with every day."

In keeping with IFP's pro-filmmaking mission, the festival has several workshops in the program as well, including an extensive "Low Budget Summit" (which covers all the bases for making movies on the cheap) and a "Coffee Talk" featuring directors such as Jodie Foster and David Fincher.

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