Lester Cohen, a co-founder of the celebrity photo agency WireImage, scanned the tip sheet that tells him which stars are expected to be on the red carpet Monday night at the Hollywood Film Festival's award banquet in Beverly Hills.
"The names on it are pretty impressive," Cohen said. "For a photographer that wants a great turnout of celebrities, this is how you make your bread-and-butter. It's not as glitzy or glamorous as the Oscars. It's a little more relaxed. But there is enough pandemonium that everyone is trying to get someone's attention, get eye contact with the celebrities. One moment, it might be Penelope Cruz. Five minutes later, Ben Affleck. Then Sandra Bullock.... Looking at this list, I imagine there will be lots of screaming and elbows thrown to try and get the best photos."
No, it's not Cannes or Sundance. But the much smaller Hollywood Film Festival and its annual award dinner, which is the highlight of the six-day festival that begins tonight, still manages to attract plenty of A-list celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, Billy Crystal, Nicole Kidman, Harrison Ford and Danny DeVito.
For its 10th anniversary, the festival will be honoring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and a discussion with the Oscar-winning filmmaker will follow the screenings of his "Born on the Fourth of July" and "World Trade Center." Other movies screening during the festival include Michael Mayer's "Flicka" as well as a documentary on the late Hunter S. Thompson called "Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride" and the new animated film "Flushed Away."
On a more serious note, there is a concentration of films that seek to shed light on human atrocities in Africa, among them the apartheid-era drama "Catch a Fire," starring Oscar winner Tim Robbins and Derek Luke.
For this year's banquet, Robert De Niro is scheduled to wing in from Rome to present an award to Eric Roth, the screenwriter behind De Niro's new film, "The Good Shepherd." Cruz and Forest Whitaker are also expected on stage to receive the evening's top acting prizes -- Cruz for her role in the film "Volver" and Whitaker for "The Last King of Scotland." And if only half the ensemble cast of "Bobby" shows up (they include such stars as Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan and Martin Sheen), the photographers stationed at the Beverly Hilton should have a field day.
"It'll be like a mini-screamfest," Cohen said of the red carpet scene, noting that his agency will likely have two photographers and an editor on site to rush their celebrity photos to the weekly U.S. publications, which go to press Monday night. And that doesn't begin to include the overseas magazines and newspapers that have an insatiable appetite for celebrity photos.
Adam Jordan, the supervising producer at "Access Hollywood," said the award banquet will also be a feast for entertainment TV shows. At normal movie premieres, Jordan noted, you might see the stars of a film and two or three other celebrities. "With the Hollywood Film Festival, you can get 20 different stars, 30 different stars," he added.
A decade ago, only about 300 guests turned out at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to watch Kirk Douglas accept the festival's first career achievement award. Many thought that first festival would be the last. After all, no one had every heard of the festival or its founder, Carlos de Abreu. But by positioning itself in October -- just as the Oscar race is gearing up -- and by staging an award show where the stars can let their hair down without the fear of being on live television, the Hollywood Film Festival manages to draw top names and power brokers year after year.
DeVito's publicist, Stan Rosenfield, said that much like the Golden Globe Awards of old, which had a great party without always relying on a live television broadcast, the Hollywood Film Festival puts the accent on fun. Celebrities come because they get an award, receive some publicity and then table hop with their friends and co-workers in the industry.
"If I had to zero in on one thing for why the stars come out, from a PR point of view, I think it's a nice evening, done very professionally, and you want to be in that room," Rosenfield said. "The Oscars get those kind of people. The Globes get those kind of people. And the Hollywood Film Festival gets those kind of people."
The festival may also be on its way to gaining a track record as an Oscar predictor.
Last year, the cast of "Crash" received the Hollywood Film Festival ensemble acting award and the film went on to win the Oscar for best picture. In addition, "Crash" screenwriter-director Paul Haggis was honored at the festival with the "breakthrough" director award. He later shared the Academy Award for best original screenplay and best picture and was nominated for best director. Two years ago, Jamie Foxx received the "breakthrough" award for acting and went on to win best actor at the Academy Awards for "Ray."