The Los Angeles Film Festival will kick off its 10th year with a screening of writer/director/star Zach Braff's Garden State June 17. The 10-day festival will close June 26 with The Clearing, starring Robert Redford and Helen Mirren. The festival will screen nearly 200 narrative features, documentaries, shorts, and music videos intended to showcase American and international independent films. There will also be several notable panels, including coffee talk sessions with prominent panelists from all facets of filmmaking, as well as poolside chats, including "You Scared the Hell Out of Me: Modern Day Horror," featuring several prominent horror directors such as Guillermo Del Toro and Tobe Hooper. There will also be several awards presented at the close of the festival, including a $50,000 Target Filmmaker Award for Best Dramatic Feature and a $25,000 Target Documentary Award for Best Documentary Feature. This year's honorary co-chairs will be actors Halle Berry and Samuel L. Jackson.
Three years ago the festival underwent several changes when it began being produced in conjunction with the nonprofit membership organization IFP/Los Angeles. According to Rich Raddon, festival director, the idea was to use all the assets the city has to offer, from networking opportunities to the weather. To that end, the festival was moved to the summer only three years ago. "We can't understand why you would have a festival here and not do it during one of the beautiful summer months when you can have outdoor screenings," said Raddon. "The most successful film festivals take advantage of things that are unique to that location, and L.A. is known for its weather and casual atmosphere. So when we were conceiving this, we said we don't want people in suits; we want outside cocktail receptions, we want to do our chats around a pool at the Argyle Hotel."
In addition the festival has been sponsoring a retreat for the filmmakers for the last three years. Hosted by the guest director—this year it's Monsoon Wedding director Mira Nair—the filmmakers take two days before the festival begins to relax at a retreat location. "We basically just bond as a group and focus in on the artistry of filmmaking before we sort of enter the belly of the beast," said Raddon. "We try to remind filmmakers what's really important."
Another unique advantage of LAFF is a program titled Kodak Speed Dating, in which the festival brings in eight high-end industry executives and eight filmmakers per day and switch off after 15-minute meetings. Raddon notes, "Over the course of two hours, you meet eight executives. That's a program you couldn't do anywhere else in the world."
And, of course, there are the movies. With films starring a wide range of actors—such as Natalie Portman, Jet Li, and Ethan Hawke—there seems to be something for every kind of film lover. Notable screenings include Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise sequel Before Sunset, the documentary Imelda about Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, and an outdoor screening at the Ford Amphitheatre of Hero, a widely acclaimed martial arts picture from Hong Kong. If the lineup sounds varied, that's OK by Raddon. "We're really trying to be a diverse film festival, not only in screening international films but in our American films," he notes. "Different cultures and perspectives are represented. It's not a bunch of 25- to 35-year-old white men. It's female directors, African-American, Asian filmmakers, which is representative of what L.A. is. Our style is not to take ourselves too seriously, to program films we think celebrate the art of cinema, but also we program stuff that is just fun. You can meet people and do business, but it doesn't have to feel like business."
And business has been good in recent years with high-profile premieres and acquisitions. "We're the only film festival in Los Angeles that actually has films sold out of it," reports Raddon. "Last year, Mayor of the Sunset Strip sold for $1.3 million, which is a heck of a lot of money for a documentary. A couple of years ago, Kissing Jessica Stein sold out of the festival."
Asked if there was one thing Raddon would want people to know about LAFF, he replied, "The message that I'd want sent loud and clear is: It's happening. There's never been a world-class film festival in L.A. Nobody is doing what we're doing on the scale that we're doing it. The number of screening locations, countries represented, parties, the cash prizes, the networking opportunities. This is absolutely unprecedented."
To purchase tickets or for a schedule of events, visit www.lafilmfest.com.