In any previous year, the annual LA Film Festival would have been over a month ago, but now in what is certainly, at least partially, a bid to be taken more seriously as a real player on the fest circuit — in the very backyard where Oscar hopefuls get birthed — the Film Independent-produced fest is looking to be a much bigger part of the conversation than its past placement in June ever allowed. Scheduled now to run September 20-28, the new date puts it in the forefront of the season, if still in the rearview mirror of Venice, Telluride and Toronto, but closing on the opening day of the 56th New York Film Festival. The BFI London Film Festival is right on NYFF’s heels, opening October 10 with the announced international premiere of Steve McQueen’s Widows.
Although all these fests boast a diversified slate and not just awards contenders, they all benefit from the timing on the calendar in order to get marquee titles that bring press attention and elevate their importance with studios and distributors. That is what is behind the LAFF move to fall, where rival Los Angeles festival, American Film Institute’s AFI Fest, always has thrived in November, having previously been also largely ignored by the powers that be when it was in the spring at one time. I don’t expect the six-week jump LAFF now will have on AFI (running November 8-15) to make much difference for the latter since its Oscar importance usually is pinned to later-fall and December releases that might not have been ready for the early rounds. LAFF is likely to share some of its flashier “Gala” titles with NYFF and London, along with local premieres from the more-visible fall trifecta of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. At least that is my guess because why else move into this crowded period?
Of course a major World Premiere for Opening and/or Closing could be a game changer in terms of getting the revitalized LAFF on the map. Its most recent effort, held in June 2017, opened with Focus Features’ box office and critical dud The Book of Henry, and its only major studio premiere title was the horror flick Annabelle: Creation.
LAFF obviously couldn’t lure the big awards hopefuls that wait for fall debuts, or occasionally Cannes, but out of necessity and a different stated mission always has prided itself on making a home for lesser-known titles, including ones that promote diversity and different colors of the city in which it takes place. At the time of the October announcement for the move to fall, returning Festival Director Jennifer Cochis stated: “The secret to dramatically changing something is to change it. My passion for this Festival is unwavering and the time for an evolution has come. Film Independent is so proud of the work we’ve done in showcasing new American and international cinema that embraces diversity, innovation and unique perspectives, but the fact is that summer is a challenging time for artist driven films, and fall is where we clearly belong. This shift in our dates is an important step in enacting my aim to further develop the LA Film Festival, I sincerely look forward to better serving filmmakers, film lovers, the city and the industry in the fall of 2018 and beyond.”
Today’s first announcement for the new 24th edition of the LAFF doesn’t yet mention any big “gets” in terms of fall releases — too early for that — but assures us that, under leadership of Cochis it will continue to deliver on the promise of change and commitment to inclusion. That is certainly a welcome thing, and in that regard it also will have new program elements including an immersive storytelling program that will be curated by ex-AFI Fest director Jacqueline Lyanga in partnership with Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. LAFF is also promising “We the People,” a two-day summit shining a light on the importance of advancing inclusion in the industry, as well as a tie-in with the International Documentary Association’s biannual conference, Getting Real ’18. There also will be a benefit dinner celebrating 25 years of Project Involve.
“The evolution of the LA Film Festival continues!” said Cochis. “The new partnerships formed with kindred and beloved organizations like LMU’s School of Film and Television and the International Documentary Association are radical, connecting creators in brand new ways. Jacqueline Lyanga will helm the LA Film Festival’s first foray into immersive storytelling as Guest Director, VR and Immersive Storytelling. She is a talented and distinguished tastemaker in our global festival community. The pieces and experiences she will curate are not just of the moment; these are the storytellers of the future. The Festival is also expanding our inclusion summit, We the People, to allow us to continue to be leaders within the broader industry dialogue as we continue to work towards solutions for parity across Hollywood.”
Added Film Independent President Josh Welsh: “Project Involve has worked to make this industry more inclusive for a quarter of a century. We are taking this moment to celebrate the work of Project Involve alumni like, Effie T. Brown, Jon M. Chu and Cherien Dabis, as well as industry leaders like Charles D. King. These are the people who are bringing the change, and we’re so happy to honor them at the Festival this year, and to help raise funds to support the program into the future.”
The LAFF competition lineup will be announced on July 31. Venues for the 2018 festival include the ArcLight Cinemas in Culver City, Hollywood and Santa Monica, as well as the new LMU Playa Vista Campus (opening this fall and the site for the Immersive Storytelling events), the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and the Writers Guild Theater.
In addition to Cochis the 2018 Festival team is composed of Rachel Bleemer, Director of Operations; Shawn Davis, Director of Events; Drea Clark, Senior Programmer, Head Programmer, US Fiction; Jenn Wilson, Senior Programmer, Head Programmer, Documentary; Heidi Honeycutt, Head Programmer, Nightfall; Ana Souza, Head Programmer, World Fiction; Landon Zakheim, Head of Shorts; Hasan Foster, Senior Manager, Inclusion and Discourse; Rebecca Green, Programmer, Retrospectives; Aisha Lomax, Programmer, Podcasts and Music Videos; and Spade Robinson, Programmer, Television and Web Content.