Los Angeles Film Fest Shines Its Light on Women Directors and Filmmakers of Color

Ben Rothstein/Focus Features
'The Beguiled' (2017)

The event, which runs through Thursday, extends from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.

At this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, which kicked off June 14 with the debut of Colin Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry and continues through Thursday, 42 percent of the films have been directed by women and 40 percent have been directed by people of color.

“The festival is part of Film Independent, so it is specific in what it does in terms of amplifying underrepresented voices,” says Jennifer Cochis, who has been with the fest for three years, having served as creative director before being promoted in October to festival director. “Our having that many women and people of color is deliberate. It’s not some sidebar. They’re actually the films that are up for prizes and awards.”

Cochis is succeeding Stephanie Allain, who had refocused the fest to promote diversity and also better reflect the range of audiences within Los Angeles. Cochis is continuing to develop the event in that direction, as the 23-year-old festival’s footprint now spreads across the city. Last year, the fest, which had been headquartered at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles for the previous six years, moved its headquarters to the ArcLight Culver City, with screenings also held at the ArcLight Hollywood and ArcLight Santa Monica along with the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and the Bing Theatre at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Los Angeles, from neighborhood to neighborhood, is so unique,” says Cochis. “If the festival is in conversation with the city, not only are we trying to play films that reflect the people who live here, but we want to be able to bring it closer to people’s homes.”

To better reflect the city, Cochis has expanded the L.A. Muse sidebar to 12 films — six narrative films and six documentaries — including such titles as the world premiere of Timothy McNeil’s Anything (in which Matt Bomer plays a transgender woman); Jennifer Arnold’s comedy Fat Camp (which BET has picked up for airing); Mark Hayes’ Skid Row Marathon (about Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell, who started a running club for Skid Row residents) and actress Leah Thompson’s feature directorial debut The Year of Spectacular Men.

Having conducted an extensive outreach program to encourage new filmmakers to submit their work, the festival ultimately put together a lineup in which 65 percent of the films are by first-time directors. But since that means many of the films come from previously unknown talent, it also made an effort this year to pull in more recognizable titles. “Inasmuch as I’m playing a lot of new work by new filmmakers, there are still people who want to come out to see something with a familiar actor or another familiar element,” Cochis says.

The fest will close with Matt Spicer’s drama about a social media stalker, Ingrid Goes West, starring Aubrey Plaza. Plaza also shows up alongside Dave Franco in the raunchy The Little Hours. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays a gangster in Roman Waugh’s Shot Caller. And Bill Nye, The Science Guy is the subject of a documentary by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg.

In addition, the fest will spotlight highlights from other festivals like Sofia Coppola’s Cannes entry, The Beguiled, which will play on a double bill with the director’s Lost in Translation as well as Sundance standouts like Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan; Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$, starring Danielle Macdonald; and Dave McCary’s Brigsby Bear, starring Kyle Mooney. 

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