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Film festivals tend to take on the colors of their surroundings. The Cannes Film Festival celebrates auteurs, but against the backdrop of the Mediterranean, it can’t resist mixing in glitz and glamour. The New York Film Festival, on the intellectual Upper West Side, offers up a carefully curated selection of the highest-minded of cinema. But the Los Angeles Film Festival, headed by director Stephanie Allain, is all of the above and then some — especially since it moved two years ago to downtown Los Angeles (most of its programs take place in and around the L.A. Live complex). It’s at once an industry gathering and a film-fan hangout. It courts the city’s varied ethnic audiences. And this year, the fest, opening June 14, is even opening its doors to TV.
In his third year at the artistic helm of the 17-year-old festival, David Ansen, the former Newsweek film critic, is serving up a smorgasbord of film, music and even TV that, he says: “reflects the city. In our programming, we’re trying to craft a program that will be appealing to a city that is so diverse. We’re very conscious of having strong Latin programming, for example, and we have some very strong Mexican films this year.”
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Woody Allen has always made fun of L.A. How did you convince him not only to give you his new film but to come to its opening?
David Ansen: I don’t know what his thought process was. I remember when his Celebrity was the opening night film at the New York Film Festival. They couldn’t get him to show up — and that was in New York. I had told Tom Bernard and Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics that we’d really like to have Woody for opening night. And they came back a few days later and said, “We’re on.” It’s a merry movie, not an angst-ridden Woody Allen movie at all, and maybe he’s in a particularly good mood after the success of Midnight in Paris. Maybe now he thinks there’s more to L.A. than making a right-hand turn on a red light.
THR: Historically, the studios were suspicious of film festivals in L.A. — they saw them as competition. Where do things stand now?
Ansen: I’ve really sensed a change over the last couple of years, and it’s even more pronounced this year in terms of their being receptive to us. In part, it has something to do with the Oscar nominations that a number of the movies we’ve shown have gotten: All the nominations for The Kids Are All Right, which was our opening movie two years ago. Sony Classics feels we were very instrumental in Animal Kingdom getting a nomination for Jacki Weaver as best supporting actress. And last year, the surprise best actor nomination for Demian Bichir, whose A Better Life premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I think they are seeing the utility of it from an awards point of view. And, technically, the facilities in the Regal Cinemas’ number one theater are state-of-the-art. I’ve had directors tell me they are better than in Cannes, and that certainly helps.
THR: This year, you’re introducing TV elements with programs devoted to Breaking Bad and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Are you using the fact that the festival takes place during the Emmy voting period as leverage to attract TV creators?
Ansen: I wasn’t thinking about the Emmys myself. But there’s just so much great stuff going on now in television at the level of great cinema. It just seemed like a natural progression. Aaron Sorkin, coming off The Social Network — it seemed too good a thing to pass up not to show the first episode of Newsroom. In the case of Breaking Bad, someone here was talking to someone at AMC, and the suggestion came up that we do something with [show creator] Vince Gilligan and the cast. Everybody here is such a fan, it was an instant yes. They’re actually in the middle of shooting the final episodes of the coming season in New Mexico, so they will be flying in for the day. They’ll be showing clips of episodes past and, hopefully, a little sneak preview of what’s coming up.
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