LA Film Festival to End After 18-Year Run

Film Independent

Film Independent is instead shifting to year-round programming and initiatives.

After 18 years, the LA Film Festival is coming to an end. 

“While we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished with the LA Film Festival over the past eighteen years, the truth is that it has struggled to thrive, and the time has come for us to try something new,” said Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent, which organizes the fest.

Added Welsh, “We are all deeply grateful to [festival director] Jennifer Cochis for her vision, passion, and creativity, and we’re enormously proud of the Festival that she oversaw these past two years. We remain committed to serving filmmakers and film audiences across Los Angeles.”

LA Film Festival was founded by Robert Faust as the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival in 1995. IFP/West, the forerunner of Film Independent, became involved as co-producer of the festival in 2000 and absorbed complete control of the fest in 2001. But while Los Angeles has dozens of local and special-interest film festivals each year, more ambitious festivals have found it difficult to sustain a major festival in the heart of Hollywood. Filmex, which launched in 1971, got off to an auspicious start in the '70s, but faded in the later '80s, although not before laying the groundwork for the year-round American Cinematheque. In 1987, the American Film Institute took over Filmex and rebranded it. Now known as AFI Fest and taking place in November, it has found a focus in spotlighting year-end awards hopefuls.

Meanwhile, LA Film Festival has had a somewhat nomadic existence in recent years, while also undergoing its own change of focus. In 2010, it moved from Hollywood venues to downtown Los Angeles with a headquarters at the Regal Live Stadium 14 and an emphasis on international cinema. Then, in 2015, it moved to the Arclight Cinema in Culver City as its focus also shifted to an emphasis on diversity and both new and local filmmakers. This year, it also shifted from its traditional mid-June berth to a Sept. 20 opening night. That move put the fest into awards season, it didn't become an immediate player, coming as it did after the established Telluride and Toronto festival and before New York.

In announcing the end of the LA Film Festival, Film Independent said it will shift its focus to a variety of year-round programs and initiatives, including several that traditionally coincided with the festival like The Portal, a showcase of VR and immersive storytelling; Fast Track, a film financing market supporting both fiction and non-fiction projects; and Future Filmmakers, which features work by Los Angeles high-school filmmakers. 

“We took a hard look at the healthy growth of Film Independent’s year-round programs and events over the past six years: the Spirit Awards, our film series curated by Elvis Mitchell, membership, labs, workshops, filmmaker grants and international programs,” said Mary Sweeney, chair of the Film Independent board. “In the end, we concluded that the organization should explore a more nimble, sustainable form of exhibiting and celebrating independent film artists year round.”

With the fest ending, Film Independent said it will eliminate three full-time staff positions, although it did not specify the individuals affected.