Los Angeles Film Festival continues to grow


In a city known for its multimillion-dollar mansions and endless commutes, the subprime mortgage crisis and $5-a-gallon gas prices spell big trouble. But according to Rich Raddon, who has been the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival since 2000, a good old-fashioned trip to the picture show can provide a welcome respite from these harsh realities.

"This is the first year we've actually gone into the festival when the economy has been soft," he concedes. "But all the reports I read say that during times of recession, people still want to be entertained. They want to escape a little bit from their deflated home prices. So I'll let you know how it goes."

This year's LAFF, running today through June 29, aims to attract 100,000 industry and non-industry film lovers into Westwood's high-capacity movie houses. "Having it at normal movie theaters communicates a very strong message to the general public that this is for you, not just for people wearing badges," Raddon says. "Right now, we get a great industry attendance because we're here in L.A., but I feel like it doesn't start building (among the non-industry crowd) until June, when they start seeing the banners."

Given the sluggish economy, big-ticket studio films will play a key role in drawing the droves to this year's event -- and in helping LAFF compete with the city's other major film festival, November's AFI Fest. LAFF will kick off with the world premiere of Universal's "Wanted," starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, creator of Russia's popular "Night Watch" franchise, the film is based on the series of graphic novels by Mark Millar. Closing out the festival on June 28 is another hotly anticipated title from Universal, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," filmmaker Guillermo del Toro's follow-up to his 2004 hit.

In addition to these big-ticket galas, there are special evenings with Rob Reiner and Antonio Banderas; the festival's popular Coffee Talk series of informal discussions with leading actors, directors, screenwriters and composers; and a conversation between father-and-son filmmakers Ivan and Jason Reitman.

Early indicators suggest that, recession notwithstanding, LAFF's fun, event-oriented approach to programming is working. Presales of festival passes are already up 45% from where they were last year at this time, driven by this year's selection of more than 230 feature films, shorts and music videos. "There's a lot of interest to see our opening and closing night films, as well as a lot of the other films that we have in the festival,"

Raddon says. "The reality is, we're a festival that wants to celebrate all kinds of movies, and we want to do it in a very big way, something you remember. Whatever it is, it has to be heightened. It's really an experience -- everything from 'Swear-A-Long "Scarface"' at the Ford Amphitheatre to Anvil playing live before the screening of (the eponymous) documentary to outdoor screenings on Broxton."

Word about this year's program has been getting out through the festival's high-profile media partners and corporate sponsors, including the Los Angeles Times, Clear Channel, Entertainment Weekly, People magazine, Target, Netflix and American Express. "It's both attracting major media partners and using all those resources more effectively (in ways) like e-mail blasts," says Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, the year-round filmmaker organization that has been producing the festival for the past seven years. "Everyone's become savvier about reaching a wider audience in promoting the festival."

Bigger can be better, but Hudson warns that LAFF has to be careful not to dilute its community feel and quality programming. "The audience has increased every year, and if the festival continues to resonate in the city of L.A. and bring more and more people, then that's certainly one measurement of success," she says. "But managing that growth is as important as growing and serving the audience who comes."

Mann Festival Theatre, Mann Village
Theatre, the Landmark, Majestic Crest
Theatre, AMC Avco Center, Geffen
Playhouse, Billy Wilder Theater at the
Hammer Museum, John Anson Ford Amphitheatre and other Westwood venues

Dates: June 19-29

Opening Night Film: Universal's "Wanted"

Centerpiece Premiere: "Anvil! The Story of Anvil"

Closing Night Film: Universal's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"