Los Angeles Film Festival: What You Need to Know

Drive Ryan Gosling Film Still 2011

Drive Ryan Gosling Film Still 2011

Guillermo del Toro is guest director of the event, which kicked off Thursday and includes a screening of Ryan Gosling's "Drive."

Producer Rebecca Yeldham (The Kite Runner, The Motorcycle Diaries) and David Ansen, Newsweek's former veteran film critic, have good reason to be excited about the upcoming Los Angeles Film Festival (which begins Thursday). The executive director and artistic director, respectively, saw the 17-year-old event draw its biggest numbers in 2010 (a more than 8% increase over 2009), when it moved to downtown L.A. from Westwood, and they have high hopes for this year's edition, beginning June 16. They spoke recently with THR prior to the fest kickoff.

The Hollywood Reporter: This will be your second year downtown. What did you learn from your first year?

Rebecca Yeldham: We learned that downtown really worked. We were really in love with the idea of building a destination festival downtown and excited by what's been evolving, with a growing local arts community and fabulous restaurants, bars and late-night spots; we felt it was a good bet. People came, they stayed, they ate, they caught a second film. It had a very different spirit than the festival had in previous years.

THR: Did you draw a different crowd?

David Ansen: Definitely. We certainly had some of our loyal Westsiders come down, but we tapped into a new Eastside audience that was both younger and more diverse. It made for a livelier festival. We try to program the films to reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, and we had an audience that fit that.

THR: Was it hard to whittle 5,000 submissions?

Ansen: Very hard. You think, "Oh, what if I'm missing a masterpiece?" That 5,000 includes shorts, of course, but to whittle that down to roughly 85 feature films and over 100 shorts isn't an easy task. It's kind of a delicious task, though, to see a glimpse of what's happening all over the world. And we found some gems.

THR: What are you looking for?

Ansen: Stuff that grabs us. That's one of the things that I love about this festival: It's very eclectic. We don't set any limits as to what kind of movies we're going to show. Our only criterion is that they excite us, that they're excellent. It can be a horror movie from Korea or a high-art movie. We want to reflect all different kinds of filmmaking, and we want to appeal to a very broad audience. We don't want only to be for cineastes -- although there's plenty here that the hard-core cineastes are going to love.

THR: Do you cater to niche audiences?

Yeldham: We include specialty programming, such as gay and Latino films, in our festival because they're movies that we just love and feel very passionate about supporting -- they are not seen through a "gay" or "Latino" lens. They will draw in a different constituency than they might in a more specialized film festival.

THR: Now that Dawn Hudson has stepped down as head of Film Independent and became CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, do you see yourselves working with that organization more?

Yeldham: Our relationship with the Academy has already been evolving very organically, and with Dawn there now, I can only imagine it will further.

THR: How has it been evolving?

Yeldham: Last year, David and I were interested in taking a delegation of filmmakers to Cuba. We learned through friendships at the Academy that they had a similar intent, so we pooled our resources and collaborated on this cultural exchange that took place in December at the Havana Film Festival. As a result, our International Spotlight this year is on Cuban cinema -- we're bringing Cuban filmmakers to the festival -- and there's going to be a special screening at the Academy of Strawberry & Chocolate (1994).

THR: What does Guillermo del Toro bring to the table as guest director?

Yeldham: He's one of the most visionary filmmakers around. He's a friend of Film Independent and of the festival. He's part of the brain trust behind our closing-night film, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which he wrote and produced. He was also very involved in the creature creation and content of the film,  which is directed by first-time director Troy Nixey. Del Toro will also present a movie that he's very passionate about, [Italian director Pupi Avati's] The Arcane Enchanter (1996).           

Los Angeles Film Festival Venues:

L.A. Live, Downtown Independent, Ford Amphitheatre, Redcat.

More information can be found at www.lafilmfest.com.