The Los Angeles Film Festival has undergone a number of changes in recent years - growing larger and moving downtown most notably. Last year's change of venues proved a big success, garnering the festival its highest attendance numbers and most press coverage in its history as well as helping to define a stronger and more focused identity. LAFF looks to follow up last year's fest with a collection of North American and world premieres highlighted by fest opener BERNIE by Richard Linklater, high profile Nicolas Refn action gala DRIVE, and a closing night feature DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, produced by festival guest director Guillermo del Toro. On top of those films, the festival features a strong competition slate made up of films from all over the world as well as some faves from festivals of the past year.
Twitch will have a full preview of the lineup before the festival unspools next week - but first we had a chance to chat with festival Artistic Director David Ansen and Associate Director of Programming Doug Jones. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.
TWITCH: Tell us about your goals for programming LAFF. Are you looking for a particular kind of LAFF film?
DAVID ANSEN: We're really trying to fashion a festival that is for LA, and that reflects the incredible diversity of LA. The only sort of criteria is that we're passionate about the movies. We don't care if they're four and a half hour Raul Ruiz art films (MYSTERIES OF LISBON), which is fabulous by the way, or really good horror movies from Ti West (THE INNKEEPERS).
DOUG JONES: When people think of an LA film festival, they automatically think Los Angeles equals Hollywood. They think Blockbusters; Popcorn. Obviously there is a lot more out there, but we have no idea what we are going to end up with when we start the festival programming process. We don't go into festival planning with a preconceived notion of what kind of festival it's going to be. You never know what you are going to see next. We watch movies, and as we find movies we love and movies we have to show, the personality of the festival takes shape.
DA: This year it just worked out that we have an unusual number of LA based movies - particularly Eastside moves - with a lot of stuff that was shot downtown. For instance DRIVE, where one sequence ends a couple of yards from where people are going to be watching it. We've got a lot of Silverlake stuff; Echo Park stuff. We've got this black gay original musical LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR that was shot downtown and taps into the voguing scene. We've got a Silverlake horror movie called ENTRANCE. So yeah, it's a really strong year for LA filmmakers.
TWITCH: And was this a decision you made to try to highlight films taking place in LA?
DA: No, no. It's just that these were the movies we liked. It wasn't done on purpose. I mean, when we saw they were LA movies it added value - MAMITAS is another one. But no, we didn't set out to find local filmmakers. They came to us. You go with what's out there and what you really like.
DJ: Unexpected threads just tend to develop during the programming process. For instance, this year we had some very strong French Canadian submissions. We had to ask, can we program three French Canadian films in the festival? (CURLING, FAMILIAR GROUND, and THE SALESMAN) But ultimately the films were too strong not to - and it adds something to festival by giving a strong sense of what it's like up there - a feel for Quebecois filmmaking.
TWITCH: You're featuring a special evening with James Franco this year where he presents a film he directed called THE BROKEN TOWER. Can you tell us how that came about?
DA: It actually came about inadvertently through my newspaper work - I moderate the Oscar round table every year. He was there and we started talking. He knew through a mutual friend of ours about me and my connection to the festival and he was all excited to talk to me about maybe doing something with the festival.
TWITCH: So he approached you?
DA: Yeah he approached me, which was nice.
TWITCH: Tell us about Guillermo del Toro and his role as this year's Festival Guest Director.
DA: Doug had seen DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK very early and was quite passionate about the film and the idea of asking Guillermo to be our guest director just kind of arose. As guest director he presents a movie that he picks, and he has picked something that we're all curious to see - Pupi Avoti's film THE ARCANE ENCHANTER, which is a horror film from 1996 that sounds fascinating. It's something that he's really passionate about. He's a very generous guy, so I'm sure he'll be up on stage talking all about it.
TWITCH: Anything else about the festival that gets you really excited?
DJ: The most exciting part of the festival for me is always the excitement of a whole year of brand new movies and all the anticipation that brings. Then once we've gotten to know these movies and lived with the movies, we get to rediscover them in a whole new context - through sharing them with the festival audience. And that really brings us back to the qualities of the films that attracted us to them in the first place.
Our thanks to David Ansen, Doug Jones and all the nice folks at LAFF. Be sure to follow @LAFilmFest on Twitter and you can also follow Doug Jones @DougJones100 throughout the film festival for more insider insight. ScreenAnarchy will have plenty more LAFF coverage including a full lineup preview next week. You can follow Ryland for more festival goodness @RylandAldrich and as always, there will be plenty more @ScreenAnarhcy.