MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Festival in …

They don’t have car shows in Detroit.

But in Los Angeles — a once near-moribund venue for alternative cinema — the landscape is rife with celebrations of the seventh art. The unprepossessing-sounding Los Angeles Film Festival is one of two annual events (the other, AFI Fest, unspools in November) that at least on paper strive to be a significant movie event with resonance well beyond this city’s limits. It begins its first full day of activity Friday.

The LAFF’s roots were as a weekend fest that narrowly focused on American independent productions. It never aspired to be the alternative Sundance though its distance from the Utah behemoth was an asset and its organizers and programmers evolved a keen eye for edgy, offbeat and accomplished movies.

It’s never been quite clear why Film Independent (the former IFP/West) desired to acquire the celebration and expand its scope. A nook still remains for the sort of film its membership — at least its most youthful core — hustles together but the 100 or so features it presents in the course of 11 days embrace the full spectrum of contemporary filmmaking. There are films that could not exist outside a festival setting as well as what promises to be the summer’s nosiest sequel — Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Unlike its predecessor it is most certainly not a boutique operation. In fact it’s the kind of film smorgasbord that teeters precariously on the rim of kitchen sink. It’s a testament to its programmers that this mix of high and low brow fare manages to maintain its dignity and push forward some unusual, compelling and provocative films. The LAFF sleight-of-hand is an audacity that presents challenging movies as fun and accessible and it works more often than not.

If the brain trust behind this celebration aspire to become a must stop on the circuit a la Cannes or Toronto, they’re certainly not forcing the issue. TriBeCa, also on the summer calendar, remains the most shameless movie showcase in respect to throwing money at its problems in pursuit of respectability, power and other sundry vainglorious ends.

Ironically Los Angeles is not the place where one’s likely to find a breakout movie and, on a related plain, not the place where alternative distributors are looking for product. Producers and talent also seem less keen to get behind their movies in the City of Angels for a myriad of reasons.

So it’s probably shrewd to at the very least present the LAFF as a party. This particular bash has a sufficiently copious multiplex to incorporate a lot of different tastes and that seems just right for a town that, for the nonce, has a lot of niche audiences and no prevailing majority.

Film festivals always have the intelligent task of balancing art and commerce; the latter is sometimes seen in a futile attempt to pander to an amorphous audience. One can expect some to ramp up that element in these current trying financial times.

I’m not sure that any of these showcases can be sustained solely on the people that buy tickets and passes. The cost of maintaining a core staff, scouting for movies and building international relationships in the 50 other weeks of the year ain’t cheap. Festivals are built on a bedrock of sponsorships and the ones with top billing are contributing hefty amounts of moola.

A lot of primary supporters don’t want to be aligned with a single event indefinitely. They like to spread it around. So, the LAFF had major underwriting from Target for several years and in all deference to both this event and benefactor, the latter decided to move on and contribute to other pursuits. The new Target is the Los Angeles Times and considering all the sturm und drang and cost cutting going on at its parent Tribune Co., one assumes its commitment was writ in stone for several years and apt to evaporate in the future.

It’s been well reported that a lot of film events are feeling the crunch of waning sponsorships and several have already thrown in the towel. I doubt that the Los Angeles or the AFI film showcases are in imminent threat and I’m not sure how either could make themselves more attractive to a potential donor. But it has to be a factor that keeps organizers on tender hooks.

Still these are odd times. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see an international auto show in Detroit in the coming year.

June 19, 2009

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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