Up-and-coming directors flock to a L.A. film festival

If you see crowds of independent filmmakers swarming the streets of L.A. this week, don’t panic: They’re not holding a riot against the studios; they’re merely gathering for the fourth annual Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, which runs tomorrow through April 20.

The festival will present 24 feature films by first-timers and established indie directors such as Abel Ferrara (“Bad Lieutenant”), Alexandre Rockwell (“In the Soup”) and Noah Baumbach (“Kicking and Screaming”). There will also be screenings of documentaries and shorts, new media and music-video seminars, and an Indie Music Night on April 17.

Although many initially doubted that LAIFF could succeed in movie-saturated Los Angeles, the event has grown markedly in its short life. (Organizers expect a 40 percent increase in attendance this year.) One early worry: Would Hollywood execs who spend the day packaging the next “Batman” take an interest in low-budget films? “We’re in a town where names and flash drive everything,” says LAIFF director and founder Robert Faust, 32, who conceived the event after helping produce the Independent Spirit Awards. “Therein lies the challenge.”

Playing in the studios’ backyard was another concern. “I came up to many naysayers who said, ‘People go to screenings every night in L.A. Why would they want to go to a festival?'” says Faust. “But we’ve been able to create something the industry is paying attention to.” As proof of this, sixty percent of films featured at the LAIFF have been picked up for distribution.

In fact, showing new films in the shadow of the Hollywood sign has worked to the festival’s advantage. “It’s close to the acquisition guys in L.A., and they can see stuff without having to break up their working week,” says Chris Pickard, editor of “Motion Pictures,” the film-festival trade paper. “[The LAIFF] is still behind Sundance, but it’s really establishing itself above some of the other festivals around the U.S.”

Faust admits that he hasn’t introduced the breakout hit that can make a festival infamous, as Sundance did with Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies and videotape” in 1989. “When movies are bought, and hot stuff comes out in the marketplace in a big way, people associate that film with premiering at your festival,” Faust says. “We’ve had a lot of films bought, but none of them have hit that ‘sex, lies’ $100 million mark.”

There is, however, something to be said for not being Sundance. For one thing, LAIFF attendees don’t have to deal with the feeding-frenzy vibe that permeates the Park City event. And even if the next “Pulp Fiction” does premiere at the LAIFF, Faust is convinced that his festival will never become overly hyped or hyper. “It’s not like the industry is descending on some little town in Utah,” he explains. “So we’re going to be able to grow in a very controlled way.”

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