Welcome to Fest Focus, a new monthly column at Movies.com in which we'll showcase regional and international film festivals, with an emphasis on when and where you can see movies that might not be coming to your local multiplex. We begin with the lengthiest film festival in the United States.
Stretching from May 19 to June 12, the Seattle International Film Festival annually presents hundreds of films (450 this year) to appreciative audiences that number in the tens of thousands, many of whom plan vacations around the fest dates. We'll only consider it briefly, since it closed yesterday, but the Seattle fest sets a great pattern for engagement with local moviegoers, which smaller and newer festivals do well to imitate.
One thing I appreciated when I attended several years ago was the plentitude of daytime press screenings, to which holders of selected passes were invited. With hundreds of films to choose from, this makes it easier for members of the press to cover as many films in advance as possible, and increases the value of the pass for film lovers. And the festival is clearly driven by people who are more interested in the films than celebrities; as film critic and local resident Kim Voynar put it: "Seattle’s never really been the kind of festival locals flock to because of the stars. … We have a great cinephile crowd in this town, and the SIFF press screenings I’ve been to thus far have all been packed near-full with serious passholders. SIFF passholders are so passionate about films that many of them — known collectively as the “Fools Serious” in a clever bit of wordplay — try to outdo each other seeing the most films during the fest. They even have their own voting ballot. I love Seattle."
The festival handed out Golden Space Needle Awards to Paper Birds from Spain (audience award for Best Film) and Hot Coffee from the U.S. (jury award, Best Documentary), among others. Sean Axmaker at Parallax View has the details, along with extensive coverage of the entire festival at the site.
As one major festival closes, another prepares to open. The Los Angeles Film Festival begins on Thursday, June 16, with the world premiere of Bernie, Richard Linklater's new comedy starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. and closes 10 days later with the world premiere of the horror thriller Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, directed by Troy Nixey, with Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce in leading roles. In between, more than 200 feature films, shorts, and music videos will be screened at LA Live, the downtown venue that became home for the festival last year. (Full disclosure: I worked for the festival in 2005, pre-screening several dozen entries as a volunteer and writing a couple of program notes for financial compensation.)
As opposed to Seattle, where local film lovers provide a backbone of popular support, the Los Angeles Film Festival faces the challenge of attracting interest in a company town, where tens of thousands of people work in the film industry (or depend on it in some way for their livelihood), yet are disinclined, in general, to go out of their way to attend film festivals in their own backyard. And, like big cities everywhere in America, the number of people who are interested in independent and foreign-language films is tiny compared to the hunger for Hollywood fare.
Having this in mind, the programmers chart a course that acknowledges big studio fare, with special screenings of upcoming wide theatrical releases Green Lantern, A Better Life, and Drive, panels with veteran film professionals, and a healthy dose of films that have never been shown in Los Angeles before. Jandy Stone at Row Three has a very helpful preview of titles she's planning to see, while Ryland Aldrich at Twitch conducted an interview with David Ansen, Artistic Director, and Doug Jones, Associate Director of Programming, which provides some insight into their goals for the festival and a bit about the selection process.
Tying the Seattle and Los Angeles festivals together, we have the trailer for Hot Coffee, which just won an award in Seattle and will screen at the Los Angeles fest. The documentary premiered at Sundance and will be shown on HBO, premiering on June 27 as part of their "Summer Documentary Series."
While the Seattle and Los Angeles festivals are major events featuring hundreds of films, the Gen Art Film Festival is a much smaller affair, showcasing the premieres of 7 features and 7 shorts over 7 nights -- with the bonus of 7 post-screening parties! That makes it cool and unique, and helps it stand out in New York City, which probably offers more specialty films per year than any other city in America.
Our own Erik Davis, who is serving on the festival's shorts jury this year, has already written about Delmer Builds a Machine, a great short that played before A Beginner's Guide to Endings, the opening night film. Last night's feature, The Pill, is garnering the most buzz so far; it tracks what happens to Fred (Noah Bean) when "his free-spirited one-night stand, Mindy [Rachel Boston], claims that she's not on birth control." We posted the short that proceeded The Pill, Excuse Me, earlier today.
American Animal, starring Matt D'Elia, who also wrote and directed, and Brendan Fletcher, screens tonight (watch the trailer below). When it played at SXSW, Drew McWeeney at HitFix said: "This is what I want from indie filmmakers… personal visions that are uncompromising, films where you can feel the passion, movies that had to be made." The festival closes tomorrow with Salvation Boulevard, a comedy about Christian fanaticism starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jim Gaffigan, Marisa Tomei, and Jennifer Connelly. You can find out more about the festival by visiting the official website.