LA Film Fest award winners talk festival closure, opportunities for indie docs

Los Angeles-based non-profit film organization Film Independent is ending the 18-year-old LA Film Festival to shift focus on year-round programming and community events. New initiatives will be announced in the coming months, ...
November 2, 2018

Los Angeles-based non-profit film organization Film Independent is ending the 18-year-old LA Film Festival to shift focus on year-round programming and community events.

New initiatives will be announced in the coming months, and some programs from the festival will continue as standalone events. These include the Portal, which showcases VR and immersive storytelling, produced in partnership with Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television; a two day event around inclusion in the film industry, launched in 2013 by Stephanie Allain and continued by Hasan Foster; Fast Track, a film financing market that supports both fiction and non-fiction projects; and Future Filmmakers, which features work by Los Angeles high school filmmakers.

Film Independent will continue to run its current slate of programs and events, including the Film Independent Spirit Awards; Film Independent Presents, curated by Elvis Mitchell; Global Media Makers, a mentoring initiative for international visual storytellers; Project Involve, the 25-year-old mentorship program for filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds; and the annual suite of Filmmaker Labs and the Film Independent Forum and Directors Close-Up.

“In the end, we concluded that the organization should explore a more nimble, sustainable form of exhibiting and celebrating independent film artists year round,” said Mary Sweeney, chair of the Film Independent board of directors, in a statement.

“While we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished with the LA Film Festival over the past 18 years, the truth is that it has struggled to thrive, and the time has come for us to try something new,” added Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent. “We remain committed to serving filmmakers and film audiences across Los Angeles.”

Realscreen caught up with documentary filmmakers Ashley York (pictured, left) and Sally Rubin (right) to discuss the impact of the LA Film Festival on the indie documentary industry. York and Rubin won the Documentary Award at the 2018 LAFF for their feature film Hillbilly.

On the most basic level, festivals generate an audience, especially for independent projects like Hillbilly, they agree.

“The film festival is, by its very nature, grassroots, and seeks to bring in audiences and engage them with films that they wouldn’t have any other opportunity to see outside of a festival,” says York.

“Not all indie films are going to get a broadcast or even digital distribution,” Rubin adds. “I think festivals offer indie films a chance to have real audience impact.”

Both filmmakers live in LA, which offers another advantage. Having a festival in an industry town means keeping filmmakers on their own turf. “Rather than dive-bombing in for a night or two, we were able to be much more integrated into the entire week-long festival,” explains Rubin. 

That also meant having a venue in which to tell people about upcoming theatrical screenings and getting reviewed by The LA Times. Not to mention getting VIP treatment for a small project. “It gave us the chance to screen in a high-profile way at a theater we never thought we’d have access to,” says Rubin. “I never thought I’d see my work at the ArcLight.”

Winning the Documentary Award also started something of a chain reaction, according to Rubin: “The film was just called an Oscar contender in an article in The Wrap the other day, and I think in part — in fact I think wholly — that’s because of that LA Film Festival placement and specifically the award.”

It’s unclear whether year-round programming can fill the void left by the loss of a marquee event like the LA Film Festival, but York doesn’t see it as a net loss necessarily. “I think the role of film festivals as well as these programs — assist and finance and support filmmakers — are all evolving too in this media culture that we’re in. The landscape is changing so rapidly. It has been for 10 years,” she says.

“On one hand it feels like we’ve come so far, and on the other hand it feels like we’re still in our infancy of what is going to happen as digital storytelling and content evolves.”

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.