Rachel Rosen is The Director of Programming for Film Independent and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Previously, Rosen was Associate Director of Programming for the San Francisco International Film Festival where she was a programmer for seven years. She has worked in various capacities for the New York Film Festival, New York’s Film Forum, and Tri-Star Pictures. A graduate of Stanford University’s Master of Arts program in Documentary Film, Rosen directed Serious Weather, a short documentary that was shown at the Vancouver and San Francisco International Film Festivals, and the British Short Film Festival. She is an occasional contributor on the subject of documentary film to Film Comment magazine.
Bijan Tehrani: What’s new at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival? Are there any new categories or events?
Rich Raddon: We haven’t expanded our programming. We are showing relatively the same number of films, but we continue to add special events to the festival. We expanded our Family Day, our Live Earth Day, and—in the celebration of earth day this year—we will have short films screening throughout the day. There are just a lot more activities. For instance, the festival promenade which is on Broxton this year will be a pedestrian walkway the entire Sunday of the festival, and their will be music groups playing there at noon and at 7pm. On the programming side we always have new films, and we didn’t add any new additional categories. What we did do is we continued to add to the special events that are already occurring at the film festival.
Rachel Rosen: I think this year is just about improving on and making bigger some of the things that we started to do last year with our big move to Westwood. So last year was a year of major changes with the festival, both in starting our partnership with the Los Angeles Times and moving the festival center to Westwood. So this year, we have the opportunity, having worked with the Los Angeles Times before and having been in Westwood last year, to do a little bit more of a lot of the things that we started to do last year. For example, Westwood is a great little “village” and it’s a wonderful place for us to do a lot of things in addition to the movies to sort of try and augment the festival experience. So we have more free outdoor screenings on Broxton Avenue—which will now be closed for the duration of the festival—and more things like that.
Bijan: What is the process of selecting movies for the festival?
Rachel: It’s done by a group of programmers who we’ve been working with regularly for several years. Myself, I’m the artistic director, and Doug Jones, who is the senior programmer, we travel during the year to other festivals, looking both at films in those festivals and talking to filmmakers, producers, and representatives of films that would be possible to bring back to Los Angeles audiences. We also screen a lot of work that’s never shown anywhere before, mostly from America, for our Narrative and Documentary feature competitions. If you’re asking me about the criteria, it’s hard for me to delineate exact criteria just because to a large degree, our programming is a matter of the taste of the programmers, and with so many films to choose from—we got over 4,000 submissions this year—it’s really a question of which films ignite excitement in one of the programmers, you know—which films grab us, whether it’s on a visual level, an intellectual level, or an emotional level, and make us feel passionately about what the filmmaker is trying to say.
Bijan: What is the main focus of the festival?
Rich: The main point of the LA film festival is that it is accessible to everyone, the common Los Angelino. We have a variety of different films screening at the festival. We feel we have films for almost anyone who likes to see movies, whether they are family films, genre films, dramatic films, foreign films, or big Hollywood premiers. We have it all. We created the LA Film Festival really for the citizens of Los Angeles; the cultural events are celebratory, fun, and for everyone.
Bijan: Please tell us about the presence of international cinema at Los Angeles Film Festival 2007.
Rachel: Well, international cinema has been a really important part of the festival ever since Film Independent took over the programming of the festival about six years ago. It continues to be a really important portion of what we do. We’ve had spotlights every year and they are not always on international cinema; sometimes they might be on a particular filmmaker. One year we had a spotlight on rare and unseen animation. This year, our focus is on international cinema and it’s the cinema of Romania. I think American viewers just last year started to get the first little taste of what appears to be an exciting new wave of cinema from Romania with the releases of the Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest.
I think it’s relatively rare when you can actually spot a trend in world cinema as it’s happening, but it just seems that with two new Romanian films that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and a lot of exciting work besides those films coming along, this is a good time to take a look at Romanian cinema.
Bijan: Are international filmmakers attending the festival?
Rich: We usually have a great showing of international filmmakers. A lot of international filmmakers make it to the festival because we do the filmmaker retreat two days before the LA film festival begins. We bring in all the filmmakers, international and national; we take them up to the Skywalker Ranch where our guest director, which is Curtis Hanson this year, hosts a two day retreat. This retreat helps these filmmakers to get to know each other. George Lucas also attends that retreat so it is a great opportunity for filmmakers from across the globe to get to know each other and to get to hear from a master filmmaker as well. Because we have these enticements, filmmakers who would normally not want to attend a film festival in LA, will want to come to this one.
Rachel: We always get almost all of the American filmmakers to come but sometimes it’s a little more difficult for the international filmmakers to fit it into their schedules. So for instance, Rafi Pitts, the director of It’s Winter is going to be joining us and that’s very exciting. Patrice Laconte is going to come introduce My Best Friend, which is great for us. And then some of our young, exciting new talent will be here: Laurin Federlein, director of Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness; Nadav Schirman, the director of The Champagne Spy; Martín Rejtman, the Argentinian director of Copacabana will be here—we’ve shown his films in the past; I believe Lee Yoon-ki, the Korean director of Ad Lib Night is going to be joining us; Bettina Bluemner, the director of Pool of Princesses, Jacques Sarasin—we’ve also shown a film of his in the past—has a lovely documentary called On the Rumba River; Charles Burnett will obviously be here—he has a film in the international section because his film was financed by Namibia so it is officially a Namibian film, but he is of course from Los Angeles; the Australian director Darren Ashton will be here with his film Razzle Dazzle and there is a bunch of people still that we are corresponding with and hoping that they will come but, to me, that is an exciting line-up.
Bijan: Are there any cash awards given away at the festival?
Rich: Yes we have two competitions, the American Dramatic competition which is a Narrative Competition, and an American Documentary Competition. We give out the target filmmaker award which is a $50,000 dollar cash grant to the director of the winning film in the Narrative Competition. We give out another $50,000 dollar cash grant to the winner of the Documentary Competition.
Bijan: Does the festival aim at mainly helping American Filmmakers and, specifically, filmmakers from Los Angeles?
Rich: We created the Target Filmmakers Award to give away this cash award to these filmmakers. The films that screen in that section are not only Los Angeles area films but they are American and they are for American filmmakers, and target to support American documentaries, and American narrative filmmakers.
Bijan: What we should look forward to in Los Angeles Film Festival 2007, any exceptional films, talent or events?
Rich: We always are timid to single out one film over another, because quite frankly it depends on someone’s taste. We like them all and that’s why they are screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival, but I would highlight the family day and the Live Earth day in the celebration of Earth. These events are looked forward to. Also, I am really excited about our opening and centerpiece, and our closing night screenings. I think this is something people should look for. To be able to attend these screening you need to purchase a pass but anybody can purchase one. You don’t need to be a film industry member to purchase a pass.
Bijan: Are there any events or arrangements during the festival to help the young filmmakers that are looking for distributors or investors?
Rich: Yes there is. This is provided for the filmmakers who get into the film festival, like the filmmakers who made short films, narratives, documentary features, and the international filmmakers. We set up them up with one-on-one meetings with industry veterans like financers, producers, publicists and brokers to help them put their next project in motion. This is done in what we call Kodak speed dating; it is not speed dating as in looking for a mate, but you are looking for assistance in getting your next project off the ground.
Bijan: Please tell us about the Dark Wave screening event of the festival.
Rich: We really embrace all different genres of filmmaking. The idea was to have films that appealed to more of a midnight crowd, and that can be horror films, fright films, and zombie films. This is why a few years ago we created the Dark Wave section. Part of the film festival is to have films for every kind of moviegoer so people feel that the LA film festival is for them, and not for people who just enjoy independent films, art house films, or international films. It is for filmmakers who like horror movies, comedies, or big budget epics. We try to spread the gamut, and typically these Dark Wave films screen later that night and for an audience that has an appetite for the horror genre. In companion with that section we have the Guilty Pleasure section, which is exactly what it says. These are films that are not trying to take themselves so seriously, and are just fun and interesting, and that we like. We don’t care if it is a genre that shouldn’t be placed in a film festival, we are just excited to have these films and that is why we place them in our Guilty Pleasure section.
Bijan: What movies will be screened in the free screening section of the festival?
Rachel: Well, there are all kinds of films; mostly movies that everyone can enjoy so almost all of them are for the whole family. One of my favorite ones is A Christmas Story, which is a tribute to the director Bob Clark, who was sadly killed in a car accident early this year. So we are going to have a Christmas in June screening; we are going to have carolers and snow cones and hopefully everyone will have a little Christmas break there. We are also screening Shall We Dance, which is a lovely Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers film. We are having an anniversary screening of The Princess Bride and then we are also having a screening of one of the films in our really fun “Los Angeles Destroys Itself” section, which is all about films in which LA gets trashed. So that screening is going to be the 1984 film, Night of the Comet.
Bijan: Can audiences of the festival attend Filmmakers Q&As; by purchasing movie passes?
Rich: Absolutely. Every question and answer is available to the public. In fact the pass gives you all access; a pass gets you not only into the screenings, but also into the filmmaker lounge. If you buy individual tickets, after every screening in which the filmmaker is present they will conduct a Q&A;, and the general audience is included.
Rachel: One of the main goals of the festival, which I think the move to Westwood has really helped with, is to make this festival accessible to everyone. This is not a hard-to-navigate industry event—it’s a public festival for the audience of Los Angeles and it’s really easy to attend. If someone really wants to get involved, the best thing to do is to get one of our passes, which is basically a package that allow one to go to multiple films and to come into our hospitality suites at Target Red Room. There are individual tickets, which go on sale on June 8th, available to any audience member who wants to get one; they can go on our website to buy them or we will have a ticketing pavilion open in Westwood about a week or so before the festival. When there are filmmakers attending their films, they are always present for an introduction and question-and-answer, but the festival is also full of other great opportunities to hear panels and conversations with some of the talent that LA has to offer. A lot of those are actually free events that the general audience wouldn’t even need to buy a ticket to come see. For instance, Monday through Friday from the 25th to the 29th, we have what we call Director Lunch Talks. So John Horn from the Los Angeles Times has a conversation with a director from the festival and that takes place in our hospitality suite, The Target Red Room, and it’s open to anyone who wants to come in and hear what these directors want to say. There are also really exciting conversations, for instance we have a conversation with Mickey Rooney who is a Hollywood legend, that are ticketed events but, you know, accessible for anyone who wants to attend.
Bijan: How do you see the future of the Los Angeles Film Festival?
Rich: The future is bright for the LA film festival. We have had tremendous growth over the last few years. Last year the attendance was at 80,000, and this year we are expecting over 100,000 people. The future has to do with continued accessibility for the general public, and quite frankly that will reflect in the attendance. More and more people will attend the LA film festival. We will have more screenings, and we will have to figure out where we will have more theaters. The future involves continuing on the same path, and just growing the festival and continuing the pace it has been making progress in. People respond to the fact that it is very accessible, and the films that are being screened are films they would like to see. It is for the common Los Angelino.
Bijan: I personally believe the main reason for the success of Los Angeles Film festival is that it is not just another film festival; it actively helps the young filmmakers in US.
Rich: Yes. That is certainly true. The LA film festival is produced by Film Independent; we are a non-profit organization that helps independent filmmakers year round. So that is the backbone, the spine of the festival. It is really the philosophy we have that we want to encourage and help independent filmmakers. We help them with tools, and increasing the audience for their movies. As we are bringing this cultural event to Los Angeles and making it accessible to everyone, we are also trying to do a great service to filmmakers who need help.
Bijan: Is there any thing that you want to add?
Rachel: I think your questions gave me the opportunity to say what I needed to. I just always want to encourage people who are considering attending the festival to be adventurous. I think, in the age where we are spoon-fed information about what films to see by huge marketing campaigns, sometimes it’s difficult and it might feel a little intimidating to filmmakers to open this program guide if they are not familiar with the actors or the directors in the guide. These are wonderful films and the only difference between them and the other films that are out in the market is the marketing budget so I just encourage people to come down and just have this experience at the festival because it’s really wonderful.