MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady Klady@moviecitynews.com

Confessions Of A Film Festival Junkie: LAFF 2017

The Los Angeles Film Festival begins a second year in Culver City, following stints downtown and in Westwood Village. Putting aside the dilemma of finding a geographic locale with sufficient screens to sustain a program, is location a cause of LA Fest’s declining admissions?

My gut says no. And LAFF’s new artistic director Jennifer Cochis has been on the stump about taking the event in a new direction, as well as widening its accessibility with events and screenings at the Los Angeles County Museum, the Arclights in Hollywood and Santa Monica, as well as the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A..

It doesn’t sound that radical – fewer world premieres, a willingness to slot films that have played other showcases and a focus on new filmmakers, regardless of gender or ethnicity. It also appears to have expanded its global representation after several years of cutbacks. Apart from a decision to scrap repeat screenings, it’s all theoretically sound.

The bottom line for LAFF is that it will live or die based on its film selection. LAFF is not not a film market with the industry eyeing film acquisitions and emerging talent, and it’s not a series of social events sustained by deep-pocketed patrons.

Maudie, one of the only selections I’ve seen, is superb. Detailing the life of primitive painter Maud Lewis, it rises above the genre norm in great part to the sublime performance of Sally Hawkins in the title role. But it’s playing Thursday, and in the words of Cochis, “If you miss it, you’ll be sorry.” Or, maybe not, since Maudie opens at arthouses in a few weeks.

The film landscape has changed radically since the FilmEx era of the 1970s. The city has grown from a viewer base with limited access to movies outside the Hollywood mandate, to the availability cinematic visions both grand and minute from every corner of the globe. Perhaps only Paris supercedes this town in that respect.

Only last week, there was the Dances with Film fest as well as the Greek Film week and Outfest follows on the tails of LA Film Fest. Then there are continuing programs of new and vintage movies from UCLA, LACMA, Cinefamily, the American Cinematheque, the New Beverly, etc., etc.

Keeping up with all of this requires otherworldly stamina and I suspect most Los Angelenos suffer from degrees of film fatigue. But no outlet has to appeal to every movie diehard, just to enough of a crowd to fill whatever number of seats one has.

Probably the one thing that would benefit LAFF is more razzle-dazzle. Just a bit of “look at me” as in I can do “this” and you can’t. It is admittedly an ill defined something extra but in an arena this competitive and with a jaundiced media horde, extraordinary measures are mandatory. And one thing more: deliver the goods.

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton