Los Angeles Film Festival moves downtown but will audiences follow?
In a nod to just how prominent the Los Angeles Film Festival has become recently, many forget the annual June event didn't set up shop in Westwood until just four years ago. That era is quickly over, however, as Film Independent announced today that LAFF was making its long rumored move to downtown Los Angeles.
Using the L.A. Live complex across from Staples Center as a base, the 2010 edition of the festival will use the recently opened Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 (great theaters, horrible facade), REDCAT/Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (underutilized by the industry), the Downtown Independent (be afraid), the Soundstage Theatre at the GRAMMY Museum (great sound, but small), JW Marriot Hotel Los Angeles at L.A. Live (Sundance-esque), The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Los Angeles (ditto), Orpheum Theatre (big and classy), and California Plaza (prefect for outdoor screenings for families and the homeless). The 7,000 seat Nokia Theater is notably absent from the lineup, but that's obviously a lot of seats to fill.
LAFF claims up to 85,000 people have attended the festival in recent years, but there have to be questions on whether moviegoer will schlep downtown in significant numbers. There is already resentment from the industry as a whole over what was perceived as a disappointing 2010 Independent Spirit Awards at LA Live although that no doubt had to do with just moving what was a ceremony in a tent on Santa Monica Beach to a ceremony in a tent on a parking garage as anything else. Moreover, over the past few years studios had used the LAFF as a convenient premiere showcase for summer films such as "Public Enemies" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Whether Hollywood will be as intrigued to trek down to LA Live remains to be seen. Sony Pictures had a lot of success with the "Michael Jackson's This Is It" debut in October at the Nokia, but no one has used the huge (and impressive) showcase theater at the nearby Regal complex as of yet.
Most surprising is why Film Independent would make this move now. Cost and the up in the air management of some Westwood theaters may have been an issue, but a bit more stability may have been the smarter move. With November's AFI Fest taking a "year off" (read into that what you will), the current state of the independent distribution market and so many quality films available to screen, LAFF could find itself with a slate putting it on a festival tier alongside SXSW and above the constantly disappointing Tribeca. That may still occur this year, but the jury is out with this new move.
[Update: While word on the street has been contrary, Jacqueline Lyanga, Festival Director of AFI Fest assures me the annual end of October festival will return. More on this in the weeks to come.]
In other news, former Newsweek film critic David Ansen was named the festival's artistic director. This is a classy move by the festival as Ansen is one of the more respected critics out there whose opinions were rarely seen as prejudicial (ie, no favorites) and should help bring even more prestige to the event. Ansen is currently a contributing editor at Newsweek.
The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from June 17-27.