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How LA Film Festival Achieved Diversity by “Looking for People Who Are Seeing the World Differently”

How LA Film Festival Achieved Diversity by "Looking for People Who Are Seeing the World Differently"

The 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival features one of the most diverse programming slates among major festivals, with 40% of features directed by women and almost 30% helmed by filmmakers of color (not counting foreign movies).

In an interview with the LA Times, LAFF director Stephanie Allain and associate director Roya Rastegar revealed the sweat, the rewards and the pushback behind their months-long effort to make the festival as varied and multi-faceted as Los Angeles itself. 

“Our priority is presenting diverse points of view,” Allain informed agents, managers and studio executives. “There was an uncomfortable silence,” Allain recalls. “They’d say, ‘Well, we don’t have any female directors, and we don’t have any directors of color.'”

Her endeavors to diversify the film world were also met with condescension toward women or minority filmmakers. “You’d be surprised how many people look at you and say, ‘Oh, I get it, you’re just giving people a break,'” said Allain, who produced Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights” and Justin Simien’s “Dear White People.” 

“This is the big lie, that if I’m going to hire a woman or a person of color, I’m going to have to compromise, that I’m doing it to check the diversity box,” she continued.

Allain started by telling LAFF screeners to “look for people who are seeing the world differently.”

“You need diversity among your screeners, because what you value is what you know,” she said. “When people watch a film and identify with it, they say, ‘This is a good film.’ When the perspective veers away from that, people think it isn’t good. When you look at the way film critics review films directed by women, for example, sometimes they just don’t get it. We told our screeners, ‘Look for people who are seeing the world differently.'”

Programmers also researched trade news and relied on contacts to find new voices. The result is that 80% of the slate this year is comprised of first- or second-timers. Among their finds were “In a Perfect World,” a documentary by an African-American producer-turned-first-time-director about the effects of single motherhood on the boys they raise, and “No Más Bebés,” a look at the involuntary sterilizations of Latina women in the LA area by Japanese-American filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña.

“Because we’re in LA and this town is full of creatives, we don’t have to have a festival full of stars,” noted Roya Rastegar of LAFF’s privileged status as the premier festival in Hollywood. “We can be a festival that’s about finding new talent.”

“The primary gatekeepers are film festival programmers,” Rastegar argued. “It’s really urgent that festivals take this approach of seeing things differently because we’re the pipeline for films to get seen and distributed.”

LAFF runs this year from June 10 to 18.

[via LA Times]

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