FESTIVALS: Hollywood Stakes Indie Claim on Industry Soil
by Sandy Mandelberger
In just its third year, the Hollywood Film Festival has come into its own as one of Tinseltown's most interesting and diverse events. Mixing old style Hollywood glamour with the excitement of the independent film scene, the Festival has largely succeeded in its ambitious mandate to "bridge the gap between emerging filmmakers and established professionals."
Centered on the Paramount Studios lot, the 3-day August festival presented a compact program of twelve feature films, six documentaries and twenty three shorts, all competing for the Hollywood Discovery Film Awards. In a testament to its growing stature as a premiere film event, Festival Director Carlos de Abreu estimates that over 500 films from around the world were submitted for consideration.
For its opening night slot, the Festival presented the West coast premiere of "Kiss and Tell," a romantic comedy written and directed by John Brenkus. Shot on digital video (as were many of the feature and short titles to follow), the Washington D.C.-based production is a funny and insightful satire on reality television. Four guys and four girls are paired for a luxurious blind date, with their every move recorded by a relentless camera crew. The winning cast of unknowns and the intimate truths revealed make this a soulful comedy with distinct commercial potential.
Two other American indies in competition generated strong audience reaction. "Jimmy Zip," a coming of age film about a rebellious 16-year-old pyromaniac, had style to spare and a charismatic lead in fledgling actor Brendan Fletcher. The film's writer/director Robert McGinley went on to win the New Filmmaker's Award. In "Hostage," a New York-based thriller written and directed by Swedish-born Frederik Sundwall, model Marcus Schenkenberg makes an immediate impression in his feature acting debut. With a plot that gets rather convoluted, Schenkenberg, of the floppy hair and fabulous torso, radiates magnetism. Casting directors, take note.
Among the international films presented at the Festival, there are three standouts that deserve attention from acquisition executives. Jon Hewitt's DV-shot "Redball" is a wrenching police thriller from Australia that stars the enigmatic Belinda McClory of "The Matrix" fame, while David Flamholc's "Lithium" is an engrossing thriller from Sweden about an intern at a tabloid newspaper in Sweden who gets in over her head in a search for a man's missing girlfriend. The third, Liliane Targownik's "Rosenzweig's Freedom," is a powerful courtroom drama from Germany about a Jewish laborer's alleged murder of a neo-Nazi.
A new addition to this year's Festival was the Hollywood Film Market. Twenty diverse projects at different stages of completion were presented in two private screening rooms on the Paramount lot exclusively for sales agents, managers and acquisition executives. Truth be told, the market was sparsely attended with no reps from key distribution companies in sight. However, the initiative is a positive one, with highlights including Fran Rzeznik's gender-switching comedy "Equinox Knocks" about a vain cheerleader who magically changes sexes; Stu Pollard's "Nice Guys Sleep Alone," a sweet comedy about the horrors of dating adapted from the best seller by Bruce Feirstein, and the work-in-progress documentary from David Strohmaier, "The Cinemara Adventure," a celebration of the long-lost cinema experience that thrilled movie-goers of the 1950's.
Rounding out the Festival was the Hollywood Film Conference, an ambitious series of sixteen panel discussions held at Hollywood's historic Roosevelt Hotel. Seminars covered a wide variety of topics including project packaging, international co-productions, foreign financing, deal-making in Hollywood, and technical sessions devoted to new production, editing systems and the potentials of Internet distribution. High-profile panelists included Jeremy Barber (Artisan Entertainment), Claire Best (New Line Cinema), Rosanne Korenberg (Fox Searchlight), Meyer Gottleib (Samuel Goldwyn Company), Paul Federbush (Fine Line Features), Susan Glatzer (USA Films), David Dinerstein (Paramount Classics), Mark Gill (Miramax Films) and Marcus Hu (Strand Releasing). The Conference culminated with the Hollywood Pitchmart where fledgling producers had an opportunity to pitch their projects to the likes of Oren Bitan (Seventh Art Releasing), Garth Pappas (Metropolitan Talent Agency), Judd Payne (Steve Tisch Company), and Gary Loder (William Morris Agency).
Not bad for an event that was not even around in 1996. Even so, director de Abreu insists that it's only the beginning. "The Hollywood Film Festival will be a destination where films are discovered," he promises. If the Festival can attract more high-level US and international premieres and convince more industry professionals to stay in town during the dog days of August, the event has the potential to be a fertile showcase for emerging filmmakers. Stay tuned.
[Sandy Mandelberger is President of International Media Resources, an international marketing company that promotes American independent films overseas at film festivals and markets. IMR also serves as a US host of international film festivals and is the co-coordinator of American Premieres, an initiative to bring more foreign language films to the U.S.]