The Los Angeles Film Festival got off to a glamorous start Thursday night with the L.A. premiere of David Frankel's "The Devil Wears Prada" in the heart of the event's new neighborhood, Westwood Village. Though the Fox release is clearly Hollywood fare (with a cast that includes such boldfaced names as Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Adrian Grenier), an informal iW poll of some attendees after the packed screening generally gave positive kudos to the film, and to actress Streep in particular for her portrayal of the steely Miranda Priestly.
Film Independent, which organizes the annual LAFF, welcomed Frankel prior to the screening and organizers touted the festival's location change. The fest's director Rich Raddon said that he had always wanted to find a home for the festival in a pedestrian friendly area. Located adjacent to the UCLA campus, the Westwood area boasts several movie theaters, kitschy shops and beaucoup eating establishments. Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson expressed her hope that the festival will serve as a reminder to the often jaded residents of L.A. that film is an art beyond the bottom line.
"So many people in L.A. are, quite frankly, ground down by life in the industry," Hudson told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. "We want to remind them why they came here in the first place. We want to remind them that it was for a love of film."
This year's festival, which kicked off with screenings all weeked in Westwood, is offering 265 films and music videos in 16 sections, including several world, North American and U.S. debuts. Among the high profile events slated is a filmmaker reception on Monday afternoon hosted by Harrison Ford, who is one of four honorary LAFF co-chairs. Also serving as co-chairs for this year's edition of LAFF are Allison Janney ("The West Wing"), Virginia Madsen ("A Prairie Home Companion"), and Christina Applegate ("Married with Children").
A number of filmmakers were among the guests at the opening night showing "Prada," followed by a block-party bash near the theater where stars Hathaway and Grenier mixed with the crowd and posed for pictures. Prior to LAFFs opening, this year's crop of directors had a chance to engage in some pre-event bonding in Northern California at the fifth filmmaker retreat, this year at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin. The two-day trip included a visit to Lucasfilm's new facility, the Letterman Digital Arts Center.
"It was a trip to just hang out and have drinks with George Lucas," one filmmaker told indieWIRE, while another noted that Lucas was quite accessible throughout the event. "It's a great program because we all had a chance to get to know and talk to one another," a filmmaker noted. "Once the festival begins, it's much more difficult to do that."
Free screenings and previews of upcoming summer titles were among the high-profile programs booked for the fest's opening weekend. In downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" was presented in a free outdoor showing that capped the festival's "Green Day" with Al Gore appearing alongside a musical performance by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. Earlier on Saturday, the L.A. premiere of Chris Paine's new doc "Who Killed The Electric Car?" lead into a street fair featuring eco-friendly vendors. Paine's "Car," produced by bigtime Hollywood producer (and electric car fan Dean Devlin) is a look at the destruction of the electric car program that emerged in the 90s. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the film includes interviews with Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Ed Begley Jr., Peter Horton, and Alexandra Paul.
"Who Killed The Electric Car?" is one of many films screening in the fest's "Summer Previews" section, offering local audiences a chance to preview some of the indie, specialty and foreign-language films coming to theaters later this season. Fresh from the retreat to the Lucas ranch last week, New York filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden were in L.A. for Saturday night's screening of "Half Nelson." Chatting with indieWIRE in the popular Target Red Room fest hospitality suite in Westwood Sunday, Fleck said that the screening here at the L.A. Film Fest would cap the film's fest tour that began back in January at Sundance. A feature adaptation of Fleck and Boden's short, "Gowanus, Brooklyn," the feature was acquired after Sundance by ThinkFilm and will be released later this summer. Other summer previews on the first weekend of the fest included Kelly Reichardt's acclaimed "Old Joy," which was recently acquired by Kino, and Francois Ozon's "Time To Leave" (Les Temps Qui Reste) which Strand Releasing will debut in theaters next month. Over at the Ford Amphitheater on Saturday night, Lian Lunson's "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" was screened at a special program dubbed "A Leonard Cohen Evening," with a special performance by Martha Wainwright booked for the event.
Aside from the many films, the festival was packed in its first weekend with discussions. A series of "Coffee Talks" filled Sunday's schedule, after two full days of intensive panels focusing on film financing and also new technologies, "The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Technology and its Impact on Film." Upcoming chats this week include conversations with writer James Ellroy and filmmaker William Freidkin and hip hop producer Danger Mouse, who is serving as this year's "Artist in Residence."
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this report.]