In Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign always looms large -- so much that
independent film often seems beside the point. However, LAFF director
Stephanie Allain and FIND curator Elvis Mitchell have done a lot to over
the last two years to help change that impression. FIND produces both
the "Film Independent at LACMA" program -- a success for both
institutions that couldn't come too soon -- and the Los Angeles Film
Festival, which Allain produces.
LACMA was on the verge of losing its film department altogether in 2009 -- and in 2011, the program became a partnership with Film Independent. That's where Mitchell came in. He carried his own legacy of detractors, including an LA Weekly cover story shortly after his hire attacking him and the program. However, with the partnership of LACMA assistant curator Bernardo Rondeau and FIND's programming team, Mitchell has developed a thriving program that balances rep-house traditions (like the recent HPFA restoration of "America, America") against the blockbuster, including Jason Reitman's sell-out live reading series and special events like David Fincher appearing for a screening of "House of Cards."
Allain's history as a film executive and as a producer who specializes in first-time filmmakers ("Peeples," "Hustle and Flow") serve her well at LAFF, where she works closely with a staff that includes artistic director David Ansen. "There is no line [between the jobs]," she said. "It's the biggest production -- 10 days of live events. It puts making movies into perspective." But, she added, "I get to sprinkle that magic dust on many movies at once."
For Allain, it's producing "Peeples," written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism. "A black woman writer-director at a major studio? That does not happen that often," she said.
For Elvis, it's the live read. "This constant excitement -- people want to really be there for it," he said. "You can see the audience lean forward a bit. They get to see an actor shape a performance from beginning to end."
"'Peeples' received a lackluster reception at the box office," Allain said. "I wanted more people to see it."
Elvis singled out the poor response to a LACMA-hosted screening of the newly restored "Nothing But a Man." "Some things don't do as well as others," he said. "That's such a great movie, but I think there were 60 people there, which just broke my heart."
"Raising money to do the things I want to do," Allain said. "It's always hard."
Said Mitchell, "Continuing to get people into the theater. There's a lot of competition out there."
This fall, Mitchell is looking forward to hosting an African film festival in collaboration with Loyola Marymount. More than anything, he's focused on "making LACMA seem like an exciting place to be."
Allain echoes that ambition when considering her own set of responsibilities. She said she wants to "wake up LA and the industry to the fact that we have an amazing festival. I want the industry to embrace the hometown festival."