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LAIFF Emerges As Acquisitions Mecca

LAIFF Emerges As Acquisitions Mecca

LAIFF Emerges As Acquisitions Mecca

by Eugene Hernandez

Anticipating the value of the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival,
the head of a small releasing company rhetorically asked indieWIRE
why such an event was necessary since it would simply show films
that could just as easily be seen at industry screenings. Why spend
valuable weekend time at a festival, the executive questioned. Well,
LAIFF ’98 clearly overcame that potential hurdle and emerged as a
must attend event this weekend, with acquisitions executives clearing
their schedules and taking time out to attend the festival’s premieres.
“Festivals act as filters for the huge number of independent films
that are out there,” producers rep Jed Alpert told indieWIRE yesterday,
“And as this fest gains credibility as a filter, acquisitions people
are going to respond to that.”

While the four year old festival has publicized the considerable
number of mostly post-fest acquisitions, this year the buzz
started before the festival began and it continues as fest films
remain on the minds of many this week. Talking with indieWIRE
about the 1998 LAIFF, filmmakers, distributors, and producer’s
reps were barely willing to offer even the slightest criticism of
the recently completed festival. Joking about the difficulty of
attending a festival on what turned out to be a beautiful weekend
weather-wise in LA, Gramercy V.P. Steven Raphael advised
organizers, “Make the festival during the week and during the
rainy season please.” When pressed, industry and filmmakers
mostly echoed concerns, already acknowledged by festival
organizers, that the event needs to expand to offer additional
screenings of its films.

The unified strategy for the festival and its filmmakers was
to maintain the purity of the LAIFF premiere by locking up
prints and keeping tape distribution to a minimum. By all
accounts, the festival opened without distributors getting a
jump via advance showings. Select members of the press attended
pre-fest screenings, but that was it. John Reiss, director of
the acclaimed “Cleopatra’s Second Husband” told indieWIRE
yesterday that he “did not have any industry screenings beforehand,”
adding, “people gave up (asking) after awhile.” Reiss credited
festival organizers for assisting with the plan, and helping
traffic prints as business heated up over the weekend. According
to Reiss, organizers accommodated his request to ship a print to
New York on Saturday.

Commenting on the popularity of the festival among acquisitions
executives, Sony Classics Dylan Leiner told indieWIRE, “I think
that just generally speaking with the incredible glut of
independent films being made in this country there simply have
to be other outlets where these films can debut. L.A. seems to be
a good place for that to happen because it’s one of the centers of
the industry.”

“It was a great place to premiere new films,” producer’s rep Jed
Alpert added, “the distributors took it very very seriously, there
was superb attendance on the part of acquisitions people.” Alpert
who represented four films at the festival (“The Cruise“, “Cleopatra’s
Second Husband”, “Mob Queen“, and “With Or Without You“) continued,
“It was one of the best environments to premiere films, I am sure
that it will be a major festival in the coming years and that people
will be enthusiastic about premiering their films there.”

Despite the industry focus, Sony’s Leiner added this view that
the LAIFF has not let the acquisitions activity overwhelm the
event, “the whole idea of a festival is about ceebrating the filmmakers,
not celebrating the sale,” he offered, “This festival is very aware
of that.”

Back in New York following the weekend festival, Alpert reflected on
the success of the event, exlaining that the LA location, the quality
of the films and organizers decision to keep the event small with a
compressed schedule were all significant. Now, as festival prints make
the rounds in New York and LA, and reps schedule industry screenings,
some films are finally getting the long awaited second or third
screenings. At a private Sunset Blvd. screening room yesterday
afternoon, acquistions execs gathered for a packed showing of Bennett
Miller’s “The Cruise” — with attendees seated on the floor in the aisles for
the showing, a comment by Alpert earlier in the day resonated, “Its like
the festival never really had to end.”

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