Hollywood Film Festival, Indies In The Company Town
by Sandy Mandleberger
With the professed goal of “bridging the gap between Hollywood and
emerging Independent Filmmakers,” the second edition of the Hollywood
Film Festival wrapped last week bringing into focus the schizophrenic
co-existence of burgeoning independents and the Hollywood majors.
Moving its dates from October to August to avoid direct conflict with
the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, the film program of 11
feature films and 19 shorts unspooled at two preview theaters on the
Paramount Studios lot. The selection was a mixed bag of films that have
already made the rounds of key US festivals, with a few titles marking
their world premieres in Los Angeles.
Among the highlights was the Festival opener, “Next Time,” a wonderfully
acted ensemble piece about the friendship between a black woman and a
white teenager in the days prior to the 1992 South Central riots. The
film is written and directed by Alan Fraser.
Another feature generating buzz among domestic distributors is the
twenty-something comedy drama, “Telling You” written and directed by
Robert DeFranco. This tale of the romantic confusions of
college-graduate pizzeria workers has an eclectic cast of television
actors, led by the currently white hot Jennifer Love Hewitt. A domestic
sale was rumored after its screening at this year’s Cannes Film Market.
Ironically, it was several of the short films that boasted the most high
profile casts. “Franky Goes to Hollywood” stars a sexually confused
French bulldog on the set of “Armageddon” with a supporting cast that
includes Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler and Steve Buscemi.
Directors Billy Wilder and Peter Bogdonavich are among the interview
subjects of shoe store worker-cum-filmmaker Steve Proto in his hilarious
documentary “The Shoe Store.” Even talk show superstar Jerry Springer
shows up in the cast of Billy Wirth’s drama of romantic confusion,
Attendance at most screenings was moderate to light, with few distributors
in evidence. With the direct competition of more established events such
as the AFI Los Angeles Festival in October and the Los Angeles Independent
Film Festival in April and the increasing demand for world premieres by
the Fall roster of film festivals (not to mention the Sundance behemoth),
finding new films to premiere at an emerging festival has become quite a
challenge for smaller or emerging events.
Far more successful (and better attended) was the Hollywood Conference,
a four-day smorgasboard of seminars filled with an impressive array of
Hollywood players. Covering a host of issues from development through
production and onto distribution, the roster of speakers was a veritable
who’s who of directors, producers, agents and lawyers. For the crowd of
attendees, the sessions were brisk, honest and to-the-point. A personal
highlight for me was Oscar-winner John Briley’s (“Gandhi“) eloquent
and hilariously caustic comments on the Hollywood system that remains
difficult to crack even after you have won its highest honor. His
observation that the chief benefit of winning the Academy Award was
the freedom not to have to live in Los Angeles brought a knowing
response from the overflow crowd.
But for me the festival remains a decidedly confused affair. On the one
hand celebrating and encouraging small budget independent films, and on
the other hand presenting a blueprint of how to make it in hollywood.
(As if the only goal of making an independent film was to pry open the
gates of Hollywood.)
At a time of great change within the industry, when the old definitions
of independent (or dependent, for that matter) are becoming confusingly
unclear, who are the role models for emerging filmmakers? Do they
follow in the footsteps of auteurs such as John Sayles and Jim
Jarmusch and maintain productive careers within the independent
universe? Or do they follow the path of such wunderkinds as Quentin
Tarantino and Bryan Singer, and use their clout to find their niche in
the Hollywood pantheon?
Perhaps the identity crisis underlying this particular festival is, in
fact, an accurate reflection of the greater schizophrenia in the
industry as a whole.
[Sandy Mandleberger is a sometime producer’s rep and the head of
International Media Resources.]