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How Hollywood Film Festival Changed Its Stripes

How Hollywood Film Festival Changed Its Stripes

When the 18th Annual Hollywood Film Festival relaunches October 16-19 with 30 features at the ArcLight Hollywood, it won’t be the one you’re used to. The new festival under the direction of Executive Director and CineCause founder Jon Fitzgerald boasts a brand new focus and identity. It’s legit. 
Earlier this year, CineCause, which 47-year-old fest veteran Fitzgerald (Slamdance, AFI, Santa Barbara and Abu Dhabi) founded in 2010 to connect social impact movies and related causes, acquired the fest from founder Carlos de Abreu, who hired Fitzgerald as Executive Director of the 2013 Hollywood Film Festival. He increased attendance by an estimated 10%-15%. Meanwhile Dick Clark Productions also bought Abreu’s glitzy fall awards season sidebar, the Hollywood Film Awards, which have nothing to do with this new festival. Abreu’s former festival never quite found its niche, lacking legitimacy and picking mediocre films. It piggy-backed on award season for red carpet appearances.

The HFF now has a higher purpose that is dead opposite from red carpet Hollywood glamour. “We’re not in the same league as big tier festivals,” says Fitzgerald over a lunch interview, “I see it as a long term play, we’ll expand from four days this year to seven days.”
“I had one question,” said Fitzgerald. “How to make the festival relevant? The answer was easy. I didn’t have to force it. CIneCause was made for this. It was created to use the power of film to create change. The Hollywood Film Festival is a coming out party for CineCause.” Remember filmanthropy? That’s what the philanthropic CineCause believes in: they connect audiences and passionate civic-minded celebrities to causes behind social-issue films. This new festival will present social action movies by both emerging talents and established filmmakers. “See good, do good, feel good” is their mantra. 
Several Hollywood players are behind some of this year’s programs: Emma Thompson is the executive producer and narrator of “Sold,” which stars Gillian Anderson and David Arquette, and Liam Neeson narrates “Love Thy Nature.” Matt Damon’s Water.org will participate in the festival’s Water Crisis presentation, which includes the World Premiere of producer Sharon Stone’s “My Name is Water,” along with “Slingshot,” which celebrates Dean Kamen’s invention Drinkable Book, which filters water, sponsored by WaterIsLife.  “Water is Life” is a group of short films about how new technology can effect change. “We’re utilizing the community in our own back yard,” says Fitzgerald. 
The Music and the Mind presentation, which includes participation from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, will demonstrate the power of music to inspire and heal and engage people, and the Festival will honor “Alive Inside” subject Dan Cohen for Music and Memory, which plays music via iPods and headsets for Alzheimer and dementia patients. “Una Vida,” based on the bestseller, also pays tribute to the power of music in connection with Alzheimer’s. Audiences will see the impact on kids from Paraguay from music played from instruments made out of recycled trash in Landfill Harmonic; Fitzgerald is trying to fly in the Recycled Orchestra, which is on tour. 
The CineCause Summit will also put on panels on Homelessness, Displacement, Sex Trafficking, and Disruptive Education along with films and tech demonstrations. The returning Network Program on film development, production, marketing and distribution brings together industry pros and filmmakers. 
Introduced last year were the CineCause Spotlight for cause-related films as well as Celebrate Hollywood, which highlights films either shot in Los Angeles or set in show business. HFF will recognize a filmmaker in the CineCause Spotlight category who embodies the power of film to create change.  Gina Belafonte will present the award at the Festival Honors Ceremony at the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; her global activist father Harry Belafonte, accepted the first CineCause ChangeMaker Icon honor earlier this year. 
HFF will give out prizes including distribution prize packages supported by sponsors including theatrical-on-demand platform Tugg, VOD platform Yekra and a TV channel ShortsHD, along with cash and service prizes, from Panasonic, Playa Viva, and others. Working in partnership with Tugg, CineCause also hopes to take social action documentaries for which filmmakers own the rights into schools and link them to education vis discussion guides and lesson plans. 
CineCause Spotlight films:

A World Not Ours
Synopsis: An intimate, humorous portrait of three generations of exile in a palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon, filmed for over 20 years by members of the same family.
Director: Madhi Fleifel
Producers: Patrick Campbell, Madhi Fleifel
Website / Trailer
Awards: Abu Dhabi Film Festival Won FIPRESCI Prize, Best Film- Mahdi Fleifel, Berlin Int’l Film Festival, Won Peace Film Award- Mahdi Fleifel
Edinburgh Int’l Film Festival, Won Best International Feature Film- Mahdi Fleifel
Alive Inside
Synopsis: Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.
Writer/Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett
Producer: Alexandra McDougald, Regina Kulik Scully
Awards: Fort Myers Beach Film Festival Won Best Documentary- Michael Rossato-Bennett
Seattle International Film Festival, 2nd place Golden Space Needle Award- Best Documentary Michael Rossato-Bennett
Sundance Film Festival, Won Audience Award-Documentary Michael Rossato-Bennett
Becoming Bulletproof (US Premiere)
Synopsis: Becoming Bulletproof follows the filmmaking process as a diverse group of actors living with disabilities set out to make their first Western.
Director: Michael Barnett
Producer: Theodore James
Boy Meets Girl
Synopsis: Boy Meets Girl is a funny, tender, sex positive romantic comedy that explores what it means to be a real man or woman, and how important it is to live a courageous life not letting fear stand in the way of going after your dreams.
Writer/Director: Eric Shaeffer
Producer: Edward Aitken, Bruce Edward, Elisa Pugliese, Eric Shaeffer
Awards: FilmOut San Diego, US, Won FilmOut Audience Awards
FilmOut San Diego, US, Won FilmOut Festival Award
FilmOut San Diego, US, Won FilmOut Programming
Logline: From the Chicago suburbs an American teenage girl helps coordinate the Syrian revolution, but as the violence rages, her social network must choose the best way to fight a dictator: Facebook or AK-47s. Writer/Producer/Director: Joe Piscatella
Producer: Mark Rinehart
Awards: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Amsterdam, Winner, Doc U Award (best film awarded by a youth jury)
Cinema for Peace and Justice Award from the Cinema for PeaceFoundation, Berlin
#ChicagoGirl and Ala’a Basatneh are recognized by Amnesty International as one of their 10 Human Rights Heroe
Four Letters Apart (US Premiere)
Synopsis: Three children struggle with attention, aggression and low self-esteem. Their special needs class enroll in an experiment to help children with ADHD symptoms without the use of drugs. Suddenly the children start to unfold.
Writer/Director: Erlend E. Mo
Producer: Lisa Lense-Moller
Awards: Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Audience Award
Love Thy Nature
Synopsis: Narrated by Liam Neeson, Love Thy Nature takes viewers on an awe-inspiring cinematic journey into the beauty and intimacy of our relationship with the natural world.
Director/Producer: Sylvie Rokab
Co-Producers: Tamra Raven, Elaine Souda, David Garfield Roland
Narrator: Liam Neeson
Narrated by Liam Neeson
Mala Mala
Synopsis: Mala Mala is a feature-length documentary about the power of transformation told through the eyes of 9 trans-identifying individuals in Puerto Rico.
Writer/Director/Producer: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles
Co-Producers: David Hinojosa, Alli Maxwell
Awards: Tribeca Film Festival, Nominated Best Documentary Feature- Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini
My Name is Water (World Premiere)
Synopsis: After a life-altering discussion with his Holocaust surviving Grandfather, a disillusioned college student seeks to find answers on the other side of the world.
Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Justin Arana
Producer: Sharon Stone
Website/Trailer: none
Synopsis: Christina Noble overcomes the harsh difficulties of her childhood in Ireland to discover her destiny on the streets of Saigon. A true story.
Writer/Director: Stephen Bradley
Producer: Melanie Martin
Awards: Boston Irish Film Festival, Best Feature-Special Jury Prize- Stephen Bradley & Destiny Films Nashville Film Festival, Won Audience Choice Award-Best Feature- Stephen Bradley & Destiny Films Newport Beach Film Festival, Won Jury Award-Best Foreign Film- Stephen Bradley & Destiny Films
Santa Barbara Film Fest – Winner Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema

Synopsis: Sequoia tells the story of a 23-year-old cancer victim whose plan to take her own life in Sequoia National Park is disrupted by a young man she meets on her way to the park.
Director: Andy Landen
Producers: Giles Andrew, Ashleigh Foster, Jessica Latham, Charles Denton
Awards: Rainier Independent Film Festival, Won The Rainier Llama Award- Andy Landen, Giles Andrew, Jessica Latham
Sins Of Our Youth
Synopsis: Sins Of Our Youth is the story of four teenage boys who accidentally murder a young boy while shooting off assault weapons recreationally and the perilous decisions they make in the wake of the murder. Director: Gary Entin
Producer: Michael Huffington
Synopsis: Feature-length documentary, focusing on renowned inventor, Dean Kamen and his 15 year quest to
solve the world’s safe water crisis.
Writer/Director: Paul Lazarus
Producers: Paul Lazarus, Barry Opper
Awards: Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, Won Audience Favorite Choice Award-Documentary Feature- Paul Lazarus (director) & White Dwarf Productions
Florida Film Festival, Audience Award, Grand Jury and Audience Awards-Best Documentary- Paul Lazarus & White Dwarf Productions
Synopsis: A girl risks everything for freedom after being trafficked from hermountain village in Nepal to a brothel in India.
Director, Writer: Jeffrey D. Brown, Oscar-winning director
Executive Producer: Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson
Producer: Jane Charles
Starring: Gillian Anderson & David Arquette
Awards: Albuquerque Film & Media, Won Best Narrative Feature
Based on Patricia McCormick’s bestseller, “Sold”
The Starfish Throwers
Short Synopsis: Worlds apart, a five-star chef, a twelve year-old girl, and a retired school teacher discover how their individual efforts to feed the poor ignite a movement in the fight against hunger.
Director/Cinematographer: Jesse Roesler
Producers: Melody Gilbert, Jesse Roesler
Awards: Minneapolis St. Paul Int’l Film Festival, Won Audience Choice Award- Best Feature Documentary- Jesse Roesler
Minneapolis St. Paul Int’l Film Festival, Won Best MN-Made Feature Documentary- Jesse Roesler Nashville Film Festival, Won Human Spirit Award- Jesse Roesler
Una Vida
Synopsis: A courageous but haunted Neuroscientist and an aged Jazz singer battle Alzheimer’s in the streets of New Orleans.
Writer/Director: Richie Adams, Nicolas Bazan
Producer: Richie Adams, Brent Caballero, Nancy Green Keyes
Awards: Newport Beach Film Festival, Won Jury Award, Winner –Jury Award -American Black Film Festival Winner –Audience Award- Vail Film Festival

Seven films are being screened in the Celebrate Hollywood selection. 

Becoming Bulletproof, directed by Michael Barnett (US Premiere), follows the filmmaking process as a group of disabled actors set out to make their first Western.

Alex of Venice, is directed by actor Chris Messina, who stars with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Don Johnson in a story about a workaholic attorney (Winstead) who is forced to reinvent her life after her husband suddenly leaves.

Sister, directed by David Lascher, stars Reid Scott (“Veep”), Illeana Douglas and Barbara Hershey as a widow who can’t care for her delinquent adolescent daughter; her son (Scott) has to step in. 

The Dramatics (A Comedy) is a semi-autobiographical comedy about a sweet but stressed-out actress (co-writer Kat Foster) and her loving, but tortured stoner boyfriend (co-writer and director Scott Rodgers), who has to adjust to her unexpectedly landing a starring role in the sexually explicit mini-series adaptation of a best-selling, erotic chick lit novel.

The Toy Soldiers, directed by Erik Peter Carlson, takes us through one evening in a decade of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, when the innocence of youth and family unravels.

Time Lapse is directed by Bradley King and B.P. Cooper and follows three friends when they discover a mysterious machine that takes pictures 24 hours into the future and as they conspire to use it for personal gain, until disturbing and dangerous images begin to develop.

You Must Be Joking, by director Jake Wilson, centers on a listless woman inspired by her childhood best friend, a ballet dancer, to pick up her long-shelved passion for standup comedy.

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