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Los Angeles Film Festival Faces New Era As Director Stephanie Allain Moves On

But will Allain's departure also bring a change in direction?


The Stephanie Allain era of Film Independent’s Los Angeles Film Festival is over.

The prolific producer (“Beyond the Lights”) is leaving her role of five years as director of the summer festival to spend more time on her first avocation. She will be replaced by another independent producer, Jennifer Cochis (“Smashed”), who for the past two years worked closely as Creative Director with Allain on all aspects of the festival.

Allain is currently in production on Justin Simien’s Netflix series “Dear White People,” in post-production on Gerard McMurray’s “Burning Sands” and prepping Clark Johnson’s “Juanita,” set to star Alfre Woodard.

Film Independent President Josh Welsh has watched Cochis move up from Senior Programmer to Creative Director, he said in a statement. Working with Allain, she was instrumental in “turning the Festival into a powerful platform for discovering new and diverse talent.”

Stehanie Allain, Cathy Schulman, Josh Welsh

LAFF’s Stephanie Allain, WIF’s Cathy Schulman, Film Independent’s Josh Welsh

Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Promoting Allain’s protege suggests that the LAFF will continue on its recent course. “It has been such an honor to shine a spotlight on women and directors of color,” said Allain, “and leaving is bittersweet. But I know that the festival is in extremely capable hands with Jennifer Cochis at the helm because she helped me build it.”

The LAFF in summer 2016 moved away from downtown to multiple Arclight locations. The festival’s mission: Provide a diverse program directed by rising filmmakers: among the 42 2016 competition films, 87% were first-and-second-timers, 43% were women and 38% were people of color, while 90% of the 58 total festival films were world premieres, packed with cast, crew and families.

After Allain took over in 2014, the festival lost some of its key programming talent (David Ansen, Doug Jones, Maggie McKay); the sprawling program has been commandeered by Bryn Mawr College film professor Roya Rastegar under the direction of studio-trained producer Allain (“Boyz ‘n the Hood,” “Hustle & Flow”), who pulled her friend Elvis Mitchell into a role as year-round “curator,” hosting Q & As at Film Independent-programmed events at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

As LAFF becomes more local, eclectic, multi-cultural, and interactive, the LAFF has sought to occupy a niche and grow its audience via a more populist, less international festival. It seemed like a worthwhile strategy, but the world-premiere and L.A.-centric lineup drew minimal press coverage due to a lack of big name directors or actors; many of the unknown titles disappeared into the ether. Diversity is always appreciated, but most festivals offer a range of offerings for a range of audiences.

“With the changing landscape, festivals function less as places for filmmakers to ‘break out’ and more for timing a launch of a film,” wrote one veteran festival director in an email. “The job of debuting a new filmmaker or film rests with the lofty few — Cannes, Sundance, Venice, and Toronto. Many festivals today serve as marketing and branding opportunities for filmmakers and distributors. But most festivals, regardless of where they are located and what kind of films they present, usually are effective at offering a visual art cultural experience for regional audiences, much in the same way museums which host major art openings function.”

READ MORE: The Los Angeles Film Festival Finds a Niche

“It’s an incredibly exciting challenge to build upon the great work that Stephanie has done at the LA Film Festival these past five years,” said Cochis. “I am passionate about continuing to grow this Festival, bringing together audacious and brave visual storytellers with the audiences of Los Angeles.”

Cochis has produced fiction films (James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed” and Drake Doremus’ “Douchebag”) and non-fiction (Marius Markevicius’s “The Other Dream Team” and Elise Salomon’s “Los Wild Ones”). She is a Sundance Institute Creative Producers Lab Fellow and was awarded the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship. She’s also Digital Studio Head for Joss Whedon’s pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC Save the Day, creating short videos to persuade people to go out and vote.

The 23rd LA Film Festival (June 14 – June 22, 2017) will return to Hollywood’s Arclight cinemas next summer. The early deadline for submissions is October 28, the regular deadline is November 18 and the late deadline is December 16, 2016.

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