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This Is the Woman Shaking up Film Independent in a Time of Year-Round Crisis for Indies

Film Independent ended its fall festival in favor of year-round events. Now, new artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga tells IndieWire what that looks like.

Jacqueline Lyanga, AFI Fest DirectorVariety Portrait Studio, AFI Fest, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Nov 2017

Jacqueline Lyanga

Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

In real-estate parlance, new artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga came to Film Independent when it was something of a fixer-upper. Longtime Los Angeles Film Festival director Stephanie Allain left the organization in 2016 to return to producing, and last September board chair Mary Sweeney announced the decision to shutter the festival after 23 years in order to “explore a more nimble, sustainable form of exhibiting and celebrating independent film artists year round.”

However, independent film was in something of a year-round crisis of its own. While the spirit of independent film was alive and well (as were Film Independent’s own Independent Spirit Awards), specialty box office has seen a marked decline and films are slower to sell.

So Lyanga, who joined the organization in May, started tearing down walls. On October 18, the former AFI Fest director will launch “The New Wave,” a three-day series that’s free to the public and brings together artists and industry leaders in keynotes, panels, and other programming. She said it reflects the kind of collaborative and forward-looking work that she wants to fuel her reimagined expansion of the nearly 40-year-old organization.

“A big part of my work has always been about bringing audiences and filmmakers together, and also how we can serve the Los Angeles audience best,” she said. “LA is the kind of city in which it’s difficult if you’re in one location, to get everyone to come there. So another crucial part of my job is really building partnerships around the city that would result in greater accessibility.”

Already, Lyanga is working with ArcLight cinemas in Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, and Culver City, as well as the Wallis Annenberg Cinema. Soon to come are alignments with MOCA Grand and MOCA Geffen, as well as the new Alamo Drafthouse, all in downtown Los Angeles.

Lyanga said that these partnerships stemmed from a desire to support the theatrical market during a trying time for exhibitors. “We see clearly that the industry is changing so much, that theatrical distribution is difficult, and more films are going onto streaming sites, but without the marketing, and we can help with that by simply programming them and getting them to audiences where they are,” said Lyanga. “We can be partners for those filmmakers 365 days a year, and really help them build an audience.”

As a woman of African descent, Lyanga also believes her identity helps her parse the organization’s mission to create greater diversity and inclusion.

“I’ve studied art history, cinema, and political history, and so I bring that wealth of knowledge, as well as my long history of programming worldwide,” said Lyanga, who was recently named as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for her contributions to the art of cinema. “And then of course, I also bring cultural specificities that broaden my ability to connect with more films, and open up possibilities for new collaborations. And as I think about programming, I’m always thinking about rounding out these conversations and really involving and engaging the international community of filmmakers.”

International outreach initiatives include the Global Media Makers program, a mentoring initiative that connects visual storytellers with leading U.S. entertainment professionals. The four-year-old program, which initially focused on mentoring talent from the Middle East and North Africa, will bring 18 participants to Los Angeles for a residency this month.

Lyanga is also an avid VR proponent; last month, she assembled the program for VR showcase The Portal, which featured virtual, augmented and mixed reality work, in collaboration with Loyola Marymount University. “These artists are getting very limited exposure,” she said. “Film Independent is committed to bringing the best VR work to Los Angeles, and showcasing them to the industry, because oftentimes it’s difficult to see the work anywhere else.”

There is also a to-be-announced event that will coincide with the organization’s launch of its annual “Vote for Independence” campaign, tied to the Spirit Awards. “We really encourage people to join Film Independent because it’s the only organization that allows you to vote once you become a member,” Lyanga said. “You don’t have to be a part of a specific guild to join, nor have to have a certain amount of experience. If you’re a filmmaker or film lover, you can join, which will allow you to vote on one of the most important awards in the industry.”

Presented in partnership with KCRW, and taking place at both the MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the full program for “The New Wave” showcase follows:

Keynotes

Saturday, October 19, MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium – 7:00 pm

Centerpiece Keynote: Alma Har’el, film director and founder of Free The Work

Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy,” “LoveTrue,” “Bombay Beach”), a film and music video director who has cemented herself as one of the most genre-bending filmmakers working today, delves into her role as founder of Free The Work, a curated talent discovery platform for women and under-represented creators.

The keynote will be followed by a screening of Har’el’s latest film “Honey Boy.”

“Honey Boy,” dir. Alma Har’el, US, Los Angeles Premiere
From a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own experiences, award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el brings to life a young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father through cinema and dreams.

Sunday, October 20, MOCA Geffen, Warehouse – 5:00 pm

Closing Keynote: Hebru Brantley (Artist)

Artist Hebru Brantley takes us on a tour of Nevermore Park, an immersive art experience opening in Chicago Fall 2019 in partnership with MWM Universe (MWMu), and features the fictional hometown of Hebru’s iconic characters Flyboy and Lil Mama. This experience is the beginning phase of the larger Flyboy Universe franchise being developed by Hebru’s Angry Hero Productions and MWMu.

Brantley creates narrative driven work revolving around his conceptualized characters. Majorly influenced by the South Side of Chicago’s Afro Cobra movement in the 1960s and 70s, Brantley uses the lineage of mural and graffiti work as a frame to explore his inquiries. Recognized nationally for public works and solo shows in Chicago, Hebru Brantley has exhibited in London, San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, as well as Art Basel Switzerland, Art Basel Miami, Scope NYC and Frieze London. Brantley has collaborated with brands like Nike, Hublot and Adidas.

Panels

Saturday, October 19, MOCA Geffen, Warehouse – 3:00 pm

Latinx Representation in Cinema

Highlighting the urgent conversation of the dearth of Latinx representation in American cinema and media while spotlighting the achievements of trailblazers, this panel will feature Dilcia Barrera (Film Programmer, Sundance Film Festival), Diane Guerrero (Actor, “Orange Is The New Black,” “Doom Patrol”), Cristina Ibarra (Director/Writer/Producer, “The Infiltrators”), Mónica Ramírez (Times Up Activist, Civil Rights Attorney, Author), Alexander Almogabar Zahn, (Vice President, Acquisitions & Production, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, Sony Pictures Entertainment) and will be moderated by Christine Davila (Director of Scripted at Warner Bros. Stage 13).

Saturday, October 19, MOCA Geffen, Warehouse – 5:00 pm

The Inclusion Diaspora: Intersectional Stories and Audiences

For many people, inclusion, means being a member of multiple overlapping groups around culture, gender, ethnicity as well as disability. This intersectionality can inform the story development process, and the marketing and promotion of content as we strive to reach and build global audiences for the ever-evolving entertainment industry. Panelists will include Tre’vell Anderson (Director of Culture and Entertainment at Out Magazine), Elsie Choi (Executive Director, Rideback TV Incubator), Susan Lewis (Senior Vice President, Starz), Damien S. Navarro (Executive Director, OUTFEST), Swati Shetty (Executive Vice President -International/Global Expansion, Imagine Entertainment), Shelby Stone (President of Production, Freedom Road Productions) and will be moderated by Jacqueline Lyanga (Artistic Director, Film Independent).

Film Independent Programs Spotlight

Saturday, October 19, MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium – 11:00 am

A New Wave of Emerging Filmmakers: 2019 Project Involve Shorts Premiere

Project Involve, now in its 26th year, fosters the careers of filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. Past Project Involve Fellows include Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Justin Simien (“Dear White People”), and Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians)”. The 2019 Fellows are an inclusive group of 30 emerging writers, directors, producers, editors, cinematographers and executives. The Project Involve Shorts that were created in the program this year will screen as part of the New Wave as the culmination of the 2019 program.

The films in this year’s program are:

“American Bodies” (writer/director Rammy Park)
It’s a busy day on the assembly line at the American Bodies Institute & Manufactory… until an unexpected delivery reveals a shocking truth.

“Black Boy Joy” (dir. Martina Lee, wri. Michelle Sam)
“Black Boy Joy” is about a multigenerational family struggling with the needs of a young son with autism, while adapting to their new normal after the recent death of a loved one.

“La Gloria” (dir. Mary Evangelista, wri. Stephanie Adams-Santos)
In the days following her suicide attempt, a queer lovelorn teen finds connection and solace with her abuela through the secret language of dreams.

“Lonely Blue Night” (writer/director Johnson Cheng)
A portrait of a Chinese family in which mother and daughter reunite on one lonely blue night.

“Swim” (dir. Enrique Unzueta, wri. Alicia Carroll)
A young athlete must decide whether her dream to win an athletic scholarship is really her own.

“The Terrorist” (dir. Jerell Rosales, wri. Omer Levin Menekse)
A Middle-Eastern teenager narrowly escapes a terrorist attack only to realize that an angry internet mob has wrongfully identified him as the bomber, and he has to convince his friends of his innocence.

There will be a Q&A with the Fellows after the screening.

Sunday, October 20, MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium – 3:00 pm

Global Media Makers (GMM): The New Wave of South Asian Cinema with Anurag Kashyap in Conversation.

GMM is an innovative mentoring initiative and cultural exchange program designed to foster relationships between American and international filmmakers. The program is supported by a partnership between Film Independent and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Prolific global auteur Anurag Kashyap (“Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Sacred Games”) has directed, produced and co-produced more than 50 films. The event will begin with a conversation about Kashyap’s robust career that has ignited a new wave of South Asian Cinema.

A screening of award-winning short films by 2019 Global Media Makers Fellows will follow, in addition to a Q&A with the shorts filmmakers from the following films:

“Bebaak” (dir. Shazia Iqbal, India)
When an ambitious Architecture student is offered the chance to receive a scholarship from a conservative Muslim trust, her liberal values will be put to the test.

“Jaaldegi” (dir. Rajesh Prasad Khatri, prod. Min Bahadur Bham, Nepal)
When a white tourist is seen for the first time in her remote Himalayan village, Jaalgedi, a curious Nepalese girl, is distracted from her job, causing a catastrophe in her family.

“Proof” (dir. Nishtha Jain, India)
Amandeep will never forget his time as a junior gynecologist in a government hospital in Delhi. He was conscientious, which rendered him unfit for the system in the ‘women’s ward.’

“Roqaia” (dir. Arifur Rahman, Bangladesh)
After surviving a suicide bomb attack, 12-year-old Roqaia finds herself in the middle of a media frenzy as she deals with her trauma all by herself.

New Wave Actors

Sunday, October 20

New Wave Actors Conversation

The New Wave Actors highlights a diverse group of talented actors, selected by Film Independent and SAGindie who continue to deliver breakout performances and deserve industry recognition. The New Wave is a partnership between Film Independent and SAGindie, with additional support from Easterseals. Past honorees include Stephanie Beatriz (“Brooklyn Nine Nine”), Jay Ellis (“Insecure”), Dominique Fishback (“The Hate U Give”), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (“Bumblebee”), Leonardo Nam (“Westworld”) and Millicent Simmonds (“A Quiet Place”). This year’s actors will be announced next week.

Additional programming, including film screenings, KCRW music programming, community events and The New Wave Actors list with talent selected by Film Independent, SAGindie and Easterseals Disability Services, will also be announced next week.

Tickets for the keynotes and panels will be available Friday, October 4 for Film Independent, KCRW and MOCA Members and will be available to the general public the following week on Friday, October 11. For more information, go to filmindependent.org.

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