LA Film Festival Throws Industry A Curve Ball Moving To September

If you live in Los Angeles the slow death of the LA Film Festival has been sad to see. Ever since the event moved from downtown in 2010 to a hub around Culver City two years ago the annual June event has had a difficult time getting the industry and public’s attention. That’s a big deal when your festival is literally in the city “Hollywood” calls home.

Today, Film Independent, which runs both the festival and the Independent Spirit Awards, announced the 2018 festival will move from its traditional June time frame to a more awards-friendly September 20-28. This is a dramatic change that puts it squarely after the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and knocking on the door of the New York Film Festival.

In a statement from Film Independent, LA Film Festival Director Jennifer Cochis remarked, “The secret to dramatically changing something is to change it. My passion for this Festival is unwavering and the time for an evolution has come. Film Independent is so proud of the work we’ve done in showcasing new American and international cinema that embraces diversity, innovation and unique perspectives, but the fact is that summer is a challenging time for artist driven films, and fall is where we clearly belong. This shift in our dates is an important step in enacting my aim to further develop the LA Film Festival, I sincerely look forward to better serving filmmakers, film lovers, the city and the industry in the fall of 2018 and beyond.”

The release also noted a multi-year partnership with Arclight Cinemas whose Santa Monica and Culver City theaters have been the home to the festival since it moved out of DTLA. The fact neither of those locations were mentioned probably means the festival will attempt to use the more popular Hollywood Arclight Cinemas, which includes the historic Cinerama Dome, as its primary location or as a more prominent hub. Industry elites hadn’t been thrilled about going downtown in June for the festival, but they turned out to much prefer that to Culver City (yes, Culver is the home to Sony Pictures, but its nightlife and Arclight’s Culver location leave something to be desired).

Film Independent’s new dates are part of a long term strategy, but could provide an initial short term gain as well. The organization is obviously hoping to immediately lock second or third screenings of films that screened at the traditional fall trifecta, some acquisition titles looking for more exposure than the still crowded TIFF slate and gala premieres of studio films that find it easier to have talent at “home” than in Toronto. Moreover, the festival is counting on the fact some press and industry are unable to attend TIFF every year to provide buzz for their screenings.  Granted, it’s a gamble, but you have to believe the organization didn’t make this move without consulting the major and mini-distributors whose lifeblood depends on festival publicity for their films.

Additionally, in a post on Film Independent’s official site, the argument was made that by moving to September more film students will be back in Los Angeles and able to attend the event as opposed to June.  This seems somewhat quizzical as many college students stay in Los Angeles over the summer, but is another example of how much attendance lagged after leaving downtown which was much more convenient to LA’s east side creative community. This isn’t just about prestige, it’s about selling tickets.

The move could also be a boon for LAFF’s television slate.  One reason TIFF has had difficulty expanding that section over the last few years is because so many show are in production during that time and most are in LA.  It’s much easier for TV networks and production companies to work a screening event and Q&A during a weeknight in September than in June when most shows are still on hiatus or flying talent to Toronto.  Again, whether LAFF can take advantage of this opportunity remains to be seen.

The 2018 LA Film Festival will be held on Sept. 20-28, 2018.