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LA Film Festival preps for fall debut with diversity push, new programs and guest director Jacqueline Lyanga

LA Film Festival preps for fall debut with diversity push, new programs and guest director Jacqueline Lyanga
Jacqueline Lyanga, left, will curate a section on immersive storytelling for the LA Film Festival. The announcement was made by LAFF festival director Jennifer Cochis, right. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; Film Independent)

This year’s LA Film Festival, running for the first time in its new fall position Sept. 20-28, is beginning to take shape. On Tuesday, the festival announced a number of programs and events, with further programming announcements expected at the end of the month.

Under the leadership of festival director Jennifer Cochis, in her second year heading the event, LAFF looks to continue embracing the core missions of its parent organization, Film Independent, while also further trying to distinguish itself amid a crowded fall festival landscape.

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This year’s event will include an inaugural immersive storytelling program curated by Jacqueline Lyanga as guest director of virtual reality and immersive storytelling.

Lyanga was most recently the festival director of L.A.’s AFI Fest, which this year runs Nov. 8-15 and should be the main local competition for LAFF in programming many sought-after fall season titles.

The immersive storytelling program will take place Sept. 22-23 at the new Playa Vista campus of Loyola Marymount University. In a phone interview Monday, Cochis said the festival already had moved to establish a partnership with LMU’s School of Film and Television when Lyanga’s departure from AFI Fest was announced.

“I happened to be looking for somebody to curate this brand new program, and it’s just how luck works,” Cochis said. “We reached out to each other and spoke, and she is happily consumed by and obsessed by this kind of emerging storytelling. It just fit like a glove — her interest in it and our starting to begin this program. The timing was on my side.”

“Technology is giving us new platforms for storytellers,” Lyanga said in a statement to The Times. “The program will bring together artists from the tech and filmmaking communities for a showcase of the work of visionary creators in AI [artificial intelligence], AR [augmented reality] and VR. I am passionate about cutting-edge technology, and having brought VR to AFI Fest, as the director of that festival, I am excited to continue bringing innovative immersive works to Los Angeles’ audiences.”

LAFF also will launch a two-day summit dubbed “We the People” at the Writers Guild Theater on Sept. 22-23, where free panel discussions and keynote conversations will address issues of inclusion and representation in the entertainment industry. Panelists will include Times journalist Tre’vell Anderson, Teresa Huang (“SEAL Team”), Our Lady J (“Pose”), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Natasha Rothwell (“Insecure”) and talent agent Gail Williamson, with more to be announced.

“To me, the thing that sticks out about it more than anything is that it’s a participatory call to action,” Cochis said. “This isn’t this passive notion about conversations and just talking about the issues. We’re actually trying to engage with how to solve the problems.”

LAFF also is adding a partnership with the International Documentary Assn. The festival will offer a specific documentary pass, and documentary programming will be centered at the Arclight Cinemas Hollywood to make it more easily accessible to attendees of the association’s biennial “Getting Real” conference. (Other venues for this year’s LAFF will include Arclight Cinemas in Culver City and Santa Monica and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.)

A benefit dinner on Sept. 22 will celebrate 25 years of Project Involve, a mentorship initiative by Film Independent for underrepresented voices in the film and television industry. The dinner will honor Project Involve fellows Effie T. Brown, Jon M. Chu, Cherien Dabis and Charles D. King.

“This isn’t Film Independent following some trend or the cause du jour. This is something that this organization has been leaders in the space of for a really long time,” Cochis said of the event and its honorees. “These are people who are walking the talk. So this is a way to honor the program, but to also honor the people — who have been for years and years, before there was ever a spotlight — trying to do this work.”

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