Revamped Hollywood Film Festival focuses on movies with social and political themes

The new heads of the Hollywood Film Festival say they don’t care if celebrities walk their red carpet. It doesn’t matter to them if the movies at their festival have premiered elsewhere. And good reviews? Whatever. 

“See good. Do good. Feel good.” That’s the mission for this month’s revamped festival, which will run from Sept. 23-27 at the ArcLight Hollywood. And, yes, you read that correctly: The festival is getting a revamp. Again.

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Just last year, film fest veteran Jon Fitzgerald's company CineCause acquired the Hollywood Film Festival from Carlos de Abreu -- a Portuguese entrepreneur who founded the festival in 1997 but seemed to otherwise have few ties to the movie business. Fitzgerald said he wanted the event to become a home for social-impact cinema, but after one year, decided to turn his attention toward making films and asked the festival’s chief operating officer, Brad Parks, if he was interested in taking over. So in July, Parks bought out CineCause, becoming the fest’s CEO and hiring Rod Beaudoin as his executive director.

(The festival is no longer affiliated with the glitzy Hollywood Film Awards, which De Abreu sold to Dick Clark Productions in 2013. No date for what would be the ceremony's 19th annual show has been released yet).

By their own admission, Parks and Beaudoin aren’t Hollywood guys. Parks is an Iowa native, served a decade n the Army and later became the vice president of the Hanleigh Cos., which helped get insurance for athletes and celebrities. Beaudoin, meanwhile, is from Wisconsin, where he launched the Beloit International Film Festival.

“For years, we’ve been meeting kids who should be winning Oscars, but no one has ever heard of them,” said Parks, who first teamed with Beaudoin when the two created a festival in Dubuque, Iowa. “We have the chance now to give them the stage. This festival is about giving young filmmakers a chance to tell a story their way.” 

As a result, a lot of the films in this year’s festival -- 20 features, 27 documentaries and 38 shorts -- don’t have recognizable titles. The opening night film, a comedic musical called “Pearly Gates,” boasts some stars -- Uzo Aduba, Peter Bogdonavich, Illeana Douglas. And the Hollywood Film Festival will also host the world premiere of “F for Franco,” a movie directed by actor James Franco’s onetime Rhode Island School of Design professor about his pupil’s art process.

But most of the titles -- more than half of which come from international filmmakers -- were admitted to the lineup because they were “made with the intent to create change,” said Parks. “If you have a story you want to tell that can make the world better, that’s what social impact film is to us.”

He realizes this may make some of the films a more difficult sell, which is why the festival has partnered with Apple to offer the festival's filmmakers the opportunity to sell their projects on iTunes and Apple TV if they can’t find distribution elsewhere.

The festival also wants to signal to emerging filmmakers that they have the connections to help raise money to get movies made. So Hollywood Film Festival is launching its own fund with Morgan Stanley -- investments in the fund will ultimately be used to help secure lines of credit to fund new projects, according to festival organizers. The fest has also partnered with China’s Hanhei Studios -- which has its own fund set up for emerging talent -- as a means of connecting Chinese investors with American filmmakers.

“We want to use all our tools to build confidence in the American filmmaker,” said Parks. “I know that's a big responsibility. I remember a week and a half after the festival, I’d heard from all these people saying, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ And I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard by stripper shops, and a guy tried to sell me crack. So I called my priest and the sister back home and said, ‘I apparently just bought a film festival in the most morally bankrupt place in America.’ And the sister said, ‘Just shut the hell up. Man up and do your job. You have the chance to change the world.”

Tickets are $16 per screening; $15 for ArcLight members.

For the full festival lineup, click here.

[For the record, Sept. 11, 6:43 P.M.: An earlier version of this story said that Jon Fitzgerald acquired the Hollywood Film Festival in 2014. In fact, Fitzgerald's company CineCause acquired the fest.)

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