At first glance, the term "Los Angeles Film Festival" seems almost redundant. Why on earth would L.A. — home of the Oscars and the Golden Globes, not to mention every American studio, film institute and film industry union, where premieres and various red carpet events tangle traffic somewhere in town every night — need a film festival? Isn't pretty much every day here a film festival?

No, no, no, say the organizers of the festival, which begins today and runs through July 2. Los Angeles needs a world-class film festival, they say, precisely because the idea might seem redundant.

"So many people in L.A. are, quite frankly, ground down by life in the industry," says Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, which produces the festival. "We want to remind them why they came here in the first place. We want to remind them that it was for a love of film."

Oh, right, film. The stuff that came before the designer gowns, competitive canapés and celebrity pregnancy countdowns. The stuff on which, along with railroads, water rights and real estate, Los Angeles was founded. Surprisingly, the fact that film is to L.A. what cars are to Detroit has hindered more than helped. Since they took over the then-Los Angeles Independent Film Festival five years ago, Hudson and Film Independent have worked to create an event that would not only give Hollywood a new appreciation of its art but also prove that L.A. is not too Industry to care about true independents.

"There is a stigma about showing international and independent film in L.A.," Hudson says. "We want to prove that you can have a local festival that attracts all members of the community and that its heart and soul is serious independent film."

It seems to be working. As little as five years ago, it was a distinctly local event with attendance at about 12,000 and virtually no industry buzz, much less participation. Last year it drew 60,000 people, including such luminaries as Sydney Pollack (who was the guest director), George Clooney and Halle Berry, and officially outgrew its Hollywood venue.

This year, the festival, which is presented by the Los Angeles Times, will take over much of Westwood, where festival director Richard Raddon expects 80,000. The guest director will be George Lucas, who is hosting a retreat for participating feature filmmakers; and the opening film will be the much anticipated chick-lit adaptation "The Devil Wears Prada." Stars including Harrison Ford, Virginia Madsen, Anne Hathaway and Aidan Quinn will participate in various events, and Charlize Theron will receive the second annual Spirit of Independence Award.

"When we started, I'd call agents and say 'Are you coming to the festival?' and they'd be like, 'What festival?' " Raddon says. Now, he says, studios and agencies buy blocks of tickets weeks ahead.

In fact, as early as the second week of June, on the stuffy second floor of the converted bank building that serves as the festival's headquarters, the woman in charge of the box office was encountering one of the few things that makes her panic — two of the films in competition were already sold out.

"See?" said Raddon when he found out. "See how popular we are?"

Popular, perhaps; glamorous, not so much.

The festival's headquarters are about as far from the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Palais in ambience as they are in geography. Here a constant drone of phone conversations hovers over the industrial-strength carpeting. There may be PCs and BlackBerrys by the dozen, but there is only one bathroom in the place, with a little tag marked "men" to be hung on the door whenever a male staff member is inside.

This is the price of changing venues. It was Raddon who spent many weeks last year scouting a new location for the festival — Burbank, Glendale, even downtown Los Angeles were considered. But Westwood, with its numerous theaters and walkability, not to mention scads of UCLA parking, was the obvious winner. Or at least obvious to Raddon, if not some of the local merchants who, after years of premieres and media screenings, were burnt out on film.

"When they thought of movies, they thought of premieres," Raddon says.

And that was a bad thing. For all its glamour, a premiere rarely helps local businesses because while it increases automotive traffic, it does not increase foot traffic. Those attending just park and get in line — they're not looking to grab a slice of pizza or do a bit of window shopping.

"Some store owners pulled out their sales records," says Raddon, "and said, 'Look, I can show you every night we had a premiere here because our business went down.' And it had."

Raddon explained that festival-goers tend to come for longer periods of time, that many would be spending days attending various events, with loads of time to kill in between.

"I told them how the festival would differ from the premieres, how it would increase foot traffic and their business and pretty soon they were all for it."

The festival organizers, meanwhile, discovered that local pride was in no way limited to cinephiles. When an early prototype for the festival banners came back, with "Westwood" inked in red, Raddon quickly learned that above all, Westwood is a college town.