As Newsweek’s veteran movie critic, David Ansen has reviewed thousands of movies during his career. The eyestrain is about to grow even worse: Ansen was named Monday as the artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival.
In his new position picking some 80 dramatic and documentary features for the LAFF, Ansen and his programming staff must sort through as many as 5,000 annual submissions. But Ansen said his long career reviewing movies (Ansen was the magazine’s critic from 1977 to 2008 and now serves as a Newsweek contributing editor) has prepared him for the demanding film-picking challenge.
“In a lifetime of watching movies, I’ve basically been a programmer in my own virtual film festival all of my life,” Ansen said. “It’s so strange to be on the other side. But I think it will be an exciting and nice change.”
Ansen has served on the selection committee for the New York Film Festival, a smaller, targeted festival of a couple of dozen movies. With more slots to fill for LAFF’s 16th edition June 17 through 27, Ansen said he will cast a wide net. “If I see a great horror movie or a great noir or a great comedy, obviously I’m going to try to get it and be happy to get it,” said Ansen, who served on LAFF’s documentary jury this past summer.
Ansen said he will continue LAFF’s tradition of assembling retrospectives but not at the expense of undermining the festival’s emphasis on innovative films and filmmakers. “Retrospectives are certainly very interesting to me,” Ansen said. “But it’s certainly not going to turn into the golden oldie festival.”
Ansen replaces former LAFF programming head Rachel Rosen, now the programming director for the San Francisco Film Society. He’s not the only local critic to take a top programming job at a local festival: Variety critic Robert Koehler served as director of programming for the just-concluded AFI Fest.
Rebecca Yeldham, the director of LAFF (sponsored by the Los Angeles Times), said she picked Ansen because of his enthusiasm for filmmaker-driven stories.
“David still has that passion for discovery and to champion new work and new voices,” Yeldham said.
The festival also promoted Doug Jones from senior programmer to associate director of programming.
In his new role, Ansen knows he might have to select movies that would not necessarily land on his top 10 list but could still hold interest for the 75,000 or so people who attend LAFF each year. At the same time, he hopes to challenge festival guests with some of his picks.
“I’d be lying if I said they’re going to love all 80 movies we’re going to invite.”