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Inaugural Rom Com Fest, a film festival for fans of romance and rosé, sets its lineup

Inaugural Rom Com Fest, a film festival for fans of romance and rosé, sets its lineup
A 20th-anniversary screening of "Never Been Kissed," starring Drew Barrymore, is part of the inaugural Rom Com Fest. (Suzanne Hanover)

Miraya Berke watched "Avengers: Endgame" on its record-breaking opening night. She and her boyfriend gathered with hundreds of other Marvel fans, many of whom were dressed as various superheroes and trading their favorite theories with one another. Though movie theaters offered these screenings every hour that night, each showing was, in itself, an event.

"Millions of people get this opportunity," she told The Times. From opening weekends of superhero movies to Comic-Con-like gatherings around the globe, each calendar year brings numerous chances to celebrate a particular genre with a community of fellow fans.

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But what about those who love romantic comedies? What about the fans who've channeled "Clueless" or "Pretty Woman" characters on Halloween or who can recite Julia Roberts' "Notting Hill" bookshop speech from memory? Lamented Berke, "People who love rom-coms, we don't get these same kinds of experiences to celebrate."

Next month, Berke hopes that will change. Introducing Rom Com Fest, which will take place at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent Theater and other venues from June 20-23. Berke, the founder of Pop Productions event boutique studio who previously launched the foodie fest Dessert Goals, was encouraged to move forward with the inaugural event after last year's enthusiastic reception of Warner Bros.' "Crazy Rich Asians" and Netflix titles including "Set It Up" and "To All the Boys I Loved Before."

"They're starting to come back," said Berke of the rom-com genre. "I think, finally, studios woke up and saw that there is a market for this."

Berke — who grew up attending the Sundance Film Festival annually as a family tradition and has produced events for the Tribeca Film Festival — put together a lineup of favorites that "still feel iconic and classic but a little bit different."

"How Stella Got Her Groove Back," starring Taye Diggs and Angela Bassett, will screen at Rom Com Fest.
"How Stella Got Her Groove Back," starring Taye Diggs and Angela Bassett, will screen at Rom Com Fest. (20th Century Fox)

Screenings include the 2009 Anne Hathaway-Kate Hudson movie "Bride Wars," followed by a conversation with its writers June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson; "10 Things I Hate About You," the 1999 release starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, plus a chat with writers Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith and Karen McCullah; "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," the 1998 Angela Bassett vehicle; and "His Girl Friday," the 1940 classic with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

A 20th-anniversary showing of "Never Been Kissed," starring Drew Barrymore, was selected by "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" co-creator and star Rachel Bloom, who reached out to Berke to take part in the festival. A chat with Bloom on the state of the genre will following the screening.

The festival will also include five new features, as well as a shorts program and will bestow jury prizes and audience awards. Curating the lineup, Berke said she prioritized racial diversity and sexual-orientation representation to "try to make everyone feel as welcome into the festival as I can." Still, she left a certain kind of story line out.

"One of my main parameters was having strong and empowering female characters," she said. "I felt almost disappointed in some of the ones that were submitted, those that felt like they were centered around these very clingy, neurotic women who were just running after men. I didn't want that as the messaging."

"In Reality," starring Kimiko Glenn, left, and director/co-writer Ann Lupo, will compete in the features program.
"In Reality," starring Kimiko Glenn, left, and director/co-writer Ann Lupo, will compete in the features program. (Nadine Martinez)

Between movies, the festival is hosting a special love-themed edition of the Mortified comedy show, a live taping of WhoHaha’s "The Podcast for Dirty Girls," and a live reading of the winner of the festival's screenplay competition.

For those inclined to dress for the occasion, the lineup includes a few suggestions: 1920s looks for Ann Lupo's narrative directorial debut "In Reality," wedding-white attire for "Bride Wars," and cozy pajamas for the late-night screening of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

Additionally, each screening will include some type of experiential element, like the music trivia before Joseph Cross’ directorial debut "Summer Night" (which features “To All the Boys” breakout Lana Condor and Victoria Justice) and the candle-making workshop before Darien Sills-Evans' "One Bedroom." Ticket-holders will also receive treats like complimentary ice cream, CBD gummies or glasses of rosé.

"It won't be like the typical festival," said Berke, who is already brainstorming ideas for next year's edition (possibly in New York or San Francisco, if not L.A.). "These shared experiences help people meet each other and connect, and make new memories. And with the world where it is today, I think we all need a little more escape and fun."

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