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L.A. Film Festival to shut down after 18 years as Film Independent shifts focus to broader range of events

L.A. Film Festival to shut down after 18 years as Film Independent shifts focus to broader range of events
Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish attend the L.A. Film Festival world premiere gala screening of "The Oath" on Sept. 25 in Los Angeles. (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for Roadside Attractions)

Film Independent has announced that it will discontinue the L.A. Film Festival after 18 years. Instead the L.A.-based arts organization will shift resources onto more year-round events, including several that traditionally occurred during the festival.

The surprise announcement landed via a press release on Wednesday, a little over a month after the completion of this year’s festival. That event, which concluded Sept. 28, was the first to occupy a fall calendar slot after a longtime home in the summer. The shift put the event into more direct competition with other festivals in an already crowded fall space, including the established AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

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The calendar move only underlined for many in the film community how the LAFF had long struggled to establish a clear identity and its difficulty finding the treasured mix of splashy premieres, glamourous celebrities and the discovery of fresh, unknown talent.

“While we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished with the LA Film Festival over the past eighteen years, the truth is that it has struggled to thrive, and the time has come for us to try something new,” said Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent, in a statement. “We remain committed to serving filmmakers and film audiences across Los Angeles.”

“We took a hard look at the healthy growth of Film Independent’s year-round programs and events … . In the end, we concluded that the organization should explore a more nimble, sustainable form of exhibiting and celebrating independent film artists year round,” said Mary Sweeney, chair of the Film Independent board of directors, in a statement.

Three full-time staff positions were eliminated along with discontinuing the festival. Film Independent declined a request for additional comment.

The festival’s struggle to establish a firm identity was mirrored over the years by its lack of a clear central location, as it moved from West Hollywood to Westwood and then to Downtown. For the past two years the festival’s hub was in Culver City, with additional events in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

The festival also had an ongoing turnover in leadership. Film producer Rebecca Yeldham was festival director from 2009 to 2012. Producer Stephanie Allain took over the position in 2012 until she was succeeded by Jennifer Cochis in 2016.

This year’s LAFF program opened with the world premiere of the LA-based music documentary “Echo in the Canyon,” directed by Andrew Slater and featuring Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty, and closed with the world premiere of the thriller “Nomis,” directed by David Raymond and starring Henry Cavill and Alexandra Daddario. Last year’s festival opened with the world premiere of Colin Trevorrow’s ill-fated “The Book of Henry,” starring Naomi Watts, and closed with the Los Angeles premiere of Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West,” starring Aubrey Plaza.

Despite the loss of a festival that bears the city’s name, Film Independent will continue to actively program events for the Los Angeles film scene and plans to announce a number of new initiatives in the coming months. Among those that are continuing are the VR and immersive storytelling showcase known as The Portal, an ongoing event around inclusion in the film financing program known as Fast Track, and an initiative for high school students known as Future Filmmakers.

The organization will also continue such programs as the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the Film Independent Presents events series curated by Elvis Mitchell, and the mentorship programs Global Media Makers and Project Involve. The group’s ongoing Filmmaker Labs and events Film Independent Forum and Directors Close-Up will continue as well.

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