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Independent No More?

Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

Richard Raddon, director of the IFP/West Los Angeles Film Festival, sits in his office on the 18th floor of a Miracle Mile skyscraper. Crammed into a modest, almost dormlike suite, the room is small, but the view is spectacular. It’s the kind of vista that could keep one from work, but Raddon swears he barely has time to look out the window. Since becoming festival director a year and a half ago, Raddon has been a busy man, but this particular kickoff countdown is something else entirely. Heading into its seventh year, the festival, known until last year as the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, has a new name, new management and a much more expansive purview.

“The scope of the festival last year, my first year, was quite small, actually,” says Raddon. “If I went through all the things that we’re doing this year, it’s pretty impressive.” He’s right: The festival, blossoming from five days to nine, and from 32 features to 50, in addition to its numerous panels and seminars, is now poised to vault from a base that’s been steadily if gradually growing to become a serious contender among American film festivals. (Not to mention L.A. festivals, though Raddon dismisses the idea that he’s competing with the autumnal AFI festival.) This big leap forward is due in no small part to a new affiliation with the nonprofit powerhouse Independent Feature Project/West, which this year subsumed the event into its multivalent slate of programs.

IFP/West executive director Dawn Hudson says that the festival “aligns exactly with our mission to serve independent filmmakers and increase the audience for their work,” adding that it “completes the circle” by affording invaluable exhibition opportunities for the filmmakers it nurtures. Whether those filmmakers will have an edge on future programming is up in the air. “I wouldn’t be opposed to a category of films that were workshopped through IFP/West,” says Raddon. “In general, I think there’s more bracketing in the future of the festival.”

Raddon is optimistic about the relationship’s advantages, if coy about its origins. “I don’t really know the intricacies of that,” he says demurely, when asked about the deal or whether the festival was purchased outright, as has been rumored. “Ultimately,” he adds, “I don’t think that’s important.” Raddon first heard of a possible alliance from festival founder and former director Robert Faust. “He approached me and said, ‘What do you think of teaming up with IFP/West?,’” Raddon recalls, “and I was really for it.” No wonder. With the organization’s considerable resources (among other things, it provides equipment and workshops for filmmakers), Raddon has a lot to work with, and, more important to him, a support system that’s present year-round.

“It’s a once-a-year event. We didn’t have anything throughout the year to sustain that community, and IFP/West does.” Given that community is one of the most crucial ingredients in a successful film festival, and that community is not something easily come by in Los Angeles, IFP/West’s ready-made collective could prove a significant boon to the festival. There are also, of course, the financial benefits, an issue that Raddon amiably skirts. “I don’t like to talk in terms of numbers,” he says with a smile, refusing to name even a ballpark budget. “I like to talk in terms of scope. We’re screening more films, we’re over more days, our parties are bigger.” This year’s festival will officially have digital projection for the first time, and while it’s still primarily a North American event, European movies — including Born Romantic, from England, and Miramax’s French release With a Friend Like Harry . . . — are being “sprinkled in.”

The price for these resources? Sovereignty — the festival is now, as Raddon puts it, “a program of IFP/West” — and, perhaps, identity. Ostensibly, the festival’s name was changed to avoid the redundancy of an Independent Feature Project/West Independent Film Festival. Yet Raddon also asserts that “independent” is less relevant these days, that after the indie hype of the late 1990s, those who were once adamant about being known as independent filmmakers now prefer to be acknowledged simply as filmmakers. He adds that he thinks the very term independent can be “confusing for the broader, general public.” To date, though, there’s no word that the IFP itself is looking to change its name.

A schedule of IFP/LAFF event is available on-line.


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