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Stephanie Allain on directing the most diverse Los Angeles Film Festival yet

by The Frame staff | The Frame

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Film producer Stephanie Allain is director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Angela Weiss/Getty Images

The 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival opened June 1 with "Lowriders," a film by Peruvian director Ricardo de Montreuil, about car culture among Mexican-Americans in L.A. It's just one of the many films in this year's lineup made by women or directors of color, challenging the film industry's lack of diversity in its own backyard.

Film producer Stephanie Allain is director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, part of the non-profit Film Independent. She spoke with The Frame's John Horn about how this year's festival is bringing minority filmmakers into the mainstream.

Interview Highlights

What is your programming philosophy?

We direct the programmers to look for films. Half the films are directed by people of color and/or women, so what that means is, it’s not a diverse festival, it’s an equal festival. You know what I’m saying? That’s exactly how it should be, and so that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for those women who are making films, because we know they are. We’re looking for those filmmakers of color who are out there making films. And guess what? Most of those films have a unique point of view.

If you could highlight a couple of films, what would you highlight from women filmmakers?

Amber Tamblyn’s first movie, "Painted Black," will make its world premiere at the festival.  It’s gorgeous, really interesting, really beautiful. We have an Olympic athlete who has written, directed and stars in her first film. It’s called "Track Town." Her name is Alexi Pappas. I met her at the retreat — we take all the filmmakers on a retreat the day before the festival — and, wow, what a star. You just know she’s a star. She plays an athlete in the movie, and it’s different than an actor training for a couple of weeks to be a runner. This woman does inhuman things to her body, it’s just startling. The other film that I love, love, love was co-directed by a woman and a man, it’s called "Political Animals." It’s about the four openly gay congresswomen who, over the course of 15 years, incrementally passed change that ended up in the Marriage Equality Act.

I’m wondering if you could give us some examples of films that you’re really excited about, made by people of color, that will be in this year’s festival?

There’s so many. The world premiere of Qasim Basir’s second movie, called "Destined," starring Corey Hardrict in a double role as an architect and as a criminal. There is a really great movie about gentrification in Brixton, London. There’s a beautiful film called “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice.” This is a documentary by Deborah Riley Draper about the 1932 Olympics, and the African-American athletes who participated in it. Oh my god, there’s so many!

How do you find those movies? Do you and your programming staff travel the globe? Do the films come to you? What’s your process like?

There’s a dual process and basically we get about five-to-six thousand submissions, that’s features and shorts. We have an incredible, diverse staff that first looks at film screeners, and then we have another amazing diverse staff of associate programmers. But the real kudos goes to Roya Rastegar and Jennifer Cochis who head up a team, in-house, and they do outreach. They call universities, they call the Film Fatales [groups] around the country, they troll Facebook, they really make a concerted effort to reach out. What we’re really looking for is discovery.

Are you speaking as the director of the festival, or as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Because in some ways, what you’re doing, especially for a festival set in Hollywood, are one and the same. You are highlighting films that aren’t on the radar of studio executives and producers who really need to broaden their view of the world.

I think it’s all of that. Whenever I make movies, or act as a director, or act as a member of the Academy, I am always seeking out that new voice. And I think that’s what makes going to movies and watching movies so exciting, because you’re constantly expanding your boundaries. And I think that after a long time of waiting and looking and hoping for diversity, we can all be the answer.

We can all focus on newer filmmakers, we can focus on women directors, we can focus on directors of color and LGBT people who are not traditionally in the mainstream, and bring them into the mainstream. What’s really exciting is that last year we sold over 25 films out of the festival that went to Showtime and HBO and Netflix. That’s what’s really exciting because the filmmakers are not only getting a chance to be in the spotlight of the industry, but they’re being connected to the industry. That’s going to lead to another job, and that’s going to lead to another job. And, as we all know, practice makes perfect. So when you get in the business and you continue to work, you can achieve mastery, and that will eventually lead to the Academy Awards.

The Los Angeles Film Festival takes place through June 9.

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