This post has been corrected. See below for details.
The Hollywood Film Festival is in a tough spot with its mid-October dates falling between the Toronto International Film Festival and L.A.'s own AFI Fest in November. To distinguish itself, the festival, under new leadership, says it is striving to be "more relevant" as it launches its 17th annual event Oct. 18 to 20 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, showing 25 features and a still-to-be-announced selection of shorts.
The festival will include a “Celebrating Hollywood” spotlight, featuring films that either were shot in Los Angeles or reference show business. Among the films in the spotlight are two world premieres -- “A Star for Rose,” directed by Daniel Yost and starring Debbie Allen, and Jill D’Agnenica’s “Life Inside Out,” a story that brings both elements as it centers on a mother pursuing her dream of a career in music in Los Angeles.
As well, the festival will screen “Burton and Taylor,” the BBC America film starring Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during their 1983 stage production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” (Director Richard Laxton is scheduled to attend.)
“We’re here in the motion picture capital of the world, and for Hollywood as a city and the festival as a brand I think there’s an opportunity to do something really unique,” said Jon Fitzgerald, the festival's new executive director, in a phone interview Tuesday morning. Fitzgerald came on board in the spring, having previously been associated with the Slamdance, AFI Fest, Santa Barbara and Abu Dhabi film festivals.
Though the festival will forgo official opening and closing night events, some highlights of the festival’s first night include “The Red Robin,” starring Judd Hirsch, the Spanish documentary “Walking the Camino” and the documentary “Drew: The Man behind the Poster,” a look at legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan.
Fitzgerald is also a founder of CineCause, a philanthropic platform that connects audiences with the causes behind social-issue films. A number of such films will be playing as part of the CineCause Spotlight, including the documentaries “Friends of Mine,” “Tiny,” and Sundance Award winner “Blood Brother.”
Fitzgerald noted that many social-issue films get audiences energized over a topic but leave them unable or unclear on how to turn that enthusiasm into direct engagement.
“We’re going to take that a step further, connecting audiences so that rather than walk out of the theater to move on with their day, they can be engaged enough and inspired to get involved in that cause, whether it’s the environment or human rights,” he said. “That can be options to donate or get involved. Just being able to take action is something we want to foster here.”
By introducing these kinds of spotlight programming, Fitzgerald hopes to overcome the obstacles of putting on a three-day event in the crush of the fall film season.
“We’re not trying to be Toronto, we’re not trying to be Sundance,” he said. “Ultimately, it is still about discovery, and a lot of these films will probably not have a traditional theatrical release. So it’s an opportunity for audiences to see them.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”
[For the record, Sept. 25: The original version of this post identified "Burton and Taylor" as a BBC Four Telefilm. It is a BBC America film.]
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus