The Miracle of Film Festival Programming

The latest Census Bureau data shows that the United States is on its way to becoming a "majority minority." For the first time, there are more black, Hispanic and other babies of color being born in the United States than white babies.

What does this have to do with film festivals? Everything.

In an excerpt from a February 2012 article in the UCLA Center For the Study of Women, Roya Rastegar, Ph.D. wrote, "Curators have emerged as a significant force in defining film culture on local and global scales by cultivating public notions of quality and taste."

Turns out festival programmers do a lot more than just watch movies and choose the "best" ones. Like studio executives, festival programmers act as cultural gatekeepers. Their decisions directly affect which films get distribution and which filmmakers get noticed. They define what is worthy. In a rapidly changing world, the aesthetic of the so-called dominant culture continues to set the bar against which all emerging work is judged.

Troubled by the lack of female directors at Cannes, an open letter to the jury stated:

We call for Cannes, and other film festivals worldwide to commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films. We judge films as human beings, shaped by our own perspectives and experiences. It is vital, therefore, that there be equality and diversity at the point of selection.

I'm a producer, formerly a studio executive and story analyst. When I took the job as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, I'd never run a festival before and never worked as a programmer. But I'm passionate about the power of independently spirited films to change lives. Humanist films create bridges of understanding by taking the audience on a specific journey into new worlds. Whether it's the re-imagined mystical Delta community in Beasts of the Southern Wild, or the Navajo reservation where Sun Kissed takes place, these stories connect us. They remind us how similar we all are despite our cultural differences. So when the opportunity to step in as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Imagine serving up dozens of films both American and International, independent and mainstream over a 10-day period.

The miracle of film festival programming is that a small group of people watch hundreds -- no -- thousands of films and choose a handful to hold up as worthy of festival laurels. When faced with over 5,000 submissions, choosing feature films to fill the roughly 100 slots is an enormous responsibility. Inspired by Dr. Rastegar, I now see that curatorial work can create "a more capacious vision of freedom." Not only for the ones who already enjoy it, but for everyone else.

This year at the Los Angeles Film Festival we hope to shine a light on a myriad of diverse stories from filmmakers all over the world. Some of my favorities? Ava DuVernay's sumptuous sophomore effort, Middle of Nowhere, and Call Me Kuchu, a heartbreaking documentary from first-time directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall about the first openly gay Ugandan, David Kato, and his struggle for human rights.

I'm also very excited by our inaugural Music in Film Nights at the Grammy Museum. On June 19, we're screening the world premiere of Alan Lomax's Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass; June 21 pays homage to singer songwriter Rodriguez, the subject of Malik Bandjelloul's riveting Searching For Sugar Man; and on June 22, we feature genre-breaking artists Goapele and Yuna, both singer-songwriters whose works can be heard in films premiering this year. We are also celebrating the contribution of women to the world of animation with a Women of Wonder luncheon followed by panels. Blackhouse is sponsoring a day of activities including a panel on the Art and Social Responsibility of Programming, featuring among others, Dr. Roya Rastegar, moderated by Elvis Mitchell, and our Cine Latino program covers a wide swath of Latin programming - films, discussions and parties.

So this June 14-24 at L.A. LIVE make the Los Angeles Film Festival your destination for experiencing a cultural revolution. For locals, you'll be surprised to discover the entire universe is right in your own backyard.

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