Let’s Get Together
Highlights from this year’s Louisiana International Film Festival
Approximately 6,000 people attended the third annual Louisiana International Film Festival and Mentorship Program (LIFF) held at Baton Rouge’s Cinemark Perkins Rowe from May 7 – 10.
Founded by veteran producer and writer Chesley Heymsfield, who came to Louisiana four and a half years ago after working in California and New York, the four-day event this year included screenings of more than 60 films from around the world.
Among the highlights was this year’s winner for best documentary, “Big Charity,” a 61-minute film that included never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews with staff from New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, which closed following damage from Hurricane Katrina.
“We sold out of tickets for the screening the first night we offered them,” Heymsfield says, “so we decided to offer a second screening the next day.”
LIFF’s big winner, “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” a film starring Blythe Danner, took home awards for best actress and best director, Brett Haley, who held a Q&A after the screening.
The American Premiere screening of the new take on Mary Shelley’s classic, “Frankenstein,” also featured a Q&A with director Bernard Rose and the film’s star, Xavier Samuel, who took home LIFF’s award for best actor.
The star power continued with actor Vincent D’Onofrio, who was on hand to celebrate the Louisiana premiere of his latest film, “Broken Horses.”
“It’s an amazing film — a real modern-day version of a Wild West tale,” Heymsfield says.
The opening night for the Louisiana International Film Festival featured only the second screening in the world of “Spy,” the new comedy from “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig. The film stars Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law.
More than just the chance to meet celebrities and see a great movie, Heymsfield, says the goal of the festival is to bring industry professionals together, or, as she puts it, to “act as a conduit for the many moving parts of the film industry.”
“When I came here, what inspired me more than what was happening was all the potential,” she says. “We do have production here, but there are so many other facets of the film industry — screenwriters, agents, entertainment lawyers, marketing and advertising. There’s so much room for growth and opportunity for collaboration.”
The festival is growing.
“We had three times as many filmmakers this year as last year,” she says, noting that among the attendees were film students from schools in California.
LIFF featured three full days of workshop classes, with topics including, “Script: From Pitch to Production,” “Success on a Micro-Budget,” and “Masters of Craft: Cinematographers’ Influence in Film,” which featured Academy Award-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore (who won for his work on “Avatar” and is now in town filming “The Magnificent Seven,” starring Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio and Denzel Washington) and Valentina Caniglia, who won this year’s LIFF award for best cinematography for her work on “Madeline’s Oil.”
On the heels of the festival each year, the Louisiana Film Society, another Heymsfield endeavor, kicks off its season, offering screenings about once a month.
For the past three years, LIFF has also journeyed out of Hollywood South to host a party at the Sundance Film Festival (coming up next from Jan. 21-31, 2016) in Utah.
“Movies that have been filmed in Louisiana are being screened at Sundance and we wanted an event to celebrate that,” she says, noting that past parties have included masquerade and Mardi Gras themes.
With all the focus on tax credit changes and how they may affect the industry, Heymsfield stresses that LIFF is an apolitical organization, and chooses to take its own spin on things.
“The conversation needs to be about what we can do organically and indigenously to make the most of the opportunities that exist in the state,” she says. “We still have power — you have to remember that. It’s on us. At least that’s how we look at it.”
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life and is thrilled to be covering its emersion in her newly adopted home.