On any given month there is some sort of film festival being held somewhere, and nowhere are there more than in Los Angeles.
There are those that spotlight genders, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientation, and others that focus on genres and styles, from animation to feature films and everything in between.
This year, two entertainment veterans have accomplished a seemingly impossible feat: finding yet another niche for a film festival TV pilots.
The Cinema City International Film Festival, which will roll out the red carpet Sept. 29 at Universal City's AMC theater complex, will feature a dose of what has historically never been considered serious art.
"As far as we know, we're the only festival to have a category for TV pilots," said CCIFF co-founder Suzanne DeLaurentiis, a former actress and owner of a production company. "There are people who have produced pilots, but there are no festivals where they can show them."
Among the dozen pilots that will be featured are "Miracle Investigators," a comedic series about Catholic priests busting fraudulent priests, produced by Jeremy Dehn, and "Underway," a sci-fi series about supernatural encounters, produced by Paul Marcus.
Not a single prospective "CSI" among them, almost certainly.
But the fest also boasts the usual categories such as Best Feature, Best Documentary and Best Screenplay, to name a few. That's because TV pilots make up only a fraction of the nearly 1,000 films and shorts that will be screened during the three-day festival, set at Universal's City Walk tourist hot spot. The festival is also open to music videos.
However, the unusual TV pilot category does serve to distinguish the two-year-old event amid an increasingly crowded field of L.A.-based festivals. The Santa Monica Film Festival, the Hollywood Film Festival and the granddaddy of them all, the Los Angeles Film Festival, all take place during the summer and early fall seasons, and regularly attract top industry insiders.
"You just never know who's going to be in the audience. That's why there are so many film festivals here in Los Angeles," said Richard Raddon, director of the non-profit Los Angeles Film Festival.
DeLaurentiis and her business partner, Juliette Harris, who owns Venice-based ItGirl Public Relations, appear to have at least one advantage: TV pilots are one of the more prominent victims of the three-month Writers Guild of America strike that ended in February.
Pilots, which are produced to sell shows to network and cable television companies, were either delayed or not produced at all, with some networks green-lighting shows based solely on verbal and written pitches.
"This gives people a chance to get their work out there and to be seen by decision makers in the business," said DeLaurentiis, a cousin to legendary film producer Dino DeLaurentiis.
With NBC/Universal's media offices literally right next door to the film fest, there is always a chance that a television executive may wander into one of the screenings.
Raddon, whose Los Angeles Film Festival has been one of the city's most successful, said that's how Eli Roth, co-director of "Grindhouse," met and began a working relationship with directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
"After the screening of his film 'Cabin Fever,' Quentin Tarantino stayed for the Q & A; session and they began talking and the next thing you know they're working together," Raddon said. "I'm not saying that can't happen somewhere else, but it's more likely to happen in L.A. then anywhere else."
DeLaurentiis and Harris say the festival is aimed at helping filmmakers get exposure. For that reason, the entrance fee is only $35. And unlike many other L.A. film fests that charge up to $12 a screening, there is no charge to view the films. However, there is a $200-a-plate fee to attend the Oct. 1 black-tie awards dinner at the Universal Sheraton.
Their first foray into the festival business last year brought in a crowd of more than 16,000 people and was named by MovieMaker magazine as one of "the top 25 film festivals worth the entry fee." It did not include the TV pilot category.
While considered neophytes in the film fest arena, DeLaurentiis and Harris said that they already have success stories of their own.
Justin Hunt won for Best Documentary last year for his film "American Meth," and got a distribution deal after impressing an audience member. "Not only did he win, but he got a distribution deal out of it," DeLaurentiis said.
Hunt, who lives in the small town of Farmington, N.M., heaped praise on the duo. He said he had gone to other film festivals in L.A. but they were the only organizers who knew his name and had seen his work. He's hoping to secure a TV deal and recalls his win fondly.
"I remember when I was on the stage getting my award and looking over at Ed McMahon and saying, 'I'm a hell of a long way from Farmington,'" Hunt said.
McMahon is on the festival's advisory board and participates in the awards ceremony.
DeLaurentiis and Hunt thought up the idea to start the festival several years ago while attending the West Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Harris was handling public relations duties for DeLaurentiis, whose namesake production company was premiering its crime drama "10th and Wolf," starring Dennis Hopper.
While sitting at the awards dinner the two began to think that they could do a better job and maybe further each other's careers.
"Kind of half-jokingly and half-serious we said to each other, 'You know, we should start our own film festival and have it in some exotic place like the Mediterranean or the Caribbean,'" Harris said.
After more careful consideraiton they realized that while having a festival on a Caribbean island might sound good, it wasn't practical. "Plus, the reality is that everybody in the film industry is based here in L.A.," DeLaurentis said.
Last year the duo were able to get celebrities such as Rex Lee, Chris McDonald, Mariah Wilson and Debbie Gibson to attend and present awards at the gala. This year they have attracted sponsors such as American Airlines, Spike TV, Unocal and the Hallmark Channel, among others, to help cover costs.
The two founders are playing coy on the celebrity quotient, though at least veteran actor Ed Asner is expected to attend because he stars in the film "Generation Gap," directed by Bill L. Norton.
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