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Lights, Camera – Activism!




A revamped Hollywood Film Festival aims to bring cinema and activism together in L.A.


HFF’s Jon Fitzgerald

Activists, filmmakers and audiences alike have a reason to be excited about the 2014 Hollywood Film Festival that unspools this October. Under new management, the festival, which was founded in 1997, is shifting its focus to the socially engaged side of cinema and turning the spotlight on films with a message.

Jon Fitzgerald, who first managed the Hollywood Film Festival in 2013 and has experience putting on similar festivals around the globe, will return as the event’s organizer. This year, however, a separate organization he heads, CineCause, has acquired the festival and plans to give it a decidedly different tone.

Speaking to Capital and Main by phone from a documentary shoot in Florida, Fitzgerald said CineCause plans to remake the festival into a showcase for filmmakers who want to make a change. CineCause, he said, is about working to “connect social impact cinema with related causes,” adding that while films often raise awareness about important issues, audiences are not always sure how to get involved.

CineCause is designed, Fitzgerald said, to “provide the avenue for [audiences] to learn more about the causes and take action.” For example, some of CineCause’s work involves building bridges between educators and documentarians, and creating materials for teachers who use film in the classroom.

Fitzgerald said this year’s Hollywood Film Festival will be “anchored by social impact cinema” as it showcases “independent films with a message.”  For him one of the main goals is to “elevate access to the industry” for filmmakers who are trying to encourage positive change with their work.

“We’re showing another side of Hollywood,” he says.

In addition to helping activist filmmakers gain exposure, Fitzgerald plans to broaden the impact of film by incorporating into the festival a “series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops” called the “Global Summit for Good.” This will provide filmmakers and others who work in the intersection between activism and cinema with a platform to share their insights, skills and technical knowledge about the practice of socially engaged filmmaking.

Fitzgerald feels that Los Angeles is more than ready for a film festival that puts issues first, and sees the growing popularity of documentary as a sign that audiences are hungry for real world stories. He believes that the “documentary has evolved as an art form,” as films such as The Cove have merged exciting storytelling with information about pressing issues, and inspired audiences to take action. Fitzgerald also sees the way that so many celebrities have taken up social causes as further proof that an activism-oriented film festival is a good fit for Hollywood.

For Fitzgerald, the power of film as a medium of communications is clear, but how films can go beyond raising awareness is less obvious. He hopes that CineCause can be the “missing piece” between inspiring audiences with compelling films and getting them actively involved in creating change.

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