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By Pamela K. Johnson

Stephanie Allain remembers feeling like the lone Columbia Pictures executive in the room who really got Boyz in the Hood. The 1991 urban classic launched the cinematic careers of John Singleton, Nia Long, and Ice Cube, to name a few.

Now, as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), she believes it’s important to ensure that the work of men of color and women is showcased. The 21st LAFF runs from through June 18 and is sponsored by Film Independent (FIND).

“About 40 percent of the films [at LAFF] are directed by women and 35 percent by filmmakers of color,” says Allain. “That doesn’t just happen. We look deep, call universities, call friends … We have to ask for these films.” Sometimes they may waive the entry fee so the cost of applying to the fest is not a barrier.

"Sweet Mickey’s Election Night"
"Sweet Mickey’s Election Night" is a biopic about Haitian president Michel Martelly.

Each year, the LAFF team screens between 5,000 and 6,000 films, along several tiers of programming. Ultimately, the list is pruned to 75 features and 60 shorts.

In 2014, LAFF programmers embraced Nightingale, starring David Oyelowo (pre-Selma). Its team had submitted it for entry in “every single festival and got turned down, so we had the world premiere of it,” recalls Allain, a longtime FIND board member who took the reigns as LAFF director four years ago. Nightingale was recently picked up by HBO.

Among this year’s festival offerings:

A Girl Like Grace, a coming-of-age story about a girl who’s bullied, starring Meagan Good, Raven-Symone and Garcelle Beauvais; Treasure, the tragic journey of a transgender woman by Dream Hampton, and Sweet Mickey for President, a biopic about Haitian president Michel Martelly from Pras Michel of the Fugees. Michel also performed at one of LAFF’s signature Grammy Museum concerts.

Allain has a link to the feature, French Dirty, a coming of age love story, through her sons, college student Wade Allain-Marcus and high school student Jesse Allain-Marcus. “As a filmmaker and producer, I kind of raised them in the business,” she says. “They’ve collaborated a long time, “one in front of the camera, and one behind.”

Jesse, who has been a filmmaker since he was 10, had a project in LAFF long before his mother became its director, Allain says.

Likely to draw a crowd is the 15th anniversary tribute and screening of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s enduringly popular Love and Basketball, with stars Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps expected to attend.

Allain, who produced Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights, says: “I’m super excited to reunite the cast of Love and Basketball, and have a conversation, reminiscing about making the movie, what’s happened since and – when the sun drops and it gets dark enough – to play the movie.”

"Treasure," directed by Dream Hampton, follows the tragic journey of a transgender woman.

More films screening at the LAFF: Ayanda and the Mechanic, the journey of a 21-year-old hipster in South Africa; In a Perfect World, a documentary about black children growing up with single mothers; and Can You Dig This, another doc, this one on Compton gangsters being transformed into gardeners, produced by John Legend.

Throughout the year, FIND offers screenwriting, producing, directing and documentary labs. It’s Project Involve is a nine-month fellowship, and Fast Track helps narrative and documentary filmmakers advance projects. Last year’s Dear White People came through FIND, with Allain as a producer.

“I so believe in this and the difference it makes in the lives of so many artists,” she says. “We want to be the change we’re looking for. That is our mission.”

Stephanie Allain
Stephanie Allain, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which runs June 10-18, sees it as vital to ensure that the work of people of color and women are prominently showcased.