All About The Los Angeles Anime Film Festivalby Zac Bertschy,
On September 15th, the first-ever Los Angeles Anime Film Festival begins in Downtown Los Angeles with the English Dub premiere of No Game, No Life Zero, a hotly-anticipated follow-up to the smash anime series. That same weekend, a raft of anime films both classic and current will unspool – a selection from the medium's 100-year history, including perennial favorites like Ghost in the Shell, Kiki's Delivery Service and Akira, alongside brand-new phenomenon like King of Prism by Pretty Rhythm, an idol movie with special “cheering-style” screenings. People in and around the anime industry have been talking about getting a proper anime film festival going in America for decades – we sat down for a few minutes with Erika Wright, the co-founder of Azoland, and PR manager Joanna Metoki for a quick conversation about how it all came together and what to expect from this weekend's festival.
So how did this film festival come together?
Erika Wright: I was talking with my colleague Kumo Takeda at Rydgen after Eigafest, our previous film festival. He said he liked anime, and wanted to do an anime film festival. He asked me to put it together with him, that's how we started. We wanted to create another opportunity to see anime in theaters.
Joanna Metoki: We talked about this a lot when we started promoting the event – anime is very accessible nowadays, with streaming. We realized how many more anime films are released in Japan, but not too many of them come out here – there are more and more screenings in America but still not that many. So Azoland and Rydgen got together and decided to do a film festival. There aren't that many screenings around – this one is currently the biggest anime film festival in North America. Los Angeles is a natural fit, since there are plenty of anime fans here.
How did you go about selecting films for this festival?
Erika: This year is the 100th anniversary of anime as a medium. We wanted to have a huge variety of films – not just new ones, but classic films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Studio Ghibli's classic works, across all genres, as a celebration of the medium.
Joanna: It was perfect timing with the 100th anniversary – we wanted as many different types of fans as possible, and to also bring in movie fans, who might not've seen many of these films. The programming was designed to bring in as many different kinds of fans as possible.
We're actually screening one of the oldest anime in history at our opening night event.
How do you think this selection of films celebrates that history? Are there any that have special meaning for you?
Joanna: Erika touched on this theme of having a large variety of anime titles – we have plenty of classic films. Akira is a big title we're really excited about – that's a movie that changed genre expectations. There are so many filmmakers who say they were inspired by that film, and so many fans of anime – even if they haven't seen it – know Akira is a big deal. We definitely wanted to include.
We also have the premiere of No Game, No Life Zero (the English dub) – that movie is very much in line with modern fan expectations, so you get the whole gamut.
We're also doing cheering-style screenings, which is actually a big deal for us. A lot of fans in Japan are big on this film King of Prism – Prettyrhythm, which is a spinoff of another idol anime series. Theaters were packed in Japan with fans who would bring penlights and cheer. It was a little like Rocky Horror – audience participation, really getting excited, almost like they're in the movie with the characters. That's something we're introducing at LAFF this year.
We're also doing that with the Love Live! movie – it's a new way to get fans engaged with the material.
King of Prism: © T2A/S/KOP
Well, Rocky Horror is tongue-in-cheek, while “cheering-style screenings” are about sincere appreciation, right?
Right! You get a similar energy in these screenings as you do at an idol concert. There's no “script” – the audience participation grew organically out of cheering audiences who would go see these films over and over again.
So there's no script - will you be helping English-speaking fans for the basic rules of participating in a cheering-style screening?
We expect most fans coming to this have probably read the blogs and seen the youtube videos that detail what goes in to something like this, but we are trying to put something together for the fans that show up so they'll have a guide for our cheering screenings.
The festival's programming ranges from stuff for super hardcore fans to the most mainstream anime that exists in American culture, like the Ghibli classics and Ghost in the Shell. What sort of marketing challenges has that given you?
It's always hard to market to both of those audiences. We want everyone there – for instance, if I'm making a Facebook post about King of Prism, that's very niche. My social media posts will try to communicate with the fans, but that's something that won't really hit easily with mainstream audiences – there's a strategy you have to consider when marketing this stuff. You don't want to scare away newcomers, but you don't want to alienate the fans, either.
AKIRA: ©1988 MASHROOM/ AKIRA COMMITTEE All Rights Reserved.
Are tickets for opening night available?
The festival is a three-day event; opens on the 15th; tickets to our opening night are sold out, but you can hit up the website to buy tickets and get the full festival schedule. Also, if your kids come in costume to our Kiki's Delivery Service screening, they get in free.
So if this year is a success, what are your goals for year two?
Erika: We'd like to keep going with premieres, we'd like to screen more new films. We have a lot of plans for next year – we'd like to bring over more musical artists and voice actors, and have music-related side events in addition to the festival. Big plans!
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