The first Louisiana International Film Festival opens Thursday, April 18, with a gala screening of the music documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom, at the Joy Theater in New Orleans. The film’s director, Morgan Neville, and one of its stars, Merry Clayton, will attend the screening.

The festival moves to Baton Rouge Friday, April 19, for screenings at Cinemark Perkins Rowe, Celtic Media Centre, the Manship Theatre, the Old State Capitol and the LSU Union Theater. Presenting more than 50 films, the festival runs through Sunday, April 21.

Cinemark Perkins Rowe is serving as festival headquarters. Films to be shown at Cinemark include the U.S. premiere of Boxing Day, a British production starring Danny Huston. The film’s director, Bernard Rose (Candyman), will attend the screening.

The festival will also see the Louisiana premieres of the Shreveport-filmed thriller The East, starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page, and The Iceman, a Shreveport-shot film starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder and Ray Liotta.

Louisiana films being presented at the festival include the documentariesBy and By: New Orleans at the Crossroads, Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle and T-Galop: A Louisiana Horse Story.

The festival’s lineup includes three U.S. premieres as well as new films, movies that have proven themselves to be film festival favorites and cult classics.

At Any Price, to be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Cinemark, is another of the festival’s gala screenings. A thriller from Sony Pictures, the film stars Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron and Heather Graham.

The festival’s co-artistic directors — Jeff Dowd, a Los Angeles-based writer-producer whose credits include Zebrahead and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, and Dan Ireland, a producer and co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival — selected much of its programming from 200 submissions.

“We have an incredible lineup for a first-year film festival,” Chesley Heymsfield, the festival’s executive director, said.

Heymsfield worked in the film business in New York and Los Angeles before moving to Louisiana in 2011. Preparations for the inaugural Louisiana International Film Festival began in March 2012, she said.

“My main goal for this festival is to create a film hub for the state,” she said. “One of the things that I noticed when I got here was that there was fragmentation between the different cities and parishes and companies. I want to create an umbrella everyone can stand under. I thought that a film festival for the state made sense for the stage we’re at now.”

Heymsfield is encouraged by the support the new festival has received thus far.

“Festivals start small and then grow, based on interest in the community and support from the community,” she said. “We’ve received overwhelming support from business, government, non-profits and individuals.”

State tax incentives for the movie industry have made Louisiana the third busiest state for film production.

“This state has so much going on,” Heymsfield said. “It’s important that we come together and share our information and resources. Our short-term plan is to get the festival launched. Our long-term plan is build on the footprint we’re establishing and create a film-distribution market and co-production market.

“We don’t have to only be the place where people come for the physical production of movies. We can be the place where they develop concepts and write movies.”

Recent attention given to Beasts of the Southern Wild, an independently produced film made in Louisiana also brought artistic prestige to the state’s still young film industry. The film received four Oscar nominations and Sundance and Cannes film festival awards.

“The filmmakers did a great thing for Louisiana by bringing international acclaim to the state,” Heymsfield said. “And it was done with a low budget with local actors. That exemplifies the fact that there’s so much undiscovered talent here. Louisiana has an incredible amount of untapped potential.”

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