Over the years, Gustavo Sampaio went to a lot of film festivals throughout the world. As a long-time editor at ESPN, Fox and now CBS, and an independent filmmaker, it was his great love; to be inspired by the artistry, meet the filmmakers, to celebrate new talent and new ways of storytelling.

Unfortunately, as Gustavo saw for himself over the years, the vision of what you’d expect a quality festival to be usually didn’t match the often bleak reality. Screenings were held in small, uncomfortable rooms that weren’t open to the public. Screens were often not much bigger than a big screen TV. Sound was sketchy. And a lot of festivals were simply disorganized, giving the entire experience an aura of amateurism. Not exactly Sundance.

“I was frustrated,” says Gustavo, “because, obviously you work extremely hard to make a film, it’s your life, and then it doesn’t feel like it’s being shown in a way that gives the filmmakers a chance to shine. It was disrespectful.” To which Gustavo adds, “So I decided to do something about it.”

Enter North Hollywood Cinefest, Gustavo’s labor of love. Started three years ago, the festival is fast becoming not only one of the most respected in Los Angeles, but throughout the world. Held at the new Laemmle Theatre in the heart of NoHo’s Media District, films are exhibited on a big, beautiful screen in a state of the art theater. The public is encouraged to attend, and boy, do they ever. Tickets sell out fast. Over the course of a week, Cinefest screens 90 films. Compare that to many festivals that might receive 500 submissions, but only screen 12 films. Cinefest truly is a cinephile’s dream festival.

This year the festival has gotten even better. In addition to the many screenings, Cinefest will conduct an expanded range of panels by utilizing a new format. The discussions will be somewhat shorter than usual, perhaps 30-minutes at the most, with three or four panels in a row featuring established casting directors, producers, actors and other industry vets, and maybe even a surprise guest or two. Making it even more fun, the panels will be held in the upstairs privacy of The Federal Bar, across the street from the theater.

Gustavo is clearly thrilled with the festival’s success. “It was good timing,” he explains, “because over the last six years, North Hollywood has developed a lot. It’s grown, it’s gotten better, the whole area is blooming. North Hollywood’s rebirth has certainly helped Cinefest, and the festival has become something North Hollywood can be proud of.

We at First Entertainment greatly admire the work Gustavo’s done for filmmakers, the industry, and for the community, and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to be a sponsor.

As Gustavo explains, “We always wanted to be associated with a financial institution. It brings a certain integrity to an event, so it’s been a focus of ours since the beginning to find the ideal partner. First Entertainment is perfect, such a natural fit. I was thrilled they were so enthusiastic and supportive. With all the festivals there are, I find myself very fortunate and honored that they chose us.”