Billy Crystal might have joked that the Oscars were Sundance by the Sea, but the real thing arrives in Tinseltown Thursday night as the third annual Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (LAIFF) kicks off.

While not as prestigious as its Utah cousin, the five-day LAIFF has grown since its inception in 1995 and has a home-town advantage in attracting name Hollywood stars. Festival organizers boast that 60 percent of films screened have been picked up for distribution. Movie buffs can also sit in on industry roundtables, a new media forum and an independent music revue at a local club.

This year's big buzz flick is Little City, which opens the festivities Thursday night. Written and directed by Roberto Benabib and produced by Bandiera Entertainment--the group responsible for Sundance smashes Johns and The House of Yes--the film is sort of a San Francisco Singles. Among the gaggle of youngish lovers who wax sentimental: Penelope Ann Miller, Annabella Sciorra, JoBeth Williams and bad-haired rocker and '80s relic, Jon Bon Jovi.

This being Hollywood and all, LAIFF features something called "Actors Direct," which, as its names suggests, showcases the filmmaking prowess of local hams. This is where you can catch Sandra Bullock's directorial debut, Making Sandwiches. This movie tells the story of--let's quote from the press notes--"sandwich-making couple Bud Hoagie (Matthew McConaughey) and Melba Club (Bullock) whose lives are torn asunder when a new upscale restaurant opens in their small beach town." Let's hope it's a comedy.

Richard Dreyfuss checks in with Present Tense, Past Perfect, a meditation on fidelity, chock full of celebrities. William Peterson, Anne Archer, Bruce Davison, Carrie Fisher and Martin Sheen co-star.

And Rob Lowe marks his return to filmmaking with American Untitled. A bummed-out photographer meets a wannabe actress on a desert shoot--untold hilarity ensues. Compared to earlier Lowe efforts, this film rates a PG-13.

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