Organizers have ambitious plans for this year’s Method Fest Film Festival. They upped the number of screenings in the feature film and shorts categories and added events to the student portion of the 8-day festival that starts March 26. The premiere party, limited to 300 attendees, takes place at a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Unfortunately, the local economy is not as ambitious. The annual festival , now in its 11th year, struggles to find corporate sponsorships. Businesses in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys have stepped up to get their names connected with what is becoming a critical stop on the festival circuit, but certain industries that participated in past years, such as home builders and realtors, are absent. For the first time, the festival lacks an airline sponsor. “It really is a survival year,” said festival Executive Director Don Franken. “It takes every bit of creativity and hard work to keep things moving forward.” Named after the Method style of acting, the festival bills itself as one of discovering filmmakers and performers who, while not newcomers, are on the verge of bigger things. Last year the festival honored actors Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins, both of whom were nominated for an Academy Award in acting this year. Getting ahead of the curve is always important and creates a buzz about the festival. Still, buzz can’t overcome the turmoil in the U.S. economy that has businesses cutting back on their sponsorships and advertising. A new approach had to be taken this year to keep adding value for the companies that wanted to sponsor, Franken said. For the first time, the festival explored the idea of selling a title sponsorship The Method Fest presented by X company. That had not been considered before so as to build up the Method Fest brand and its celebration of actors. Having accomplished that, it now makes sense to have a title sponsor to bring in corporate support, Franken said. Mercedes-Benz of Calabasas signed on as new sponsor for the festival and plays host to the March 28 premiere party following the first film screenings. Other new sponsors this year are beer maker Stella Artois, and restaurants California Pizza Kitchen, Monty’s Steakhouse, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, and Chapter Eight in Agoura Hills. Franken pursued Mercedes because its vehicles fit in with the upscale audience the festival draws and complements the other high-end sponsors. “We try to strategically aim for luxury brands,” Franken said. Dealership General Manager Mike Rich said that becoming a sponsor was a good way to connect with the city, the community as a whole and with the arts. “It is an excellent way to show off our beautiful facility,” Rich said of the premiere party the dealership will host. The lineup of films is among the strongest the festival has had, Franken continued. Some are receiving their U.S. or West Coast premieres. Others have been screened at Sundance, Toronto and Telluride film festivals. Screenings take place at the Regency Theatres in Agoura Hills, the new Calabasas Civic Center, and the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center. Past festivals used Viewpoint School and a theater at the Motion Picture and Television Fund medical facility. The Regency, however, gives a better presentation for the films, Franken said. The Motion Picture and Television Fund has financial issues of its own the hospital it operates is being closed due to a mounting deficit and didn’t think it was the right time to host outside events, Franken said. Using the theater on the hospital grounds did have one benefit to the festival. “What made us happy was that so many of the residents attended,” Franken said.