As James Rocchi notes in his overview of this year's AFI Fest for MSN Movies, the directors of both the opening and closing night films are graduates of the American Film Institute. Edward Zwick's Love & Other Drugs, with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, screens tonight, while Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, with Natalie Portman, will wrap it all up on November 11.
In between, there'll be awards season hopefuls (e.g., Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, and John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart — several of the actresses mentioned so far, by the way, can be seen chatting each other up in the Hollywood Reporter's "Awards Watch Roundtable") and international festival favorites making their regional premieres (e.g., Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid).
From its selection of shorts, AFI Fest is teaming up with MUBI for the first time to present four online for the duration of the festival, free to viewers around the world (with the exception of some European countries): Jan-Hendrik Beetge's The Abyss Boys, Félix Dufour-Laperrière's Strips (image above), Asaf Saban's On Leave and Landon Zakheim's Delmer Builds a Machine.
James Rocchi, the LA Weekly's Karina Longworth and the Los Angeles Times' Steven Zeitchik all describe what amounts to a challenging, if not pretty rough past year for the AFI Fest. Artistic director Rose Kuo and programming director Robert Koehler, both new to the festival in 2009, left in January "amid budget issues and other frictions" (Zeitchik). Kuo is now executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Jacqueline Lyanga has stepped into her office, while Lane Kneedler takes over programming duties.
Zeitchik: "This year, organizers are seeking to restore a bit of the festival's luster, or at least steady the ship. Although the number of movies is about the same as last year — 66 feature-length films will be shown — and the event will remain at eight days, the organizers have made several tweaks to broaden the festival's appeal. Among those changes are the additions of several new audience awards and a section that includes movies submitted by filmmakers instead of just the usual curated list, plus five chosen by David Lynch."
Speaking of which, in the LA Weekly, David Ehrenstein considers Lynch's selections, all of them "'films that have inspired me most,' and for much of the program, the parallels to Lynch's own work are plain to see."
Rocchi asks Kneedler about the decision to stick with last year's "bold initiative," i.e., leaning on sponsors enough to allow the festival to give away tickets to most events for free. Kneedler: "From a programming perspective, it was very liberating and encouraging. We found that audiences would go see more challenging films, would take more risks and were more adventurous in their choices if tickets were free. Also, we noticed people would be more willing to go see films in the middle of the work week or at midnight, sort of unusual times. So that encouraged us this year to reach out and do more midnight programming, do some more programming during the middle of the afternoons."
Longworth: "'Jacqueline and I are a bit younger than some of the people who have been running the festival in the past, so we're bringing a fresher perspective, and really trying to bring filmmakers that are pushing boundaries a bit more,' said Kneedler, who is 33. This focus on emerging visions is evident in selections like Mike Ott's LiTTLEROCK (see [Doug Harvey's] feature), the bat-shit-wonderful killer-tire sci-fi Rubber and Kitao Sakurai's Aardvark, a jujitsu revenge flick starring a blind nonactor."
And Zeitchik: "A midnight section will feature Julia's Eyes, a supernatural horror movie produced by Guillermo del Toro, and Norwegian Ninja, a piece of Scandinavian mayhem involving ninjas, fjords and the Cold War."
Dennis Cozzalio: "This year I've been lucky enough to see two of the festival's featured attractions in advance, thanks to the courtesy of Doug Cummings, who heads up the efforts on the AFI Fest website." And blog! "Doug asked me if I'd be interested in writing for the festival, and of course I was flattered and said yes." Today, he reviews Jang Choel-soo's Bedevilled, "a less-than-successful horror film with ambitions beyond its gory means," and tomorrow, he'll offer his take on Shlomi Eldar's documentary Precious Life.
Updates, 11/8: Matthew Groves is filing dispatches to the Alternative Chronicle.
Interviews at AFI FEST Now, the festival's blog: Hye Jean Chung with Hong Sang-soo (Hahaha and Oki's Movie), Katie Datko with Mike Ott (Littlerock) and Michael Guillén with Pablo Trapero (Carancho). And podcasts, too. Robert Davis and J Robert Parks discuss Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy.
Updates, 11/9: "With Hahaha and Oki's Movie, the AFI Fest presented two very different cinematic avenues of interest for prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo," writes Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door. "While both films are stylistically and narratively audacious, they couldn't be more different in tone. Hahaha is expectedly a comedy, but one about exterior human facades and the varying reasons we laugh to cover up the pain of romantic entanglements and outright discomfort.... Far more challenging and less fulfilling is Oki's Movie, which finds Hong in super-conceptual mode."
Kim Adelman posts a "Mid-Fest Report" at indieWIRE.
Update, 11/13: As the festival wrapped on Thursday, the Audience Awards were announced, one feature for each of four categories — Taika Waititi's Boy (World Cinema), Cheol-soo Jang's Bedevilled (New Auteurs), Mike Ott's Littlerock (Young Americans) and Oren Kaplan's Hamill (Breakthrough) — and a few more for live action and animated shorts. Here's the full list.