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AFI Fest will screen cream of other film festivals

Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Look at the lineup for AFI Fest, which gets under way in Hollywood Thursday, and you’ll find a handful of award season hopefuls. It’s a list that includes “The Artist,” a black-and-white silent movie paying homage to the beginnings of cinema’s Golden Age; “My Week With Marilyn,” in which Michelle Williams takes on tragic icon Marilyn Monroe; and “Shame,” an NC-17 rated film about a sex addict played by Michael Fassbender.

While none of those movies has opened in theaters, they have all unspooled at high-profile festivals earlier in the year including in Cannes, France, Toronto and New York. In fact, the bulk of the titles that will screen at AFI Fest already have debuted elsewhere; the opening-night selection, “J. Edgar,” Clint Eastwood’s historical biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio as infamous one-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, is one of only three films set to world premiere at the 25th annual event.

“We have battled with the whole premiere game for a matter of years,” said the festival’s head of programming, Lane Kneedler. “But ultimately we feel like if a film plays at, say, the New York Film Festival, it’s not going to affect our audience that much. If it’s a great film, why should we give up that slot for another movie just because it hasn’t played anywhere?”

Instead, AFI organizers hope to act as curators, bringing the best of the festival circuit to moviegoers in Los Angeles, hoping in the process to appeal to Hollywood insiders and curious cinephiles with more exotic tastes. Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga said that the festival’s policy of issuing free tickets to its screenings, a program it launched in 2009, is designed to help bring in “a diverse, younger audience.”

“I think the bigger films of the festival draw a lot of eyes to us, and we’ll funnel that attention into our world cinema selections, or supporting films by filmmakers who are at the beginnings of their careers,” Kneedler added.

Before one of those bigger films — Steven Spielberg’s 3-D motion capture film “The Adventures of Tintin,” closes the eight-day-long event on Nov. 10 — 70 features and 40 short films will have been screened at AFI Fest, with a handful made by up-and-coming writers and directors.

Joe Swanberg, best known as one of the establishing members of the independent filmmaking movement referred to as mumblecore, will be the subject of the Spotlight section showing three of his recent movies. Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar will serve as the guest artistic director for the festival and will present four films that influenced him, including the 1960 thriller “Eyes Without a Face.”

World cinema has long been a focus for AFI Fest, and Lyanga said she was especially proud of the breadth of international filmmakers represented at this year’s event.

Traveling to the Berlin International Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival gave her “a good sense of what was happening internationally and what filmmakers were being influenced by,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of films about people who are exploring culture and identity and working in cultures outside of their own.”

Among this year’s world cinema selections are “Alps,” from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth;” the official Oscar submissions from Israel (“Footnote”), Turkey (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”), Iran (“A Separation”) and Hungary (“The Turin Horse”); and “The Forgiveness of Blood,” an Albanian-language movie directed by U.S.-born Joshua Marston.

Marston’s film, which depicts a family feud between two neighboring clans in the southeastern European country and received a Silver Bear for screenwriting at the Berlin Film Festival, was recently deemed ineligible for the foreign-language Oscar race by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because non-Albanians were involved with the production.

The filmmaker said he has invited a number of academy members to attend the AFI Fest screening to further the dialogue about the ruling.

“I’ve reached out to the academy and I want them to see the film,” Marston said. “The irony of the decision-making process is that they do not watch the films as part of the judgment on what citizenship the films have. Now that they have decided this is not an Albanian film, I am curious what their response will be after they see it at the festival.”

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