Magazine article Variety

Curating a ‘Museum’ of the Year in Cinema

Magazine article Variety

Curating a ‘Museum’ of the Year in Cinema

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, the AFI Film Festival has grown from a scrappy, indie-leaning fest into something of an x-factor in the thick of award season. Similar to the earlier New York Film Festival, the Hollywood event has hosted late-breaking world premieres of films that have gone on to awards berths or major box office success, from "Selma" to "The Big Short," "American Sniper," "Moana," "The Fighter" and "Lincoln." This year the festival, which runs from Nov. 9-16 at the TCL Chinese Theatre, will close out with the first screening of Ridley Scott's "All the Money in the World."

Yet aside from that gala, the 31st installment of AFI is embracing a slightly new philosophy: Rather than banking on attracting all of the big-name auteur films that haven't yet played the fall festival circuit, AFI is enacting a more curatorial approach, corralling some of the most buzzed-about titles from the past year in cinema, and giving L.A. audiences outside the festival screening bubble their first glimpse of them.

"By not really focusing on premieres, we're bringing in films from Toronto and Cannes and Berlin," says associate director Lane Kneedler. "And by being in L.A., there are a lot of film lovers who would love to go to those festivals but don't really get a chance to, and so we'd like to bring those films to them."

Indeed, the AFI lineup presents something of a smorgasbord of the best from 2017's earlier festival calendar. From Sundance, organizers have assembled festival opener "Mudbound," "Call Me by Your Name" and "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool"; from Cannes, "The Florida Project," "April's Daughter" and "Loveless"; from SXSW comes "The Disaster Artist" as well as such smaller indies as "Mr. Roosevelt," "Gemini" and "Fits and Starts"; and from the fall Venice-Telluride-Toronto triad, "Molly's Game," "Hostiles," "The Shape of Water" and "Bodied."

AFI's lineup is more idiosyncratic than a "best of the fests" approach might suggest. The festival is of manageable size, and organized into streamlined categories - the American Independents and New Auteurs sections, which are perhaps the two the festival organizers are keenest to draw attention to, are each limited to a lean nine films.

"We feel like these are filmmakers that you're gonna know about five or 10 years down the road and be excited that you first saw their work at AFI," Kneedler says.

Other sections have ever fewer, reflecting the fest's aim to keep a tighter curatorial hold on its offerings than some of the more sprawling, casual-user-unfriendly fall film events.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that tickets to the films are free.

"In a city where you have a lot of film people who are striving to work in the industry, writing in coffee shops, or still in school, it's really tough when you look at the cost of going to a festival, buying a $600 pass or spending $25 on a [film from a] filmmaker that maybe you only vaguely know of. So the festival being free gives people to take a chance on a film or a filmmaker and maybe discover someone they wouldn't have discovered otherwise," says festival director Jacqueline Lyanga.

"But you also have do it in a very focused way, where we say, 'this is a film that you should pay attention to.' It's not too big, and we really work at curating those sections so they're more focused. It lets us champion films that are not on everyone's radar."

As for those off-the-radar films, both Lyanga and Kneedler wax enthusiastic about Julia Murat's "Pendular," a Brazilian import about a relationship between a sculptor and a dancer that picked up a Fipresci prize at Berlin. …

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