AFI Fest 2013 Preview
My thoughts in advance of this year’s AFI Fest will be comparatively brief, though not for lack of enthusiasm. I simply don’t know a whole lot about the films that are playing. I kind of like it. Oh, sure, you’ve got your big-name, star-studded nightly galas – Saving Mr. Banks, August: Osage County, Nebraska, Out of the Furnace (World Premiere!), Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – but I suspect most of you have a decent sense of what those are all about. Same goes for other high-profile films like Her, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, or The Wind Rises. What I’m struck by, however, and what I’d like to highlight here, are the many unknown quantities, the extraordinarily rare opportunity this festival is presenting in giving you the chance to see these films – for free – and get to discover some stuff that maybe hasn’t been as thoroughly vetted by New York, Toronto, or even Cannes, and their respective festivals.
For starters, there’s just the matter of presentation alone – The Wind Rises will play in New York and Los Angeles for one week, starting Friday, to qualify for the Academy Awards. During this time, it will be shown not through some celebrity-heavy dubbed track, but in its original Japanese dialogue track. That same version will be shown at AFI fest. Similarly, The Missing Picture, an acclaimed documentary that mixes archival footage with clay figures to represent the filmmaker’s youth, will be shown in its original French language track (English narration is said to be prepared for its eventual release here). As much as festivals are the chance to see things you really can’t see anywhere else, they also give us the chance to see things as you can’t see them anywhere else.
But then there are things like Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain or Hong Sang-soo’s Our Sunhi or Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm – new works by major figures in world cinema which nevertheless don’t have American distribution.
And of course, there’s the whole other level – films I literally had not heard of until the festival made its announcements, but which intrigue me endlessly. For instance, what are we to make of Charlie Victor Romeo, a film that uses transcripts of real black box recordings from aviation disasters and reenacts them on sparse sets with the same set of actors…in 3D? Or Congratulations!, said to be an absurdist comedy about the search for a missing child? I’ve heard enough now about Vic + Flo Saw a Bear to make me think it could be a landmark, and also, it’s called Vic + Flo Saw a Bear. The Strange Little Cat comes from a prodigy of now-retired legend Bela Tarr, and looks to be its own little world of amazement.
Though the festival will not show a number of big-name mainstays that have been tearing up the cinematic landscape all year – pour one out for Stray Dogs, my fellow obsessives – those who follow such things will be pleased to hear of the presence of Heli, We Are the Best!, Like Father Like Son, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Gloria, Omar, Stranger by the Lake, Moebius (godspeed, whoever has the stomach for it), The Past, The Lunchbox, Manakamana, Borgman, and The Great Beauty, among others.
I will not see all of these films over the next week – there’s only so much time here, people – but I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on those that I do. So much so that I think I’ll start right now – I’ve seen Nebraska and Like Father, Like Son. The latter is a far richer exploration of the sometimes-seemingly-tenuous bond men share with their offspring, though the former does have Bruce Dern going for it, which is no small thing. I’m not the biggest fan of Alexander Payne, whose stamp is all over Nebraska even without his screenwriting credit, and the film is somewhat characteristic of all his worst tendencies, never mind a series of other creative decisions that just don’t make a lick of sense, at least from where I’m sitting. When he keeps the focus on Dern, it can be magical, but there’s too much other noise. Like Father, Like Son, on the other hand, though it ends a little simply, is a beautifully textured examination of nature-versus-nurture, via a family that discovers that their 6-year-old son is not their own, and that their real son was switched at birth with another family’s. It sort of gives way to a simplified scenario, but builds such natural, fully-realized nuance throughout, amidst several quietly heartbreaking scenes, that I could hardly resist falling for it.
AFI Fest 2013 Presented by Audi (they keep the tickets free!) runs from November 7-14 right here in the always-colorful Hollywood, at the Mann’s Chinese 6, the TCL Chinese Theatre (which has just been remodeled! Come see the new design for free!), and the Egyptian Theatre. Once again, tickets are totally, 100% free, and can be got at http://afi.com/afifest/freetickets.aspx. If something you want is unavailable, keep checking back, as new tickets are released every day.