AFI Fest, Day 1
When people think back over the first big day of AFI Fest (the first day was technically yesterday, but only J. Edgar screened then, and your humble reporter was unable to get a seat), they’ll probably remember the rain. The great irony of having great swarms of people come into town from Chicago, New York, and Boston is that they complain the most when Los Angeles weather is anything less than spectacular, and today – as many who waited in line could attest – was such a day.
It’s a good thing the movies more than made up for it.
Today was a shorter day than normal, as the screenings didn’t start until after 4:00, so I began my day with a little movie called Green. If you’ve never heard of it, I can’t say I blame you. From everything I can gather, it’s still without a distributor, and when it was announced as part of the AFI Fest line-up, it was still new to me. But man…God bless film festivals for bringing this kind of stuff to the public, because Green is an incredible debut film. Writer/director Sophia Takal took an unorthodox approach to the production process – in an article in the LA Times, it’s revealed that she wrote the first thirty pages and the final ten, leaving the mid-section for improvisation. But when she was dissatisfied with the results, she fleshed out the middle, utilizing some of the improvised dialogue and mixing it with her own creation.
The result is a film that feels totally natural in how the characters behave, but near supernatural in how Takal’s camera observes them. It’s a tiny cast – Takal plays Robin, who acts first as a friend to, then a wedge between, Gennevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine), an urban couple who move to the Pennsylvania countryside so Sebastian can study and write about sustainable living – but the result feels closed off in all the right ways. It reminded me in many ways of Ingmar Bergman’s run of films in the 60s, which often put two people at a point of crisis in a secluded setting as a way of unleashing their inner demons on each other and the audience. It’s an achingly personal film, and I was so invigorated to see a young filmmaker so willingly pour herself into a film. I will have much more to say about this one very soon.
After that, I walked down the hall to the LA Times Young Hollywood Panel, featuring Kirsten Dunst, Armie Hammer, Evan Rachel Wood, and Anton Yelchin. It was the sort of awards-season gabfest you might expect. Moderator Amy Kaufman kept things moving at a good pace, knowing when her question had run its course, when the audience was really eating something up, and most importantly, when to back off and let the actors speak. She couldn’t resist some more gossip-friendly topics (“What do you do for fun?”) and tired- but I’m sure expected- material (Dunst should have stormed out at the first mention of Lars von Trier and Nazis, but I guess that’s why she’s a super-famous actress). Yelchin got the biggest laughs of the hour (insisting that Hollywood life had given him license to hire people to dress him daily “like Louis the fourteenth!”), and he and Hammer, still very new to the concept of fame, provided an interesting counterbalance to Dunst and Wood, who have been plowing away at this game for many years at this point. Two very different, but common, definitions of “Young Hollywood.”
And from there, I walked down a few blocks to the gorgeous Egyptian theater for Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala. I was surprised, and somewhat delighted, to see a massive line had formed by the time I arrived, about a half-hour before the film was scheduled to start (note to self: arrive earlier for the big stuff). This film had been gathering steam since Cannes, but who knew it had this kind of firepower? Anyway, I was quite pleased with the film, which is at once a very urgent, close-up look at the effect the drug war can have on a total innocent, while still maintaining a very cool, even-tempered, almost dreamlike aura. Naranjo employs very long, surprisingly varied tracking shots to follow Laura (Stephanie Sigman) from place to place, always as a way of both drawing us in and trapping her. Because the camera refuses to cut, we know at a gut level Laura will never get a break.
By focusing purely on one woman’s perspective as a kidnap victim, her story feels so much different than the kind we’re used to seeing. She is basically picked up and taken from place to place, told what to do at every step, and yet Sigman never withholds the human element of her character. It’s a fully-realized performance in a film that doesn’t give her a lot of room to define or distinguish her character, but we can see the moments where she thinks of escaping with total clarity, and we can just as clearly see when she realizes the futility in trying. It’s a lovely performance in a knockout of a film. It doesn’t have another scheduled screening at the festival, but Fox is planning on releasing it in the U.S. in January.
And that will do it for today! If everything goes according to plan tomorrow, I’ll be seeing Snowtown, Restless City, Carnage, and Rampart. If I can stay awake, I’ll even power through Kill List at midnight. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @railoftomorrow for frequent updates and observations.