AFI Fest 2017

For those of us in Los Angeles, AFI FEST remains a highlight of the year; the 2017 edition occurs in downtown Hollywood from November 9-16. Not only is it the largest local screening of world cinema (137 films from 53 countries, 40 directed by women), but for about ten years now it has been a completely free festival.

Just go to FREE TICKETS and you will see a rundown of what to do, which includes creating a simple Elevent account and selecting your tickets directly from the program guide. (Consult the FAQ on the page for details.) The festival uses a timed release method, so if some of the tickets you want aren’t available, just check again the next day. If all else fails, Rush Lines form an hour before all screenings, and early birds often have a good track record of getting in.

Most of the films are Los Angeles premieres, but many have played at Cannes or Toronto or similar festivals, and a bit of online searching can prove fruitful in determining which titles to check out.

Here are the ten films I’m most looking forward to:

  • Agnes Varda in Conversation: What can be said about 89-year-old Varda that hasn’t already been said? She is one of the last remaining cineastes of the Nouvelle Vague and an inspiration to several generations of filmmakers; her newest documentary, Faces Places, has been earning raves. If that isn’t enough, she’ll be interviewed on stage by filmmaker Serge Toubiana, a former editor of Cahiers du Cinéma.
  • Hong Sang-soo x 2: Hong is one of South Korea’s most admired auteurs, a formalist whose deceptively simple narratives are complicated by bifurcated structures and challenging themes. He’s also unusually prolific, as can be seen by the fact that he is premiering two new films at the festival, Claire’s Camera and The Day After.
  • Spoor: In 2003, I attended an L.A. screening where Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) presented Varda’s satire Le Bonheur (1965) as a film that inspired her. Holland’s latest film seems fashioned in a similar vein; she described it to The Guardian as an “anarchistic, feminist crime story with elements of black comedy” about current political divisions in Poland.
  • A Man of Integrity: Mohammad Rasoulof (Iron Island, The White Meadows) continues to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers in Iran, a country that offers him plenty of artistic competition. His Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) is one of the angriest and most devastating political dramas I’ve seen in recent years, and his latest film engages similar terrain.
  • The Other Side of Hope: For me, Aki Kaurismaki’s deadpan humor and compositional finesse reached new dramatic heights with his last film, Le Havre (2011), so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his new tale of a Syrian refugee who stows away to Finland.
  • Loveless: I had the pleasure of seeing Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2003, when Melnitz Movies here at UCLA invited him to screen his debut feature, The Return, which had just won the Golden Lion at Venice. Stylistically indebted to Tarkovsky, Zvyagintsev’s subsequent magisterial forays into slow cinema have always registered as vital and deeply felt social critiques.
  • Red Desert: Although the festival is showing a 12-film retrospective of the work of Robert Altman, the repertory title I’m most excited to see on the big screen is this new restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 meditation on industrial and emotional voids, also his first color film.
  • Bright Sunshine In: (Known on the festival circuit as Let the Sunshine In.) Consistently one of France’s most provocative filmmakers, Claire Denis returns with this study of the inner life of a Parisian artist, played by Juliette Binoche.
  • A Season in France: I am a big admirer of Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s previous works (Dry Season, A Screaming Man), and hope his newest film continues his line of carefully observed and compelling studies of people struggling to locate themselves within changing cultures.

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