David Lynch answered questions submitted via twitter in between a double feature of “Eraserhead” and “Sunset Blvd.” Aaron Sorkin drew parallels between “The Social Network” and “All the President’s Men” before screening the latter. In a roundtable discussion on acting, Andrew Garfield said he’s going to approach the new “Spiderman” project by pretending it’s just a cool little short directed by a really good friend. And up-and-coming directors Oren Kaplan, Nick Simon, and Ava DuVernay greeted standing room only audiences at the world and west coast premieres of their films. All of these moments took place in Hollywood, California during the first weekend of AFI FEST 2010, which opened on November 4 with the world premiere of Edward Zwick’s “Love & Other Drugs” and will conclude on November 11 with a gala screening of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.”
Everyone who caught a screening at AFI FEST 2010 presented by Audi was treated to a testimonial trailer consisting of the fest’s first-ever guest artistic director, David Lynch, proclaiming his love of AFI, followed by a snippet of a song by Lynch, Danger Mouse, and Sparklehorse.
Lynch, who also designed the fest’s poster, picked several classic films that he considers “cinema at its best” to screen during the festival. At the November 6 double-bill of his own “Eraserhead” and Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” Lynch was given a standing ovation as he approached the podium of the Egyptian Theatre to answer questions submitted via Twitter. Asked the most beautiful sound he ever heard, the “Blue Velvet” helmer replied “the sound of wind,” and then added that he also admired “the sound of silence.” On the topic of digital filmmaking, Lynch said “celluloid is a dinosaur now.”
The next day at the fest’s Cinema Legacy special presentation, Aaron Sorkin polled the audience to tally how many had never seen Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 “All the President’s Men.” Surprised by the numerous hands raised, Sorkin said he picked the film because it, like “The Social Network,” is a good example of something Hollywood usually doesn’t do very well – make a non-fiction film about the recent past.
At the Los Angeles Times Roundtable discussion with three actors representing Young Hollywood, reporter/moderator Amy Kaufman chatted with Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield from “The Social Network” and “Never Let Me Go” star Carey Mulligan. With Andrew Garfield about to ascend into blockbuster territory when he becomes the new Spiderman, the British twentysomething thespian said he considers both “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network” independent films because they “aren’t immediately accessible, or easy to sit back and chuck popcorn in your mouth and allow an action sequence to wash over you.”
While the galas, special screenings, and roundtables run on star power, it is the smaller wattage films screening in the festival’s competitive “Breakthrough” category that are the true heart and soul of AFI FEST.
Ava DuVernay’s breakthrough film “I Will Follow” previously played the Urbanworld Festival (where it won the audience award) and Chicago before making its west coast debut at the sold-out Egyptian on November 5th. The Topanga Canyon-set story of a top movie make up artist (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) dealing with the aftermath of her beloved aunt’s death was a hometown event, with the entire cast joining the director for the post-screening Q&A. Based on the writer/director/producer’s true-life experience, the emotional drama was shot on a borrowed 900 for 15 days, or, in DuVernay’s words, “real indie, baby!” The charismatic filmmaker plans to self-distribute her film theatrically in early 2011. Asked how she got her phenomenal cast, DuVernay advised, “Sometimes you just have to ask.”
Nick Simon’s breakthrough world premiere “Removal” has AFI in its DNA. Based on a 15-minute AFI student film, the feature boasts same production team and main actor as the short. Shot in four weeks, the thriller/black comedy tells the story of a mentally unstable cleaner (Mark Kelly) hired by an arrogant mansion-owner (Oz Perkins) to do an overnight job. Perkins, the son of “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins, co-wrote the script with Simon and Daniel Meersand. All credited actor Billy Burke, who plays a pivotal role in the film, for inspiring them to flesh out the adaptation, especially the tense third act.
The second world-premiere in the fest’s breakthrough category is Oren Kaplan’s biopic “Hamill,” based on the early wrestling career of UFC fighter Matt “The Hammer” Hamill. Russell Harvard (“There Will Be Blood”) plays high school/college-aged Hamill, who grew up as the only deaf person in Loveland, Ohio. The filmmakers cited “Rudy” as a touchstone and emphasized “believe in yourself” as their guiding mantra. With strong production value, a heartland sensibility, and very strong acting from a predominantly deaf cast, the film easily won over the standing-room-only audience at the Mann Chinese. The post-screening Q&A was dominated by questions for the real life Hamill, who teared up when talking about his late grandfather.
AFI FEST 2010 runs though November 11. This year, instead of having juried awards for the feature films, festival-goers will pick a film to reward in the Breakthrough category. Audience votes will also decide the winners in the fest’s New Auteurs, Young Americans, and World Cinema categories. The results will be announced on the festival’s closing day, with encore screenings of the winning films scheduled that same day.