AFI Fest Unveils Large International Slate for Event, Concurrent with AFM
by Brian Brooks
AFI Fest 2004 has released details of its line up for its 18th edition, taking place November 4-14 at the ArcLight Hollywood, with special events at the Cinerama Dome and Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In all, 18 world premieres, nine North American debuts and 28 U.S. premieres are slated for the ten-day event, which coincides with the American Film Market (November 3-10). The two events, for the first time, have established an alliance linking the two into a festival/market combination. Shuttles will connect the AFM, headquartered at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, and the AFI Fest at the ArcLight Hollywood. Both AFM registrants and AFI Fest artists will be given various levels of access through a cooperative registration program, and coordinated special events. The festival announced its line-up Wednesday, at a launch party held at White Lotus in Hollywood.
AFI Fest will open with the U.S. premiere of Kevin Spacey's "Beyond the Sea" and close with Alejandro Amenabar's "The Sea Inside," while the event's centerpiece film will be Michael Radford's "The Merchant of Venice." Among the gala presentations on tap are Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education," Zhang Yimou's "House of Flying Daggers," and the North American premiere of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "A Very Long Engagement."
The AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival has divided its 135 film line up, from 42 countries, into nine sections in addition to its six red-carpet galas and a tribute to Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Among the 12 special screenings are Niels Mueller's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" starring Sean Penn as a salesman who "slowly becomes unhinged in Nixon's America"; The U.S. premiere of "Far Side of the Moon" by Robert Lepage follows the competition between the Soviets and the U.S. during the space race, and deals with themes of 'reconciliation' and whether there is life in other parts of the universe; Asia Argento's "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things" (U.S. premiere), based on the book of the same name by JT LeRoy, centers on a boy who grows up with a succession of deadbeat fathers, while his mother descends into a speed-fuelled madness.
Toronto 2004 winner "Hotel Rwanda" (U.S. premiere) takes place against the backdrop of genocide in which Paul Ruseabagina (Don Cheadle) must devise measures to protect an growing crowd of desperate refugees in the hotel he manages. Also screening in the section is the world debut of Ariel Vroman's "R/X," about three friends who cross the Mexican border for a weekend bender, but one of the participants (Eric Balfour) hides from his girlfriend his plans to smuggle drugs back into the U.S. with his best friend (Colin Hanks).
AFI Fest's International Feature competition includes 12 titles. Making its North American premiere in the sidebar are Mania Akbari's "20 Fingers/Beest Angosh," (Iran), which touches on the complex issues of women and men and family life in Iran, as well as Paprika Steen's "Aftermath" (Denmark), which centers on a family tragedy and the desire by one person for revenge. Making its world premiere in the section is Aaron James Sorensen's "Hank Williams First Nation" (Canada). The film opens in a sleepy community that is stirred when an elder questions the death of Hank Williams. One of its senior members, then, abruptly decides to set out to visit the grave of his long time hero, Hank Williams, and sets out for Tennessee on a Greyhound bus along with his 17 year-old nephew.
Another dozen films comprise the fest's International Documentary Competition -- half of those titles are world premieres. Included among the six is Pedro Carvajal's biopic "The Art and Crimes of Ron English," shot guerilla-style, chronicling the evolution of the artist, as well as Italian directors Francesco Cabras and Alberto Molinari's "The Big Question." The film, which takes place on the set of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," is told from the point-of-view of two actors in the Gibson film, who pose questions about belief, God, and religion to a "sampling of people" in and around the set, with many interviewees appearing in their characters' costumes. Wash Westmoreland investigates the current tribulations of the Log Cabin Republicans and their decision about whether to support George W. Bush in his doc, "Gay Republicans."
Also screening as a world debut is Danny Lee's look at the world of graffiti artists in "Rock Fresh." "Seoul Train" by Lisa Sleeth (USA/China/South Korea) takes a look at the drama of North Koreans as they attempt to escape their country, and exposes the complex political and humanitarian crises surrounding the so-called Hermit Kingdom. Alberto Venzago's "Voodoo, Mounted by the Gods" captures the photojournalist's trip across West Africa, where his Vespa breaks down in the town of Ouidah. A man who offered his help happened to be one of Africa's most powerful Voodoo priests, who then exposes Venzago to rituals and sacrificial rituals.
Thirty-five films will screen in AFI's International Shorts competition (divided into four shorts programs), while ten titles make up the American Directions sidebar. Twelve films screen in the European Showcase, and eight films each are slated for the fest's Asian New Classics, Latin Cinema Series and Make in Germany sections. AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival is presented by Audi, and is the longest-running film festival in Los Angeles, and one of North America's premier film events.
[ For more information and a full line up, please visit http://www.afi.com/onscreen/afifest/2004/. ]