AFI Fest kicked off its totally free, 23rd edition on Friday in Los Angeles. "Unlike many other leading film festivals, AFI Fest, now in its 23rd year, is not interested in an onslaught of glitzy, star-filled premieres," writes the LA Times' John Horn. "Film distributors and sales agents do not converge on the festival to strike rich deals as they do at Sundance, Toronto and Cannes. And while AFI Fest (which is co-sponsored by The Times) has a handful of gala screenings -- Tom Ford's 'A Single Man,' Terry Gilliam's 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' and Wes Anderson's 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' -- most of the festival's tickets were given away for free this year, with almost all screenings filling up just a few hours after tickets became available online."
"What do you call a film festival that has shrunken by nearly a third of its former size, hired a veteran film critic as one of its lead programmers, and is offering nearly all of its screenings for free? Eccentric, foolish or, perhaps, brave and at the vanguard of something that’s fresh and more useful to the public? I’m inclined towards the latter," writes Gabe Klinger in the Auteurs Notebook. "In a film culture constantly faced with creative lulls that seem set off by market-driven festivals like Sundance and Toronto—where the worst tendencies are elevated and the films of real artistic merit are buried under the hooplah—AFI Fest begs a conversation and then goes out of its way to make that dialogue more accessible. In many ways the films at AFI Fest are things that have not fully been discovered yet outside of critics’ circles and the most adventurous of festival travelers, and its new model—better yet, its new search—is to open that dialogue to everyone."
"The real problem confronting the AFI Fest, and indeed any cultural event in Los Angeles, is overcoming simply being just another social occasion in a town already rife with myriad cultural/entertainment options," muses Leonard Klady at Movie City Indie. "The sleight-of-hand is to elevate it to a requisite and integral date on the social calendar... The 2009 AFI Fest LA certainly has demonstrated that it has the goods to make a difference culturally that can extend well beyond the city limits. Whether it can put that into action likely spells its fate and future."
The LA Times' Marc Olsen runs down this year's best offerings, including Lee Daniels' "Precious," Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," and Harmony Korine's "Trash Humpers." Hammer to Nail's Michael Tully has an alternate list of what he's excited for at this year's festival, as does Tom von Logue Newth at ScreenCrave. Scroll down for a list of reviews that ScreenCrave is posting from the festival. More highlights from Andre Soares at Alternative Film Guide and LA Weekly.
The LA Times' Susan King discusses Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest" which is screening at the festival for its 50th anniversary.