"Rwanda" and "Republicans" Win Top Audience Prizes as AFI Fest Wraps
by Eugene Hernandez
In Los Angeles, AFI Fest 2004 concluded with a final weekend of screenings and awards presentations. Festival organizers touted an increase in attendance this year, the first that coincided with the annual American Film Market. Crowds were especially strong for the event's high profile premieres, including Pedro Almodóvar's "Bad Education," Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda" Gurinder Chadha's "Bride and Prejudice" and Niels Mueller's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon."
In the international feature competition, jurors Joshua Jackson, Emily Mortimer, and Peter Scarlet selected Fernando Eimbcke's "Duck Season" (Temporada de Patos) from Mexico as the festival's grand jury prizewinner. While in the international documentary competition, filmmakers Xan Cassavetes, Paola DiFlorio and Allen Hughes awarded the grand jury prize to Avi Lewis' "The Take" from Canada and a special mention to Robin Scovill's "The Other Side of AIDS." The international shorts competition, with jurors Shohreh Aghdashloo, Wade Major and Ray McKinnon, presented the grand jury award to Taika Waititi's "Two Cars, One Night" from New Zealand and a special mention to Chris Landreth's "Ryan" from Canada.
Eimbcke's "Duck Season" is the stylized story of two teens dealing with, in the words of the festival, "adolescent love and friendship, loneliness and growing up." Lewis' "The Take" looks at auto parts factory workers in Argentina who struggle to take matters into their own hands after the 2001 economic collapse in that country.
George's "Rwanda," from United Artists, won the narrative audience award at the festival, while Wash Westmoreland's "Gay Republicans," which clearly struck a chord with moviegoers, won the event's doc audience prize. In the short film category, the winner of the audience award was Neele Leana Vollmar's "My Parents" (Me Ineeltern).
"Hotel Rwanda" is a look at the true story of a hotel owner who provided a safe haven for more than a thousand Rwandans amidst the brutal killing of more than one million people in the country a decade ago. In the wake of the recent presidential election, Westmoreland's "Gay Republicans" is a look at a group of queer conservatives, stirred sentiments. Thursday's showing was followed by a heated Q&A session that had to be tempered by fest staffers.
Organizers noted a 20% jump in attendance this year, based on preliminary box-office numbers. In addition to the aforementioned "Rwanda" and "Republicans," planners touted sold out screenings of such films as Ivo Trajkov's "The Great Water," Luis Mandoki's "Innocent Voices," Asia Argento's "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things," Dick Rude's "Let's Rock Again," Robin Scovill's "The Other Side of AIDS," Prachya Pinkaew's "Ong Bak: Thai Warrior," Jonathan Jakubowicz's "Secuestro Express," Rafal Zielinski's "Downtown: A Street Tale," Gurinder Chadha's "Bride and Prejudice," Niels Mueller's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," Pete Travis' "Omagh," Quentin Lee's "Ethan Mao," Christophe Barratier's "Les Choristes," and Pedro Almodóvar's "Bad Education."
The event closed last night with a screening of Alejandro Amenábar's "The Sea Inside" from Fine Line. The film, set to open later this year, stars Javier Bardem. The event opened with Kevin Spacey's look at the life of Bobby Darin, "Beyond the Sea," from Lions Gate.
The much hyped alliance between AFI Fest and the annual AFM in Santa Monica seemed to be hurt by the distinct local geographical divide that separates the beachside community of Santa Monica, site of the American Film Market, from Hollywood, location of the concentrated festival hub at the luxurious Arclight Cinemas. Shuttle buses arranged to take guests on the 45-plus minute journey between the two sites were often rather empty and most international buyers attending AFM networked and socialized exclusively in Santa Monica. U.S. distributors with films screening at the festival, however, did frequent their evening showings and some event parties. Those who did make the trek between Hollywood and Santa Monica groused that the alliance would make more sense if, like markets and festivals in Cannes and Berlin, the two sites were held in close proximity.
[ Additional indieWIRE coverage of AFI Fest 2004 is available in a special festival section that was updated throughout the event. ]