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DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES: Famous Faces and FILMEX in Spotlight as AFI Opens 20th Fest

DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES: Famous Faces and FILMEX in Spotlight as AFI Opens 20th Fest

A long line of men in tuxedos and women in cocktail dresses gathered outside the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Blvd. last night in Los Angeles, but while it wasn’t Oscar night, a nearby red carpet was filled with name Hollywood actors and rows of screaming fans. The big crowd of formally dressed guests were waiting to check-in for the opening night of AFI Fest at Hollywood’s legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater down the street. The festival, celebrating its 20th Anniversary, opened with the U.S. premiere of Emilio Estevez‘ “Bobby” and evoked the November 1971 kick-off of FILMEX, the venerable Los Angeles film festival that preceded the American Film Institute’s AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival.

AFI’s departing CEO and president Jean Picker Firstenberg welcomed guests “with a bow and respect to the past,” as she recalled FILMEX: The Los Angeles Film Exposition, the event that the American Film Institute adopted back in the 80s. FILMEX debuted with “The Last Picture Show” at a black-tie screening inside the Chinese Theater 35 years ago. Joined by festival director Christian Gaines for an extended opening ceremony, she offered, “Film festivals are a mirror on the filmmakers of the moment…and filmmakers of the past,” and the two were joined by L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who highlighted a local industry that he said employees some 226,000 in the region.

TWC co-chair Harvey Weinstein, who recalled his own father’s personal passion for RFK back in 1968, toasted production company Bold Films and filmmaker Estevez on his passion for the long-in-the-works project, which takes an unconventional look at the hours leading up to the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy at Los Angeles’ legendary Ambassador Hotel. Sprawling and seemingly unfocused at times, Estevez’ “Bobby” introduces a huge cast of characters, including hotel employees and campaign staff, who will all converge on an Ambassador ballroom for Kennedy’s speech after a long night of election returns in the ’68 California primary election. The film is held together by compelling (and sometimesquite moving) RFK documentary footage depicting campaign appearances and speeches.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood on the opening night of AFI Fest 2006. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Reflecting on fate and miracles, filmmaker Estevez told the crowd inside Grauman’s Chinese, “(it is) truly a miracle that I am standing in front of you tonight.” And added, “fate is what took (Robert Kennedy) from us….” after which he introduced much of the large cast of name actors who play the many roles in the film. Among the film’s co-stars on hand Wednesday night to walk the red carpet and watch the film were Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Christian Slater, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, Heather Graham, Elijah Wood, Shia LeBeouf, Laurence Fishburne, and Freddy Rodriguez, among others. Continuing Estevez added in his remarks, “Our movie celebrates the spirit of Bobby Kennedy and the American Spirit.”

Many of the cast members joined well-wishers in the theater lobby after the screening. Lingering for quite awhile as Emilio Estevez and Harvey Weinstein glad-handed departing attendees. Nearly 30 minutes after the screening ended, Weinstein and Estevez were almost the last two men left inside and after posing for a few shots for indieWIRE, they were eventually asked to exit by security and theater staff who wanted to close the venue. Meanwhile, across the street at the Hollywood Roosvelt Hotel, where festival filmmakers and guests are staying, a large opening night party filled the popular poolside Tropicana club, while famous faces and many of the local industry-types apparently remained sequestered inside the hotel’s dark lobby.

As is often the case in Los Angeles, by midnight the staff were breaking down tables and pushing guests towards the exits, but from the inner sanctum one AFI Fest filmmaker who snuck into the private area emerged, reporting flatly to indieWIRE, “I was just in the VIP area, but all I saw were a bunch of agents. I realized that there must be another VIP area.”

[indieWIRE’s dispatches from AFI Fest 2006 will continue through the end of the festival on November 12th.]

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