For more than 25 years, the American Film Institute has curated a weeklong collection of film screenings in the heart of Hollywood: AFI Fest, the longest-running international film festival in Los Angeles. Every fall, the celebration of cinema runs concurrently with the American Film Market — another cinema industry event — comprising one of the greatest artistic and financial annual events in North America.
AFI Fest is like no other film festival in the world; its docket of movies is incredibly diverse and often critically acclaimed, that it’s almost impossible to comprehend how the selecting committee assembles such a lineup. Rather than focus on hoarding as many grand premieres and star-studded showings as possible, the AFI Fest strives to present the audience with excellent cinema at no cost (all tickets are free).
In 2012, the AFI Fest and its director, Jacqueline Lyanga, created a program that included an astounding 140 films, 84 in the feature film category and 56 other films in the form of shorts from 28 different countries. Divided into 10 categories — Galas, Special Screenings, Young Americans, New Auteurs, World Cinema, Midnight, Breakthrough, Guest Artistic Director, Secret Screening and Shorts — the festival presents movies for any viewer’s taste.
This year, the world premieres of two huge awards contenders, Hitchcock and Lincoln, bookended the extravaganza, but the festival included everything from rich foreign dramas to experimental thrillers. The selected films below offer a glimpse at the varied excellence that was showcased at AFI Fest.
Rise of the Guardians in 3D
Nearly all film festivals are specifically for professional filmmakers, critics and movie enthusiasts; seldom do these gatherings cater to a younger audience and families. AFI Fest, however, included in its 2012 schedule a Sunday afternoon matinee: the L.A. premiere of Dreamworks Animation’s latest film, Rise of the Guardians.
Director Peter Ramsey’s feature film debut tells the story of Jack Frost as he joins the famed Guardians, a team comprised of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Sandman and the Tooth Fairy. Based on William Joyce’s children’s books, the animated fantasy features an all-star voice cast of Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman and Jude Law. Usually, casting well-known actors in animated films is just an attempt to generate more revenue for a film, but in Rise of the Guardians, every voice works seamlessly. Every character seems unique and as out-of-this-world as Joyce’s fantastical creatures should be. The animation and 3-D visuals stun with a wonderful array of color and detailed imagination. Ultimately, Rise of the Guardians is an action-packed treat for children and adults alike, especially during the holiday season.
Rust and Bone
Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone follows the romantic story of Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who each find strength in their bond even as they struggle with tragedy. The story comes off as much more complex and dense than any traditional Hollywood romance, as it paints vivid portraits of these complicated characters. Audiard takes his audience on an enthralling, melodramatic roller coaster throughout the film, which hinges on excellent performances by Cotillard and Schoenaerts.
Cotillard, especially, infuses Stephanie with extreme depth and raw emotion, which moves the viewer through the character’s adversity. And with revealing cinematography, a moving score and realistic visual effects, Rust and Bone succeeds on a multitude of cinematic levels.
The narrative behind J.A. Bayona’s compelling drama revolves around the unbelievable true story of the Belon family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After beautifully developing the state of multiple relationships in a brief opening scene, The Impossible delivers one of the most visceral and realistic disaster sequences in recent film memory. The majority of filmmakers tends to focus on spectacle and grandiose scope when fictionalizing disaster, but Bayona smartly prioritizes the characters’ experiences over the visuals. Furthermore, because of superb performances from leads Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, as well as newcomer Tom Holland, the tsunami scene and overall film achieve brilliant results.
The visuals of The Impossible are simply gorgeous and the eerie music, though overly sentimental in some cases, matches the horrifying destruction of the tsunami. But the morals and themes of the film often outshine the authenticity of the catastrophe, leading to a drama that both thrills with action and mesmerizes with emotion.
Winner of People’s Choice Third Place at the Toronto International Film Festival, Zaytoun made its U.S. premiere amid lofty expectations, and for the most part, those expectations were met. Eran Riklis’ foreign drama about the unlikely bond between a teenage Palestine refugee (Abdallah El Akal) and a fallen Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff) is an interesting political and social commentary on the historic predicament of the region. The two are attempting to escape a war-stricken Lebanon for safety in Israel. Though tensions between Palestinians and Israelis are extremely volatile, the relationship development of Yoni (Dorff) and Fahed (El Akal) illustrates Riklis’ hope for a sliver of realistic optimism. He demonstrates his faith for some unity of people through a suspense thriller that is authentic to its subject and also metaphorically powerful.