Arts In LA
Film Festival Preview
The Fest Is the Best, No Jest

AFI’s annual film festival in Hollywood is about to kick off.

By Bob Verini

The Clan (El Clan), the Argentinian contender for the Oscar

Running Nov. 5–12 on Hollywood Boulevard is the AFI FEST presented by Audi. It is, hands down, the best-kept annual secret in town for the movie lover, and I feel I must kick off this preview as I will end it—by suggesting that you do whatever you can to be a part of the proceedings. They’ll be taking place from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at the west end of Hollywood Boulevard, to the venerable Egyptian Theater at the east.
   I want to whet your appetite, but as a diligent journalist I don’t want to bury the lede, so I’ll say it up front: The tickets are free.
   That’s right, cineastes: Ducats for virtually every film are available gratis to the lucky folks who get online, or online, to claim them. (Exceptions are some of the galas, but more about them in a moment.) By the time you read this, sure, some of the big name films will have been gobbled up, but trust me: If you really want to get into a screening, there are ways (he said mysteriously). But let me tell you about the Fest first.
   The AFI FEST presented by Audi—yes, that’s the official name, and believe me, the luxury car company’s generous sponsorship more than justifies its place in the title—is unique among film festivals in several ways, not the least of which is its proximity to the world center of cinema. Most of the 150 or more films will be showing in the Chinese Theater and its six associated smaller screens, right at the junction of Hollywood and Highland, and thus so easily accessible to the thousands who live and work in the industry.

Clockwise from left: Tugba Sunguroglu (in red sash), Ilayda Akdogan, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, and Gunes Sensoy in Mustang, the Oscar contender from France
Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

   Better even than the glamour factor—though, admittedly, not as juicy as its free tickets policy—is AFI’s claim to being “the fest of fests.” As the last major industry clambake of each year, the AFI program is able to pick the other festivals clean, bringing to Los Angeles the first local showings of the best of Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Indeed, anything that hasn’t had a US premiere can vie for a slot on Hollywood Boulevard, justifying any claim the programmers might make that they have assembled a cross-section of the year’s genuine best on the international scene.
   This year, for instance, lucky ticketholders will have a chance to catch top 2015 Cannes prizewinners Dheepan (Palme d’Or), Carol (Best Actress), and Son of Saul (Grand Prix). (The Best Director prizewinner, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, has made its local debut already, and AFI opts for US or local or world premieres only.)

Many of AFI’s choices are already assured of commercial release, along with such foreign film Oscar contenders as France’s Mustang and Argentina’s The Clan. (Son of Saul, currently touted as the Oscar front-runner, is slated for the Nuart in December.) So if you miss them here, you’ll have your chances. But in past years I’ve seen under the AFI aegis magnificent foreign films and English-language indies that, even now, have not made their way to DVD, let alone theatrical release. The AFI materials always provide a ton of background information, but to an extent selecting films is always a bit of a crapshoot. But isn’t that part of the fun of a festival?
   There are short-film showcases, new filmmaker showcases, and juries and awards on the final day. Filmmakers—young, veteran, and unknown here but prominent overseas—will be all over the place during the eight days. It’s the headiest, most film-savvy gathering LA sees all year, and every night there are parties and soirees and tête-à-têtes. (The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is AFI Central, by the way.)

Son of Saul, Grand Prix winner at Cannes

   I leave till last the element that may appeal most to the broader audience—the star-laden premieres, one per night—but those are the hardest to get into and, in a sense, the less interesting phenomenon for the true film buff. Seeing on a big screen, with red carpet interviews and glitz, the likes of By the Sea (opening night); Where to Invade Next ; Concussion; The 33; and The Big Short (closing night) can be a lot of fun. Me, I’m most looking forward to Paolo Sorrentino’s follow up to his magnificent The Great Beauty: Youth, preceded by conversation between the director and star Michael Caine.
   And keep in mind there are always one or two “Secret Screenings” that play the final Tuesday and/or Wednesday, announced that very morning online and available to those who jump on them. Last year, AFI audiences were among the very first anywhere to see American Sniper, with Clint Eastwood in attendance, and Selma, with Oprah Winfrey there to speak and answer questions.

The place to start is the Fest website. Look over the offerings and events, and see what you can score. But don’t despair if your favorite(s) are sold out: New tickets tend to appear back online daily, and there’s always a Rush line you can join; at least the first folks on Rush tend to get in, especially in the larger venues like the Chinese and Egyptian theaters.
   And circulate. Talk to movie fans. They bond, and share information and sometimes extra tickets, preprinted at home so they’re easy to share with friends, even brand-new friends.
   I think that anyone whose idea of a great time is to immerse himself or herself in movies, movie lovers, and moviemakers needs to make one or more appearances on Hollywood Boulevard for AFI FEST presented by Audi.

November 1, 2015

Information and FAQ on ticketing:
Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan
Fountain Theatre
The Painted Rocks at
Revolver Creek
Nov. 7 through Dec. 14



* Theater review of Need to Know, Coney Island Christmas, Wood Boy Dog Fish, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

* On our sister site, ArtsInNY: reviews of Dada Woof Papa Hot and Steve, Before Your Very Eyes, A View From the Bridge and Incident at Vichy


* Reviews of Far Away, Outside Mullingar, Straight White Men, Ethan Claymore, The Bridges of Madison County, If/Then, Santa Claus Is Coming to Motown, Guys & Dolls, The Christians, and more

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