How AFI Fest honors trailblazing women along with its gala premieres

Posted by Larry Gleeson

 The 30th AFI Fest hits Hollywood Boulevard Thursday with, appropriately enough, a strong emphasis on movie history.

Of course, the American Film Institute’s L.A. film festival will also bring its usual program of glitzy award season premieres, fantastic foreign and independent productions, new discoveries and live talent from all over the world to the Chinese Theatre complex and other venues along the boulevard by the time it concludes on Nov. 17.

But from its opening night gala premiere — Warren Beatty’s ode to Howard Hughes’ Hollywood of the 1950s Rules Don’t Apply — to the local bow of acclaimed contemporary musical La La Land and even a 75th anniversary restoration of the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane, AFI Fest 2016 will be honoring the past while looking toward the future.

“Showing Rules Don’t Apply and La La Land together is almost like fish in a barrel,” notes the fest’s director of programming, Lane Kneedler. “They’re about our town.”

And then there’s the event’s most beloved tradition: Once again this year, AFI Fest will be free to the public.


“There’ll be a few other things that are special,” festival director Jacqueline Lyanga understates about the 30th anniversary edition. “We’re featuring three trailblazing women from cinema history; Ida Lupino, Anna May Wong and Dorothy Dandridge; we’ll be showing their films in our Cinema’s Legacy section.”

Asked if the honoring of pioneering actress-turned-director Lupino and early Asian- and African-American stars Wong (an L.A. native, by the way) and Dandridge indicated an emphasized diversity theme this year, Lyanga provided perspective.

“For us, it really represents the scope and the range that is showcased at AFI Fest,” she explains. “Across the program, we have a remarkable amount of diversity in terms of women (33 of the nearly 120 features and shorts were female-directed) and in terms of filmmakers and artists and actors of color. It’s not something that’s special, actually, for this year, it’s something that we’ve seen in the programming year after year. We just look for great work; we don’t look for specific quotas.”

Among the splashier stuff they’ve come up with, AFI Fest’s programming team has added

Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy in the Kennedy biopic, Jackie.

the Natalie Portman-starring Kennedy biopic Jackie, a tribute to Annette Bening with a screening of her upcoming 20th Century Women, another tribute to French national treasure Isabelle Huppert with her Paul Verhoeven-directed Elle and, for closing night, Mark Wahlberg’s Boston Marathon bombing docudrama Patriots Day to its Galas list.

The festival’s Special Screenings section offers the first local glimpses of other upcoming hot properties such as the Robert De Niro-starring The Comedian, Jessica Chastain’s showcase as a high-powered D.C. lobbyist Miss Sloane, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest creepfest Split, acclaimed German comedy and Oscar entry Toni Erdmann and the premiere of Disney’s animated Polynesian spectacular Moana.

“ Moana is going to be a fantastic evening,” Kneedler promises. “We’re going to have all of Hollywood Boulevard Moana’d-out that night.”

Anticipated international auteur films making their L.A. debuts at AFI include Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation from Romania, Brit Ken Loach’s Cannes Film Festival prize-winner I, Daniel Blake, Spanish bad boy Pedro Almodovar’s latest Julieta, Pablo Larrain’s Chilean biopic Neruda, Iranian Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, South Koreans Kim Ki-duk’s The Net and Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours and the Philippines’ Lav Diaz’s Venice Film Fest winner The Woman Who Left.

And many, many more. Plus a lot of stuff even the most devoted followers of the international movie scene probably haven’t heard about. There are films from 46 countries at AFI this year.

“One of the goals of the festival is to contextualize the year in cinema as best we can, in a place where people who are in the industry, the filmmakers, the general public, the cinephiles, the movie fans, everyone can come together and talk about movies,” Lyanga explains. “And, also, to not only think about the films that have won awards and are known about and lauded at Sundance, Berlin, Cannes or Telluride, but to bring to light films that we think are incredible that may have been off the radar. That’s part of what you’ll see in our New Auteurs, American Independents and World Cinema sections.”

Some titles Kneedler and Lyanga advise checking out include the American indies Always Shine by Sophia Takal, Buster’s Mal Heart by Sarah Adina Smith and starring Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek, and the Kris Avedisian-directed and -starring Donald Cried. They also suggest sampling Brazil’s Kill Me Please, Kenya’s Kati Kati, the French/Qatari co-production Divines and the Austrian/Italian Mister Universo amid the bounty of imported offerings.

The festival also will host a technology showcase, panels with the year’s outstanding indie and documentary talents, family- and student-oriented programs and, in case you need more classic movie connections, documentaries on film’s ultimate samurai Toshiro Mifune and mother/daughter icons Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

For the full schedule, to reserve tickets and all other stuff, go to




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