Category Archives: American Film Institute

AFI DOCS 2021 Award Winners

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Audience Award for Best Feature Goes to

STORM LAKE

Audience Award for Best Short Goes to SHELTER

Short Film Grand Jury Prize Goes to RED TAXI

Among the Participants in 19th Annual Festival of Documentary Film:

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Morgan Neville, Garrett Bradley, Dawn Porter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JUNE 28, 2021, WASHINGTON, DC — The American Film Institute (AFI) has announced the AFI DOCS 2021 Award Winners, concluding the six-day festival, with screenings presented online and in-person at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. The festival’s Audience Award for Best Feature went to STORM LAKE, directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison. The Audience Award for Best Short went toSHELTER, directed by Smriti Mundhra.

This year’s voting jury for the competitive Short Films slate was comprised of Mike Attie, award-winning filmmaker and professor of film at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; Greta Hagen-Richardson, Director of Programming at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and Lead Features Programmer at the New Orleans Film Festival; and Yvonne Ashley Kouadjo, Associate Producer for The New York Times’ award-winning short documentary series Op-Docs.

The Grand Jury Prize for Short Films went to RED TAXI, directed byAnonymous. The jury said of RED TAXI: “For its creative and accessible approach to telling a story from the perspective of those living and working in a moment of political upheaval, we award the Shorts Grand Jury Prize to RED TAXI. The courage of the anonymous filmmaker struck us for their commitment to depicting the nuances of reality on the ground.” The Shorts Grand Jury Prize at AFI DOCS is a qualifying award for Academy Award® eligibility.

The jury also awarded the Special Jury Prize to two films: THE COMMUNION OF MY COUSIN ANDREA, directed by BrandánCerviño Abeledo, saying,

“For its ability to tell a reflexive story with levity and tenderness, we award a Special Jury Prize to THE COMMUNION OF MY COUSIN ANDREA”; and S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y), directed by Nora Štrbová, saying, “For its intelligent use of multi-dimensional media in telling a fraught, emotional story, we award a Special Jury Prize to S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y).”

The 19th edition of AFI DOCS presented a diverse slate of 78 films from 23 countries, shedding light on overlooked stories from the past, honoring champions of change and giving us glimpses into the everyday lives of subjects close to home and around the world. This year, 52% of AFI DOCS films were directed by women, 40% by BIPOC directors and 18% by LGBTQ directors.

Among the festival participants were filmmakers and notables including Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Academy Award®winners Morgan Neville, Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine and Mark Ronson; Academy Award®-nominated filmmakers Julie Cohen, Betsy West and Steve James; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen; award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter; Emmy® Award winner Chris Nee; CNN political contributor and host Van Jones; author and The New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb; filmmaker and actor Sonja Sohn; musician and filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Curator Dwandalyn Reece; President of the African American Film Critics Association Gil Robertson; Georgetown University Professor Dr. Janet Mann; rapper KYLE; and son of late comedian and activist Dick Gregory Christian Gregory.

The festival’s panels and discussions provided filmmakers, film subjects and audiences the opportunity to delve deeper into the films with conversations led by some of the nation’s top journalists, including: NBC News Correspondent Morgan Radford; NBC News’ Meet the Press Moderator and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd; NBC News Correspondent Anne Thompson; MSNBC Correspondent Trymaine Lee; Variety’s Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis; Axios Justice and Race Reporter Russell Contreras; Senior Segment Producer of WGN Morning News and WGN’s Entertainment Producer Tyra Martin; entertainment journalist & TV producer KJ Matthews; CQ Roll Call Deputy Editor Jason Dick andHealth Care Editor Rebecca Adams; and The Washington Post’s Managing Editor for Diversity and Inclusion Krissah Thompson, Chief Film Critic Ann Hornaday, Global Opinions writer Jason Rezaian, National Security Editor Peter Finn, Religion Reporter Michelle Boorstein, and Host and Editor of Food Video Mary Beth Albright.

This year’s inaugural DOCS Talks programming included the World Premiere of Netflix’s and Higher Ground’s WE THE PEOPLE, as well as “History Is Out of the Closet: Excavating Queer Stories for the Screen,” a live stream conversation celebrating LGBTQ+ pride. The AFI DOCS Industry Forum explored building accessibility practices into all steps of the production process, demystifying investigative documentaries, the making of the hit series PHILLY D.A., how documentaries shape conversations on racial violence, a behind-the-scenes look at the Hindsight Project films and new collaborations between public media and indie filmmakers. This year’s Industry Forum programming also included closed captioning and American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. The AFI DOCS Industry Forum is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.

RED TAXI

DIR: Anonymous. As protests in Hong Kong escalate, taxi drivers experience a city in upheaval driving the streets day and night. Anonymously filmed by locals.

SHORT FILM SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

THE COMMUNION OF MY COUSIN ANDREA

DIR: Brandán Cerviño Abeledo. Andrea’s First Communion ceremony lacks glamour. For Andrea, things without sparkles are meaningless.

SHORT FILM SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y)

DIR: Nora Štrbová. A multi-textured animated exploration of memory as a container of identity, based on the personal story of the filmmaker and her brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

This year’s Premium Sponsor is Apple Original Films. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) returns as Official Sponsor of the festival. NBC News’ Meet the Press with Chuck Todd and The Washington Post return this year as Primary Media Partners. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are this year’s Official Media Partners. The Wrap is an Affiliate Media Partner.Screen Sponsors include SHOWTIME® Documentary Films, Netflix, WarnerMedia and HBO Documentary Films. Participant, National Geographic, and Eventive serve as Major Sponsors. This year’s Contributing Sponsors are ESPN, the National Endowment for the Arts and the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music, and Entertainment (OCTFME). Supporting Sponsors include the Maryland Film Office, Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and Rev. The Embassy of Denmark in Washington, DC, and the Farhang Foundation are this year’s Cultural Sponsors. Generous individual support comes from Stephanie and Hunter Hunt.

 

About AFI DOCS

AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival historically held in Washington, DC.  Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government. The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Rory Kennedy, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson and Frederick Wiseman. Now in its 19th year, the festival will be held June 22-27, 2021. Visit DOCS.AFI.com and connect onTwitter.com/AFIDOCSFacebook.com/AFIDOCSYouTube.com/AFIand Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

 

About the American Film Institute (AFI)
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstituteYouTube.com/AFITwitter.com/AmericanFilmand Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

 

About the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,500 locally managed and operated public television and radio stations nationwide. CPB is also the largest single source of funding for research, technology and program development for public radio, television and related online services. For more information, visit www.cpb.org and follow us on Twitter @CPBmedia, Facebook and LinkedIn, and subscribefor email updates.

About The Washington Post and Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership

The Washington Post is an award-winning news leader whose mission is to connect, inform and enlighten local, national and global readers with trustworthy reporting, in-depth analysis and engaging opinions. It combines world-class journalism with the latest technology and tools so readers can interact with The Post anytime, anywhere.

 

The Press Freedom Partnership is a public service initiative from The Washington Post to promote press freedom and raise awareness of the rights of journalists who are in pursuit of the truth. Learn more at www.wapo.st/pressfreedom

About Meet the Press with Chuck Todd

Meet the Press with Chuck Todd is where newsmakers come to make news — setting the political agenda and spotlighting the impact Washington decision-making has on Americans across the country. It is the #1 most-watched Sunday public affairs show for the 2019-2020 season, reaching more than three million viewers every Sunday and millions more through social, digital and on-demand platforms. Meet the Press brings its authority and influencer interviews to MSNBC with MTP Daily weekdays at 1 p.m. ET, to the ongoing weekly podcast, The Chuck ToddCast, and to Meet the Press Reports, a 30-minute program on NBC News NOW and Peacock, focusing on a single topic explored through the Meet the Press lens. It’s the longest-running show in television history, recently expanding its brand to also include a political short-documentary film festival in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Chuck Todd is the political director of NBC News and the moderator of Meet the Press; John Reiss is the executive producer.

CONTACT:

Elizabeth Ward, AFI DOCS PR, elizabeth@prcollaborative.com

American Film Institute: Stacy Adamski, 323.856.7759,SAdamski@AFI.com

NAOMI OSAKA docuseries opening the American Film Institute’s 2021 AFI DOCS

Posted by Larry Gleeson

What does it feel like to be one of the best tennis players in the world?

Naomi Osaka

Find out June 22nd as the American Film Institute’s AFI DOCS will host the Opening Night World Premiere of Naomi Osaka directed by Garrett Bradley (“TIME”) followed by a virtual Q&A with Bradley. Tickets and passes for Naomi Osaka and for the AFI DOCS 2021 festival are available here.

Naomi Osaka gives unprecedented access following Osaka during a historic two years in which she works on her game but also begins to find her voice. Whether she’s defending her grand slam titles —while wearing masks in defense of Black lives — mourning the unexpected loss of mentor Kobe Bryant, or finding her independence, the challenges Naomi faces on a personal level begin to align with those in the public sphere.

With fly-on-the-wall intimacy, the series chronicles Osaka’s hectic training and travel schedule, explores the layers of pressure she is under, and reveals how she spends her time off the court hanging with her closest family and friends. The episodes also travel the globe with Osaka to further explore her Haitian roots as well as examine her deep connection to Japan, the country she represents.

Naomi Osaka is a three-part documentary series. One you won’t want to miss!

AFI DOCS 2021 TICKETS NOW ON SALE

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The American Film Institute has gone live with its tickets and passes for the AFI DOCS 2021 festival. With  77 films from 23 countries and 4 World Premieres, with 52% of the films directed by women, 40% by BIPOC directors and 18% by LGBTQ directors, this year’s AFI DOCS promises to be quite heated and equitably balanced.

WE THE PEOPLE

The 19th edition of the festival will present films in the following sections: Special Presentations, Guggenheim Symposium, Feature Films, Series, Cinema’s Legacy, Short Film Competition and Spotlight on the Hindsight Project. AFI DOCS 2021 runs June 22–27, with films available to view on DOCS.AFI.com as well as in-person screenings at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, MD, and select films will be available with closed captioning and descriptive audio. The Washington Post and Meet the Press return as the Primary Media Partners.

“We are living in the Golden Age of documentary film,” said Sarah Harris, AFI Festivals Director of Programming. “At AFI DOCS, we are proud to celebrate excellence in the films of 2021 – connecting audiences across the nation, engaging them in lively conversation and inspiring them with both the unprecedented challenges and the breathtaking beauty of the world around us.”

 

AFI DOCS‘ program of Special Presentations includes the previously announced Opening Night World Premiere of NAOMI OSAKA and Closing Night film CUSP, as well as the Centerpiece Screening of ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN.

CUSP

ROADRUNNER

This year, the Features section explores a diverse range of subjects including the growing movement in the medical community to push back against big pharma (WHITE COAT REBELS); an examination of law enforcement’s relationship with the community through the lens of a corruption scandal in the Baltimore police department (THE SLOW HUSTLE); the emotional complexities of family court trials (COURTROOM 3H); and Syrian artists working in exile in Europe (THE STORY WON’T DIE).

 

 

The Cinema’s Legacy program, now in its third year at AFI DOCS, presents historically notable nonfiction films that employ the personal documentary form: IN SEARCH OF OUR FATHERS (1992), SINK OR SWIM (1990) and STEVIE (2002). Cinema’s Legacy is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

 This year’s Series section features multi-part documentaries that investigate pivotal moments in history and culture, from an exploration of the sound creation in modern music in WATCH THE SOUND WITH MARK RONSON, to an in-depth look at a day that changed our country forever with 9/11: ONE DAY IN AMERICA. The Series section will also feature the World Premiere of OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION.

The Short Film Competition will be presented in six programs, with stories from across the globe and close to home, and are eligible for the Grand Jury Prize.

 

Special to AFI DOCS this year is the Spotlight on the Hindsight Project, sponsored by CPB. The section presents the world premiere of six short films, which chronicle the experiences of BIPOC communities in the American South and U.S. Territories during the unprecedented events of 2020. The project is produced in partnership by Firelight Media, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and Reel South.

As previously announced, this year’s Charles Guggenheim Symposium will feature a discussion with filmmaker Dawn Porter and a free screening of her new film RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER.

Audience Awards will be given to a feature and a short film based on votes cast by attendees throughout the festival. The winners of the Audience Awards for Best Feature and Best Short will be announced on Monday, June 28. For the second year, the AFI DOCS Short Film Competition Grand Jury Prize is a qualifying award for Academy Award® eligibility.

Passes to AFI DOCS 2021 are now available at DOCS.AFI.com . AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join.

AFI DOCS 2021 PROGRAM 

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 

Featuring our Opening, Centerpiece and Closing films, this section spotlights the highest-profile and most anticipated films of the festival.

OPENING NIGHT SCREENING – Tuesday, June 22

NAOMI OSAKA:  DIR Garrett Bradley.  PRODS Lauren Cioffi, Katy Murakami and Sally Rosen.  USA.

What does it feel like to be one of the best tennis players in the world? An intimate look inside the life of one of the most gifted and complex athletes of her generation offers insight into the tough decisions and ecstatic triumphs that shape Naomi Osaka as both an elite global superstar and a young woman navigating a pressure-filled world. World Premiere.

 

CLOSING NIGHT SCREENING – Sunday, June 27

CUSP:  DIRS Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt.  PROD Zachary Luke Kislevitz.  USA.

This coming-of-age documentary follows three teenage girls for one wild, life-changing summer in their small Texas town as they grapple with what becoming an adult means, especially for young women.

 

CENTERPIECE SCREENING – Friday, June 25

ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN:  DIR Morgan Neville.  PRODS Caitrin Rogers and Morgan Neville.  USA.

A documentary about the uncommon life of the late storyteller, explorer and chef, Anthony Bourdain.

 

 

2021 CHARLES GUGGENHEIM SYMPOSIUM 

 

GUGGENHEIM SYMPOSIUM WITH DAWN PORTER – Wednesday, June 23

Honoring a master of the nonfiction art form, this year’s Guggenheim Symposium will include an in-depth conversation with celebrated filmmaker Dawn Porter hosted by Variety’s Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis, featuring clips from her acclaimed work and a free screening of her most recent project.

 

RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER:  DIR Dawn Porter.  PROD Dawn Porter.  USA.

One hundred years after the two-day Tulsa Massacre, one of America’s most violent racial conflicts, this documentary explores the role of media during these early 20th century events and today’s revived call for justice and anti-racism. Free Screening.

FEATURE FILMS 

This year’s diverse features section is a collection of original, enlightening and daring explorations of the people and world around us.

COURTROOM 3H:  DIR Antonio Méndez Esparza.  PRODS Pedro Hernandez Santos, Rebeca Villar Rodriguez and Ana Castanosa Bielsa.  Spain.

Inside Tallahassee’s Courtroom 3H, staggeringly emotional hearings and trials hint at the complexities of family histories, calling into question a justice system with the power to decide who is suitable to be a parent. North American Premiere.

 

DAUGHTER OF A LOST BIRD:  DIR Brooke Pepion Swaney.  PRODS Jeri Rafter, Kendra Mylnechuk and Brooke Pepion Swaney.  USA.

Kendra grew up in white suburbia knowing little of her Native American heritage. The search for her birth mother leads her to face a legacy of family trauma and joy.

 

DELPHINE’S PRAYERS (LES PRIÈRES DE DELPHINE):  DIR Rosine Mbakam.  PROD Geoffroy Cemaix.  Belgium, Cameroon.

Delphine, a 30-year-old Cameroonian woman, sits casually on a mattress. With filmmaker Rosine Mbakam, she will “just talk as usual,” describing what led her to this brightly lit room in a Brussels apartment.

 

FATHOM:  DIR Drew Xanthopoulos.  PROD Megan Gilbride.  USA.

Have you ever wanted to introduce yourself to a whale? FATHOM follows women in the field of cetacean research trying to do just that and takes a deep dive into whale culture and our own.

 

THE FIRST STEP:  DIR Brandon Kramer.  PROD Lance Kramer.  USA.

Brilliantly plotted and politically nuanced, THE FIRST STEP follows CNN commentator Van Jones’ trip down the rabbit hole as he forms an unholy alliance with Jared Kushner to effectuate prison reform legislation.

 

LFG:  DIRS Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine.  PRODS Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine and Abby Greensfelder.  USA.

LFG is an inspiring and intimate documentary following the U.S. women’s national soccer team as it files a class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit against the team’s employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation.

 

THE LOST LEONARDO:  DIR Andreas Koefoed.  PRODS Christoph Jörg and Andreas Dalsgaard.  Denmark, France, Sweden.

This intriguing thriller follows the story behind the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold ($450 million) after it is claimed to be a long-lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.

 

LUCHADORAS:  DIRS Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim.  PROD Phillip Kaminiak.  Germany, Mexico.

Three courageous female wrestlers, Luchadoras, confront crises in their personal lives and present strength in their community of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where women are all too often abused, kidnapped or murdered.

 

MY NAME IS PAULI MURRAY:  DIRS Julie Cohen and Betsy West.  PROD Talleah Bridges McMahon.  USA.

Academy Award® nominees Betsy West and Julie Cohen (RBG) profile the remarkable Pauli Murray, whose legacy as one of the 20th Century’s great human rights activists and legal scholars finally gets the attention it deserves.

 

THE NEUTRAL GROUND:  DIR CJ Hunt.  PROD Darcy McKinnon.  USA.

Comedian and satirist CJ Hunt (THE DAILY SHOW) is asking difficult questions about this country’s Confederate monuments. In THE NEUTRAL GROUND, he hopes to discover some clarity, by diving into history.

 

NO STRAIGHT LINES:  DIR Vivian Kleiman.  PRODS Vivian Kleiman and Justin Hall.  USA.

This wonderfully immersive look at the history of queer comics celebrates the queer artists who carved out a space in the culture where they could see themselves and be seen by others.

 

NORTH BY CURRENT:  DIR Angelo Madsen Minax.  PROD Felix Endara.  USA.

After the death of his young niece and accusations that the family might somehow have been involved, filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax has many questions that won’t have clear or easy answers.

 

THE ONE AND ONLY DICK GREGORY:  DIR Andre Gaines.  PRODS Andre Gaines and Valerie Edwards.  USA.

In this affectionate tribute guided by other entertainers, the iconic comedian and activist Dick Gregory finds humor again after losing it in anger.

 

PRAY AWAY:  DIR Kristine Stolakis.  PRODS Jessica Devaney, Anya Rous and Kristine Stolakis.  USA.

Former leaders of the “pray away the gay” movement contend with the aftermath unleashed by their actions, while a survivor seeks healing and acceptance from more than a decade of trauma.

 

PRESIDENT:  DIR Camilla Nielsson.  PRODS Signe Byrge Sørensen and Joslyn Barnes.  Denmark, USA, Norway.

Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe has been ousted, but the corrupt ruling party has already thrown their power behind a new candidate and, with democracy at stake, challenger Nelson Chamisa faces an impossible battle.

 

RADIOGRAPH OF A FAMILY:  DIR Firouzeh Khosrovani.  PRODS Bård Kjøge Rønning and Fabien Greenberg.  Iran, Switzerland, Norway.

Filmmaker Firouzeh Khosrovani excavates and examines her parents’ marriage, which reflects the divide between traditionalism and modernization in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution.

 

REBEL HEARTS:  DIR Pedro Kos.  PRODS Kira Carstensen, Shawnee Isaac-Smith and Judy Korin.  USA.

In Los Angeles in the 1960s, the courageous Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary challenged the Roman Catholic Church in an effort to reform its engrained patriarchal strictures – but at a considerable cost.

 

SEARCHERS:  DIR Pacho Velez.  PRODS Pacho Velez, Joe Poletto, Sam Roseme and Cathy Tankosic.  USA.

Swipe right or swipe left? Such love-life-altering decisions are explored in Pacho Velez’s enchanting, poignant exploration of online dating apps and those searching for love in all the digital places.

 

THE SLOW HUSTLE: DIR Sonja Sohn.  PRODS Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson and Mahrya MacIntire.  USA.

After Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter is shot and found dead while on duty, the tragedy soon becomes enmeshed in a widening corruption scandal that threatens to unravel the public’s already strained relationship with law enforcement. World Premiere.

 

STORM LAKE:  DIRS Jerry Risius and Beth Levison.  PROD Beth Levison.  USA.

For 30 years, in Storm Lake, Iowa, Art Cullen and his family have been publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning local newspaper. But, with newspapers everywhere going extinct, how long can they keep it up?

 

THE STORY WON’T DIE:  DIR David Henry Gerson.  PROD Odessa Rae, Abdalaziz Alhamza and Martin Marquet.  USA, Germany, Denmark.

In their homeland of Syria, artists are routinely tortured, kidnapped, imprisoned and killed. While in exile in Europe, their talents speak truth to power, help them heal and find joy. US Premiere.

SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED):  DIR Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.  PRODS Joseph Patel; Robert Fyvolent; and David Dinerstein.  USA.

In 1969, the same summer as Woodstock, another epic music festival — celebrating American music and African American history — took place in Harlem, New York.

 

TOM PETTY, SOMEWHERE YOU FEEL FREE:  DIR Mary Wharton.  PROD Peter Afterman.  USA.

Newly discovered archival 16mm footage is weaved with intimate interviews to create a love letter to Tom Petty’s touchstone album “Wildflowers” and an artist’s story of his struggle to feel free.

 

TRY HARDER!:  DIR Debbie Lum.  PRODS Nico Opper, Lou Nakasako and Debbie Lum.  USA.

Welcome to the high-pressure world of the college application process. TRY HARDER! features a wonderful cast of stressed-out high school seniors pulling out all the stops to make their college dreams a reality.

 

WE:  DIR Alice Diop.  PROD Sophie Salbot.  France.

In this fascinating slice-of-life portrait of Paris and its outskirts, filmmaker Alice Diop turns her camera on the “ordinary” people living in the shadow of the RER B train that traverses the city.

 

WHITE COAT REBELS:  DIR Greg Barker.  PRODS. Diane Becker, Greg Barker, Christopher Buchanan, Dr. Harriet Fraser.  USA.

In this probing look inside the medical profession, filmmaker Greg Barker examines the outsized influence of Big Pharma and the courageous “white coat rebels” who are pushing back against the powers that be. World Premiere.

SERIES 

Go on a binge or take it one episode at a time, these multi-part documentaries explore pivotal moments in history and culture that connect us.

9/11: ONE DAY IN AMERICA:  DIR Daniel Bogado.  PROD Caroline Marsden.  USA.

In official collaboration with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, this documentary series take viewers through harrowing moments of the historic morning of September 11, 2001. AFI DOCS will present the first three episodes.

 

OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION:  DIR Peter Kunhardt.  PRODS George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt, Maya Mumma and Matthew Henderson.  USA.

This multi-part documentary explores the journey of Barack Obama from his early upbringing to the 44th U.S. President, set against the backdrop of the country’s unfolding racial history. World Premiere. AFI DOCS will present the first two episodes.

 

WATCH THE SOUND WITH MARK RONSON:  DIRS Mark Monroe, Morgan Neville and Jason Zeldes.    USA.

Hosted by renowned DJ and award-winning artist and producer Mark Ronson, this docuseries explores sound creation and the revolutionary technology shaping modern music. US Premiere. AFI DOCS will host three episodes of the new series.

CINEMA’S LEGACY 

Presenting historically notable nonfiction films, this year’s edition of Cinema’s Legacy section focuses on important works employing the personal documentary form. Now over a year into an extended quarantine, personal documentary has acquired a renewed relevance, reflecting a global turn towards introspection. Cinema’s Legacy is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

IN SEARCH OF OUR FATHERS (1992):  DIR Marco Williams.  PRODS Michael Rubbo and Marco Williams.  USA. 

Marco Williams’ searing seven-year journey to track down the father he never knew. Thirty years on, the film remains a brilliant and powerful evocation of the personal documentary form.

 

SINK OR SWIM (1990):  DIR Su Friedrich. USA.

In this canonical personal documentary, filmmaker Su Friedrich returns to a pivotal childhood memory – her father has thrown her into the deep end of the pool to teach her to swim.

 

STEVIE (2002):  DIR Steve James.  PRODS Steve James, Adam D. Singer and Gordon Quinn.  USA.

Following HOOP DREAMS’ huge success, Steve James began a straightforward film about the man he had once mentored as a Big Brother. To James’ surprise, he would end up making his most complex and personal documentary.

SHORT FILM COMPETITION 

Curated from hundreds of entries, this year’s short films highlight unique voices from around the world – presented in six programs.

AUDIBLE:  DIR Matt Ogens.  PRODS Nyle DiMarco and Peter Berg.  USA.

Athletes at the Maryland School for the Deaf defend their winning streak while dealing with the loss of a friend. They face pressures of entering the hearing world in this coming-of-age story.

THE BEAUTY PRESIDENT:  DIR Whitney Skauge.  PROD Caley Shannon.  USA.

“If a bad actor can be president, why not a good drag queen?” In 1992, Joan Jett Blakk made a historic bid for the White House as the first openly queer write-in candidate. World Premiere.

THE BROTHER (LE FRÈRE):  DIR Jérémie Battaglia.  PROD Amélie Lambert Bouchard.  Canada.

Suffering from an illness that causes body paralysis, Kais dreams he is the hero of his favorite anime, along with his brothers, Fehd the bodybuilder and Zaïd the ninja. US Premiere.

BUG FARM:  DIR Lydia Cornett.  PROD Brit Fryer.  USA.

Four women in Central Florida establish a unique bond while working with crickets, superworms and roaches on an insect farm in the rural town of LaBelle.

CODED:  DIR Ryan White.  PRODS Christopher Leggett, Rafael Marmor, Conor Fetting-Smith, Jessica Hargrave and Marc Gilbar.  USA.

The coded advertisements of legendary early-20th century gay illustrator J.C. Leyendecker quietly, but directly, acknowledged a community that was forced to live in the closet.

THE COMMUNION OF MY COUSIN ANDREA:  DIR Brandán Cerviño Abeledo.  PRODS Brandán Cerviño Abeledo and Sabrina Zimmermann.  Spain.

Andrea’s First Communion ceremony lacks glamour. For Andrea, things without sparkles are meaningless. World Premiere.

EAGLES (ÁGUILAS):  DIRS Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Maite Zubiaurre.  PRODS Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Maite Zubiaurre.  USA.

Once a month, along the scorching southern desert border in Arizona, one group of searchers, the Aguilas del Desierto, set out to recover missing loved ones.

THE GALLERY THAT DESTROYS ALL SHAME:  DIRS Aurora Brachman and Jessie Zinn.  PRODS Aurora Brachman and Jessie Zinn.  USA.

One evening in L.A., a group of womxn gather to learn how to take back the speculum. World Premiere.

THE GAME:  DIR Roman Hodel.  PROD Franziska Sonder.  Switzerland.

A whistle. The crowded stands of the stadium roar. Players protest angrily. Announcers follow the action on the field. In the middle of it all is the referee.

GOLDEN AGE KARATE:  DIR Sindha Agha.  PRODS Malcolm Pullinger and Rachel Serada Barth.  USA.

Teen karate pro Jeff Wall teaches senior citizens self-defense at a local nursing home, giving them the tools to feel in control, connected and cared for.

THE HAIRDRESSER (LA COIFFEUSE):  DIR Lorraine Price.  PROD Lorraine Price.  Canada.

At 83, Kathleen is still doing hair, though not how you might expect. Her work is special. World Premiere.

HALPATE:  DIRS Adam Piron and Adam Khalil.  PRODS Alexandra Lazarowich and Everett Osceola.  USA.

Alligator wrestling, considered a staple of Florida tourism, is a dangerous spectacle that has been performed by members of the Seminole Tribe for over a century.

THE I AND S OF LIVES:  DIR Kevin Jerome Everson.  PRODS Madeleine Molyneaux and Kevin Jerome Everson.  USA.

The smoothest area of resistance. The “I and S” of “Lives” is traced by a lone rollerskater on Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, on a summer afternoon in 2020.

INTERNATIONAL DAWN CHORUS DAY:  DIR John Greyson.  PROD John Greyson.  Canada.

On International Dawn Chorus Day (May 3, 2020), birds from six continents join a Zoom call, where they gossip about storms, cats, wires, dates and two Egyptian activists. US Premiere.

INVISIBLE MONSTERS AND TOMATO SOUP:  DIRS Stevie Borrello, Marcie LaCerte and Meghan McDonough. USA.

A batch of mushy sourdough. Two radioactive lizards. Three cans of Campbell’s tomato soup. When COVID-19 lockdowns began in 2020, people around the world began reporting more vivid dreams.

MAMA:  DIR Pablo de la Chica.  PRODS David Torres, Pablo de la Chica, Kathleen McInnis, Miguel González, Eduardo Jiménez, Jordi Rubio, Diego Urruchi and Néstor Lopez.  Spain.

Deep in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, one of the most violent places in the world, Mama Zawadi and her baby chimpanzees find that unconditional love can heal the wounds of war. North American Premiere.

MISSION: HEBRON:  DIR Rona Segal.  PROD Idit Kliger.  Israel.

Israeli soldiers are recruited at age 18 and, only months later, are already overseeing Palestinian civil life. Former soldiers describe their time in Hebron, the most troubled city in the West Bank. North American Premiere.

 

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA:  DIR Sergei Loznitsa.  PRODS Philippe Martin, Dimitri Krassoulia-Vronsky, Emmanuel Perreau and Louis Vaudeville.  France.

Filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa revisits the Palais Garnier of the 1950s and 1960s, reviving the era when kings and queens, celebrities and heads of state ascended the stairs to worship the art of opera.

NSENENE:  DIR Michelle Coomber.  PROD Michelle Coomber.  UK.

In this poetic portrait of a Ugandan tradition, Masaka’s grasshopper catchers light up the sky. World Premiere.

THE ONE WHO CROSSED THE SEA (DER ÜBERS MEER KAM):  DIR Jonas Riemer.  PRODS Jonas Riemer and Johannes Schubert.  Germany.

In a makeshift boat, a GDR refugee escapes to West Germany. His newfound freedom is disorienting, and it is only later, with a growing nationalist movement, that he begins to feel at home.

PARTY LINE:  DIR Lydia Cornett.  PROD Lydia Cornett.  USA.

At the early voting line in Ohio’s most populous county, civic duty is a public performance. World Premiere.

R.I.P. T-SHIRTS:  DIRS Kate Davis and David Heilbroner.  PRODS David Heilbroner, Grace Harry and Anwan Glover.  USA.

A small custom T-shirt shop in Washington, DC, sees a generation of Black youth experience gun violence. World Premiere.

RED TAXI:  DIR Anonymous.  Hong Kong.

As protests in Hong Kong escalate, taxi drivers experience a city in upheaval driving the streets day and night. Anonymously filmed by locals.

S P A C E S (M E Z E R Y):  DIR Nora Štrbová.  Czech Republic.

A multi-textured animated exploration of memory as a container of identity, based on the personal story of the filmmaker and her brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. North American Premiere.

SCUM BOY:  DIR Allison Swank.  PROD Allison Swank.  South Africa.

A look at the off-the-wall psyche of Gen Z by way of visionary 3D artist Scum Boy, a young South African, Jewish transgender man living his life with illuminating fearlessness.

SENIOR PROM:  DIR Luisa Conlon.  PRODS Jessica Chermayeff and Luisa Conlon.  USA.

At an LGBTQ retirement home, the annual “senior” prom takes on a whole new meaning – a celebration of the lives and legacies of resistance of the eldest queer generation. World Premiere.

SHELTER:  DIR Smriti Mundhra.  PROD Maya Gnyp.  USA.

A verité documentary that follows three young children and their families as they grapple with housing insecurity in Los Angeles. World Premiere.

SINCE YOU ARRIVED, MY HEART STOPPED BELONGING TO ME (DESDE QUE LLEGASTE MI CORAZÓN DEJÓ DE PERTENECERME):  DIR Erin Semine Kökdil.  PROD Erin Semine Kökdil.  USA.

Central American mothers journey by bus through Mexico, searching for their children who migrated north towards the United States but disappeared en route.

SOUVENIR SOUVENIR:  DIR Bastien Dubois.  PROD Amiel Tenenbaum.  France.

An account of filmmaker Bastien Dubois’ multiple unsuccessful attempts to initiate a dialogue with his grandfather, who had been a soldier in the French-Algerian war.

TRADE CENTER:  DIR Adam Baran.  PRODS Adam Baran and Ethan Weinstock.  USA.

The voices of gay men who cruised for sex at the World Trade Center in the 1980s and 1990s haunt the sanitized, commerce-driven landscape of the newly rebuilt Freedom Tower.

THE TRAIN STATION:  DIR Lyana Patrick.  PROD Jessica Hallenbeck.  Canada.

In this beautifully animated documentary short, filmmaker Lyana Patrick narrates her family’s powerful story of love and survival at Lejac Indian Residential School. US Premiere.

UNDER THE LEMON TREE (تحت شجرةالليمون):  DIR Noor Fawzi Alasswad.  PROD Yassmine Hammoudi.  Qatar, Palestine.

Under the shade of a lemon tree, a Palestinian woman, Khaldieh, prepares herself a humble breakfast, remembering her former life and lost homeland with an assemblage of simple elements. US Premiere.

UNFORGIVABLE (IMPERDONABLE):  DIR Marlén Viñayo.  PRODS Marlén Viñayo and Carlos Martínez.  El Salvador.

Inside an evangelical Salvadoran prison, a ruthless 18th Street gang hitman is guilty, not only of his crimes, but of the unforgivable sin of being gay.

 

THE WAY WE WAIT:  DIR Ji-Yoon Park.  PROD Ji-Yoon Park.  South Korea, UK.

The filmmaker has just moved into her 22nd house when she receives a phone call that her grandmother is in critical condition. Belatedly attempting to strengthen their relationship, she awaits the impending loss. North American Premiere.

 

WHEN WE WERE BULLIES:  DIR Jay Rosenblatt.  PROD Jay Rosenblatt.  USA.

A mind-boggling “coincidence” leads a filmmaker to track down his fifth-grade class, to examine a memory of his own complicity in a bullying incident 50 years ago.

 

 

SPOTLIGHT ON THE HINDSIGHT PROJECT 

Special to AFI DOCS this year is the Spotlight on the Hindsight Project, sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.The section presents the world premiere of six short films, which chronicle the experiences of BIPOC communities in the American South and U.S. Territories during the unprecedented events of 2020. The project is produced in partnership by Firelight Media, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and Reel South.

 

FOOD FOR THE POOR (COMIDA PA’ LOS POBRES):  DIR Arleen Cruz-Alicea.  PRODS Arleen Cruz-Alicea.  Puerto Rico (USA).

COMIDA PA’ LOS POBRES follows a young Puerto Rican activist as he confronts the island’s persistent crisis of food insecurity. World Premiere.

 

MISSING MAGIC:  DIR Anissa Latham.  PRODS Anissa Latham, Kelsey Harrison.  USA.

MISSING MAGIC centers on a young poet and activist in Birmingham, Alabama, as he tries to write his way through the complex history of the city. World Premiere.

 

NOW LET US SING:  DIR Dilsey Davis.  USA.

An interfaith, interracial choir in Durham, North Carolina, is forced to take a new direction during the pandemic. World Premiere.

 

THIS BODY:  DIR Zac Manuel.  PRODS Lauren Cargo.  USA.

As Sydney Hall participates in an experimental coronavirus vaccine trial in hopes of protecting her beloved New Orleans community, she and her loved ones confront the history of medical abuse and experimentation on Black bodies. World Premiere.

 

UDAAN (SOAR):  DIR Amman Abbasi.  PRODS Alex Nystrom.  USA, Pakistan.

UDAAN (SOAR) follows a young Pakistani woman as she immigrates from Karachi, Pakistan, to a small town in Arkansas to begin her first year of college. World Premiere.

 

WE STAY IN THE HOUSE:  DIR Kiyoko McCrae.  PRODS Kiyoko McCrae, Eritria Pitts.  USA.

A group of New Orleans mothers struggle to care for their families and themselves throughout the pandemic. Utilizing video diaries, it provides an intimate portrait of mothering during a time of crisis. World Premiere.

 

 

About AFI DOCS 

AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival historically held in Washington, DC.  Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government. The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Rory Kennedy, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson and Frederick Wiseman. Now in its 19th year, the festival will be held June 22-27, 2021. Visit DOCS.AFI.com and connect on Twitter.com/AFIDOCSFacebook.com/AFIDOCSYouTube.com/AFI and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute. 

 

About the American Film Institute (AFI)
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstituteYouTube.com/AFITwitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

 

About the Corporation for Public Broadcasting  

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,500 locally managed and operated public television and radio stations nationwide. CPB is also the largest single source of funding for research, technology and program development for public radio, television and related online services. For more information, visit www.cpb.org and follow us on Twitter @CPBmediaFacebook and LinkedIn, and subscribe for email updates. 

 

About The Washington Post and Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership  

The Washington Post is an award-winning news leader whose mission is to connect, inform and enlighten local, national and global readers with trustworthy reporting, in-depth analysis and engaging opinions. It combines world-class journalism with the latest technology and tools so readers can interact with The Post anytime, anywhere.

 

The Press Freedom Partnership is a public service initiative from The Washington Post to promote press freedom and raise awareness of the rights of journalists who are in pursuit of the truth. Learn more at www.wapo.st/pressfreedom

 

About Meet the Press with Chuck Todd

Meet the Press with Chuck Todd is where newsmakers come to make news — setting the political agenda and spotlighting the impact Washington decision-making has on Americans across the country. It is the #1 most-watched Sunday public affairs show for the 2019-2020 season, reaching more than three million viewers every Sunday and millions more through social, digital and on-demand platforms. Meet the Press brings its authority and influencer interviews to MSNBC with MTP Daily weekdays at 1 p.m. ET, to the ongoing weekly podcast, The Chuck ToddCast, and to Meet the Press Reports, a 30-minute program on NBC News NOW and Peacock, focusing on a single topic explored through the Meet the Press lens. It’s the longest-running show in television history, recently expanding its brand to also include a political short-documentary film festival in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Chuck Todd is the political director of NBC News and the moderator of Meet the Press; John Reiss is the executive producer.

 

AFI AWARDS 2020 HONOREES ANNOUNCED

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI’s Movie Club To Showcase Official Selections With New And Exclusive Content Featuring Filmmakers And Stars

Honors Culminate With A Virtual Benediction On February 26

Audi Launching AFI AWARDS Audi Scholarships Initiative Providing $250,000 In Scholarship Funds To Women And BIPOC Fellows At The AFI Conservatory

In The Name Of Each AFI AWARDS Honoree

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, January 25, 2021 – The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today the recipients of AFI AWARDS 2020. AFI’s global Movie Club program will showcase the official selections beginning in February, with new and exclusive content released daily, including special guests from the honored works introducing the titles and AFI “Behind the Scene” conversations with filmmakers and actors.

 

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

DA 5 BLOODS

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

MANK

MINARI

NOMADLAND

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…

SOUL

SOUND OF METAL

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

 

AFI TELEVISION PROGRAMS OF THE YEAR

BETTER CALL SAUL

BRIDGERTON

THE CROWN

THE GOOD LORD BIRD

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

THE MANDALORIAN

MRS. AMERICA

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

TED LASSO

UNORTHODOX

AFI SPECIAL AWARD

HAMILTON

Bob Gazzale

“For 20 years, AFI AWARDS has been a moment to gather artists in one room with a singular goal – to create community over competition,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “This year we cannot gather but will instead celebrate each honoree by creating exclusive content to be shared with a global audience through AFI Movie Club, shining a proper light on excellence.”

On February 26, the AFI AWARDS tributes will culminate with a virtual benediction premiering on YouTube.com/AFI and AFI.com.

The AFI AWARDS celebration will be sponsored by Audi, a supporter of AFI programs for the past 17 years. To commemorate each of the AFI AWARDS recipients, Audi has created the AFI AWARDS Audi Scholarships initiative providing scholarships in the name of the honorees to women and BIPOC Fellows at the AFI Conservatory – for a total contribution of $250,000.

Celebrating film and television arts’ collaborative nature, AFI AWARDS is the only national program that honors creative teams as a whole, recognizing those in front of and behind the camera. AFI AWARDS honorees include 10 outstanding films and 10 outstanding television programs deemed culturally and artistically representative of this year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. AFI also recognizes HAMILTON with an AFI Special Award, designated for a work of excellence outside the Institute’s criteria for American film and television.

All of the honored works advance the art of the moving image, inspire audiences and artists alike, enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form and make a mark on American society. When placed in a historical context, these stories provide a complex and rich visual record of our modern world.

AFI AWARDS selections are made through a jury process where AFI Trustees, artists, critics, and scholars determine the year’s most outstanding achievements and provide artistic and cultural context for the selection of each honoree.

This year’s jury featured acclaimed artists including Debbie Allen, Cynthia Erivo, Rian Johnson, David Mandel, Marlee Matlin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Wes Studi, and Lulu Wang; renowned authors and scholars representing prestigious universities with recognized motion picture arts and television programs; film historians Mark Harris, Molly Haskell and Leonard Maltin; the AFI Board of Trustees; and film and television critics from media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, TV Guide, and The Washington Post. The jury was chaired by AFI Board of Directors member Jeanine Basinger (Chair Emerita and Founder of the Film Studies Department, Wesleyan University) and AFI Board of Trustees Vice Chair Richard Frank (former Chairman of Walt Disney Television, President of Walt Disney Studios, President of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences).

Honorees will be celebrated across all AFI platforms leading up to the benediction on Feb. 26.

The 2020 recipients join a distinguished group of previous AFI AWARDS honorees whose works define the art form and contribute to our rich cultural legacy. View all past AFI AWARDS honorees here.

 

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations.  Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstituteYouTube.com/AFITwitter.com/American Film and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About Audi of America
Audi of America, Inc. and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands, delivering about 1.845 million vehicles globally in 2019. In the U.S., Audi of America sold just over 224,000 vehicles in 2019 and launched the brand’s first fully electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron – one of four fully electric models coming to the U.S. market in the next two years. Globally, the brand aims to be CO2 neutral by 2050. Visit audiusa.com or media.audiusa.com for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.

(Source: AFI Press Release)

 

 

Today’s AFI Movie Club Selection: IN THE BEDROOM

Posted by Larry Gleeson

A 2001 AFI AWARDS honoree, IN THE BEDROOM marked the feature directorial debut of AFI Conservatory alum Todd Field (AFI Class of 1992) and was shot by Antonio Calvache (AFI Class of 1992). 

The film’s title refers to the inner cage within a lobster trap, which is referred to as “the bedroom” and is intended to hold only two lobsters. When there are more than two lobsters, it is said that there is “trouble in the bedroom.”Based on the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus and The Wyeths by N.C. Wyeth, The film centers on the inner dynamics of a family in transition.

Matt Fowler (Wilkinson) is a doctor practicing in Maine and is married to Ruth Fowler (Spacek), a music teacher. Their son Frank (Stahl) is involved in a love affair with an older single mother, Natalie Strout (Tomei). As the beauty of Maine’s brief and fleeting summer comes to an end, these characters find themselves in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy. (Wiki)

In the Bedroom was nominated by AFI in the following categories: Movie of the Year, Actor of the Year—Male—Movies (Wilkinson), Director of the Year (Field) and Screenwriter of the Year (Festinger and Field). The film received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress for Spacek and Best Supporting Actress for Marisa Tomei. The film received the following Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Tom Wilkinson, Best Actress, Spacek and Best Supporting Actress, Tomei.

Upon its limited release in Nov 2001, the picture garnered further awards, including the Best Film Prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Spacek and Wilkinson were named Best Actress and Best Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle. Spacek was also selected by AFI as Actor of the Year—Female—Movies.

The film’s title refers to the inner cage within a lobster trap, which is referred to as “the bedroom” and is intended to hold only two lobsters. When there are more than two lobsters, it is said that there is “trouble in the bedroom.”

Watch director and AFI Conservatory alum Todd Field (AFI Class of 1992) talk about the film.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Conversation Starters

  • After the tragic loss of their son, the Fowlers also lose their ability to communicate, and this culminates in a gesture of violent retribution. Describe the transformation of their marital relationship and consider why it leads to bloodshed.
  • How do the characters’ livelihoods reflect and contradict their actual identities? How does social class and economic disparity inform their personalities, and how are these issues are depicted in the movie?
  • IN THE BEDROOM refers to the inner cage of a lobster trap, where the lobsters grow hostile if there are more than two in the enclosure. How does this metaphor play out in the movie? 
  • In his Guardian review of IN THE BEDROOM, David Lodge called the film a “perfect allegory of September 11 and its aftermath,” even though production was completed before the horrific events of 9/11 occurred. He noted that it “tapped into deep collective emotions” as it was released in November 2001 when America was still mourning. How does IN THE BEDROOM reflect the human impulses of rage, grief, and the inability to make sense of tragedy that leads to revenge? Do you see parallels to America’s response to 9/11?
  • IN THE BEDROOM depicts extreme domestic violence and its tragic impact on a family coping with grief. When the legal system seems to fail them, the Fowlers take the law into their own hands. Do you think the ending was justified? Does this movie condone violence?
  • How would you rate IN THE BEDROOM?

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

Movie Trivia

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM’s title refers to the inner cage of a lobster trap, which is called “the bedroom,” and is intended only to hold two lobsters. 

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM marked the feature film directorial debut of AFI alum Todd Field, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus. Dubus died a year before production began, and Field dedicated the film to him in an onscreen credit. Field became interested in Dubus’ work while he was Directing Fellow at AFI.

DID YOU KNOW? Shot on location in the cities of Rockland and Camden, ME, several scenes from IN THE BEDROOM were filmed at Todd Field’s family cabin, and some of his son’s T-Ball teammates were used as background actors.

DID YOU KNOW? Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, IN THE BEDROOM brought actors Sissy Spacek and Tim Wilkinson a joint Special Jury Prize. The film went on to be honored with an AFI AWARD as one of the best movies of the year.

DID YOU KNOW?Made for $1.7 million, IN THE BEDROOM was a surprise box-office success, earning more than $43 million in its theatrical release.

DID YOU KNOW? IN THE BEDROOM was honored with fiveOscarÒ nominations – including Best Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek), Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei), Best Writing and Best Picture. This marked AFI alum Todd Field’s first two Oscar® nominations.

(Sourced from AFI News)

AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE NAMES SYREETA N. GREENE NEW DIRECTOR OF DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION

Posted by Larry Gleeson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 17, 2020, Los Angeles, CA — The American Film Institute (AFI) has appointed Syreeta N. Greene, Ed.D. as its new Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Greene holds a Doctor of Education with an emphasis in educational psychology and a Master of Social Work with an emphasis in community organizing, planning, and administration, both from the University of Southern California. Her previous roles include Director of the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center at Midwestern State University and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene will oversee diversity and inclusion for all of AFI’s programs.

Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO

“AFI’s community grows with the stellar addition of Syreeta Greene,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “As a person and as a professional, she embodies the culture we have been working toward and will catalyze change for an even stronger AFI.”

“I am excited about this unique opportunity and look forward to collaborating with the entire AFI community to develop a place and space for all who belong to the AFI family,” said Greene.

Syreeta Greene

Greene is a higher education professional with 20 years of experience. She is committed to removing barriers to educational and career opportunities, as well as improving the overall engagement, success, and experiences of underrepresented and historically marginalized student populations. As a diversity, equity, and inclusion educator, she has designed research-based curriculums on a range of diversity, equity, and inclusion topics; produced guides, accompanying audio-visual aids, and participant materials; and developed organization-wide assessment tools to engage stakeholders concerning organizational climate, experience, and observations. Most recently, Greene was Dean, Division of Student Affairs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU). Founded in 1966, CDU is a minority-serving institution and a Historically Black Graduate Institute located in South Los Angeles with a student population of 900. Prior to CDU, Greene served as the Director of MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center (formerly Office of Equity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs) at Midwestern State University, Assistant Director for the Transfer and Veteran Student Program at University of Southern California (USC), and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene has been a member of the National Association of Diversity Officers of Higher Education (NADOHE) since 2016.

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present, and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media
at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About the AFI Conservatory

The AFI Conservatory opened its doors in 1969 to an inaugural class that included Terrence Malick, Caleb Deschanel, and Paul Schrader. Today, the Conservatory offers a two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. In a collaborative production environment, AFI Fellows learn to master the art of storytelling, collectively creating up to 175 films a year. Fellows actively participate in the entire life cycle of a film, from development through production and exhibition.

Alumni of this elite program, ranging from modern masters to bold new voices defining the state of the art form, including Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison, and Wally Pfister, among others.

Final Thoughts on ‘The Mostly Virtual’ AFI FEST 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI FEST 2020 presented by Audi attracted the largest national audience in its 34-year history.

Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals

“With an audience of more than double from last year, we welcomed over 200 filmmakers and guests from around the world for Q&As and panels,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals. “This year’s festival was truly a celebration of film across the country with festival-goers joining us online from all 50 states.”

I concur. Thank you to Michael and the entire AFI FEST team for making this year’s ‘mostly virtual’ festival top-notch!

Sofia Coppola shares a photo during her 2020 AFI FEST Tribute

Highlights of the 2020 festival included a Centerpiece Drive-in screening of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… (DIR Regina King) at the Rose Bowl; the World Premieres of I’M YOUR WOMAN (DIR Julia Hart), PINK SKIES AHEAD (DIR Kelly Oxford) and REALLY LOVE (DIR Angel Kristi Williams); screenings of highly anticipated films including COLLECTIVE (COLLECTIV) (DIR Alexander Nanau), THE FATHER (DIR Florian Zeller), I CARRY YOU WITH ME (Heidi Ewing), MY LITTLE SISTER (DIR Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond), NEW ORDER (NUEVO ORDEN) (DIR Michel Franco), NINE DAYS (DIR Edson Oda) and WOLFWALKERS (DIR Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart); a conversation with Dr. Stacy Smith on the portrayal of characters with mental health conditions in film and television; a discussion with the director and cast of SOUND OF METAL with the Deaf community; a conversation with Academy Award® nominee, producer, director and writer Ava DuVernay about elevating and supporting BIPOC filmmakers; the Indie Contenders and Doc Roundtables; and Tributes to Sofia Coppola, Kirby Dirk, Mira Nair and Rita Moreno.

Additional Highlights

A few of my favorite additional highlights included Elle, an AFI Conservatory Showcase selection. Elle is a coming-of-age story and character-driven drama that explores themes such as self-discovery, unrequited love, and the ambivalence and intimacy that exists within female friendships. In the Director’s Statement, AFI Conservatory Alumna, Nicole Vanden Broeck writes,

Nicole Vanden Broeck

“I have always believed in the power of cinema to comfort us, to tell us that we are not alone, that others have felt what we’ve felt, that we share our struggles and our heartbreaks, that there is someone out there that understands.”

 

Elle

Technically and artistically, Elle hits all the marks. Strong cinematography by Guido Raimondo. Warm and intimate production design from Evan Welch. Seamless editing (Chris Tenzis, Editor). Believable and highly naturalistic acting with Sarah Sawyer as Elle and Ron Dadon as Sam. And, an emotionally rewarding narrative written by Vanden Broeck and Asher Jelinsky and a beautiful mise-en-scene to match. Gabrielle Cordero produced Elle. Highly recommended with a runtime of twenty-one minutes and a team to keep an eye on!

At the Virtual Industry and Filmmaker Mixer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Matt Yoka, director of Whirlybird, his feature documentary on the pioneering and groundbreaking TV aerial news reporting team of Bob Tur and Marika Gerard. Yoka crafts his work from 2,000 hours of recorded flight tape, direct interviews, news archives, still photos, and more. The result is a dynamic visual history of the biggest Los Angeles news events in the last 30 years including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the pursuant, criminal assault of truck driver, Reginald Denny, at Florence and Normandy after the Rodney King beating verdict and subsequent acquittal of the four white police officers charged. And, if that wasn’t enough the duo broke and captured the infamous O.J. Simpson ‘White Bronco’ car chase which became “the apex of live news coverage” with approximately 80 million viewers tuning in. A must-see!

Whirlybird

While I didn’t get an opportunity to connect with Sean Penn during the mixer, I did view Citizen Penn. I’ve long been a fan of Sean Penn as an actor beginning with his Mick O’Brien role in the 1983 Bad Boys and I was semi-aware of his Haiti relief efforts in 2010. As an Army Reservist, my battalion was on alert for deployment. In the documentary, Director Don Hardy, sometimes eloquently and sometimes pragmatically, reveals Sean Penn has diligently changed his image through Penn’s extensive efforts to aid assistance to his fellow ‘man’ in war-torn, disaster-laden, disaffected countries beginning in 2002 with the war in Iraq right up to the current COVID-19-infected United States.

Citizen Penn

Utilizing a plethora of photographs, direct interviews, and archival news footage, documenting the devastation and suffering along with footage from one camera operated by a Haitian police officer who accompanied Penn at all times following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Penn was adamant about his efforts not being used for overt publicity but allowed the official to have and operate a camera at his own discretion. Penn stayed on the ground for several months returning often guiding not only relief efforts but also debris and gravel removal. More recently, Penn began hosting an annual gala raising several million dollars from a limited guest list as his efforts are taking root. Highly recommended and quite compelling. A must-see!

Left to right, Meet The Press’s Chuck Todd, and The Reagans Director, Matt Tyrnauer.

THE REAGANS (DIR Matt Tyrnauer), presented by Meet the Press and Chuck Todd,  screened Parts 1 and 2 of this compelling and extremely timely re-examination of President and Mrs. Reagan. Chock full of evocative archival footage and illuminating contemporary interviews, THE REAGANS asserts Nancy’s central role in her husband’s career, shines a light on the darker aspects of the Reagans’ climb to power, and provides a revelatory perspective on how the political tactics used in the ‘60s and ‘70s are a progenitor of our current national politics. The screening was followed by an in-depth conversation between Chuck Todd and Tyrnauer as they discuss the subjects, several of the Reagan biographies, and Tyrnauer’s previous documentary, Where’s My Roy Cohn.

Belushi

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love, and humanly struggles.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

Wander Darkly

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly,  is as good a film as I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo,  Wander Darkly is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Wander Darkly is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY

The Closing Night Presentation was the World Premiere of MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY (DIR Errol Morris), followed by an interesting conversation between Indiewire’s Ann Thompson and Morris (available along with 69 other conversations here.)  In MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY, Morris delivers a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, Swiis born, Paris-raised, jet-setting, an aristocratic, Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US, incarcerated, and eventually released. At the time there was much speculation Harcourt-Smith was a CIA plant – a Mata Hari of sorts. MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY will be airing on Showtime!

Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Film from Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland, the animation studio that previously produced The Secret of Kells (2009)  and Song of the Sea (2014) completes an Irish folklore animated trilogy spanning slightly more than ten years.

Wolfwalkers is set in 17th-century Ireland, a time of great change with successive transfers of land from catholic to protestant ownership and where administrative and political power passed into the hands of a new English minority (Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 60, Sep 1967, pgs. 366-375).  Literary references to the Arthurian Camelot myth and to historical figure Oliver Cromwell are smoothly incorporated as well. Moore and Stewart encapsulate this situation in a magical friendship that develops between two young girls, Robyn and Mebh.

Wolfwalkers, steeped in historical significance, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing and it’s a film the whole family can watch! Wolfwalkers is set to be released theatrically on October 30, 2020, by WildCard in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on November 13, 2020, by GKIDS before debuting on Apple TV+ on December 11, 2020.

Stay tuned for the upcoming holiday film guide!

HollywoodGlee celebrating the start of the 2019 AFI FEST presented by Audi. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

AFI FEST 2020 FILM REVIEW: Whirlybird (Matt Yoka, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Filmmaker Matt Yoka, who I had the distinct pleasure of connecting with at the AFI FEST Industry and Filmmaker mixer, brings home Whirlybird, a fascinating, real-world tale of Los Angeles-based reporters, Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard, who revolutionized real-time news reporting from the air. Yoka crafts his work from 2,000 hours of recorded flight tape, direct interviews, news archives, still photos, and more.

The result is a dynamic visual history of the biggest Los Angeles news events in the last 30 years including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the pursuant, criminal assault of truck driver, Reginald Denny, at Florence and Normandy after the Rodney King beating verdict and subsequent acquittal of the four white police officers charged. And, if that wasn’t enough the duo broke and captured the infamous O.J. Simpson ‘White bronco’ car chase which became “the apex of live news coverage” with approximately 80 million viewers tuning in.

Prior to these two major national news events, Bob had also previously rescued 54 people from a crumbling rooftop at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif. during a winter storm with winds up to 50 miles per hour. The hotel was surrounded by water and was being pummeled by massive, crashing waves.  As what can only be described as a herculean effort, Tur managed to whisk away the stranded guests to higher ground in fourteen separate takeoffs and landings. The rescue made news headlines and jumpstarted his and Marika’s network career with KCOP.

By itself, any one of these events would make for a great story. And they are. Interestingly, Yoka goes on to explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics between Bob and Marika primarily with footage from their aerial reporting. What emerges is a strong working relationship with Bob’s perfectionism and Marika’s “go along to get along attitude.” The pair produced footage unmatched with Bob’s aggressive piloting and Marika’s willingness to hang outside and keep a steady camera rolling under less than optimal conditions including live rounds being fired at them during their three-day virtually non-stop coverage of the 1992 rioting.

Unexpectedly included in present-day time is MSNBC journalist, and Bob and Marika’s daughter, Katy Tur, an MSNBC journalist and author of the 2017 “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” as she reflects on the rise and fall of her parent’s helicopter reporting empire, the current state of, and decline of, major network broadcast news reporting, and her parent’s marital relationship. Yoka includes this section as Katy and Marika are seen in casual conversation.

With Whirlybird Yoka manages to distill a 15 plus year time span into a 1:43 film run time. With a focus on the newsgathering, Yoka delivers a very informative segment before introducing and exploring a surprising and deeply personal human-interest twist reminiscent of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner as Zoey Tur comes to terms with who she is as a person and explains why she performed so aggressively and behaved so inappropriately as Bob.

A seminal piece on the newsgathering industry in Los Angeles coupled with a timely human-interest story involving transgenderism and news reporting at the highest national level, Whirlybird is highly recommended viewing.

 

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Wander Darkly (Tara Miele, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly, a Lionsgate production, written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo, is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future.

The film opens with solemn non-diegetic music as introductory titles roll. An aerial tracking “god shot”  follows a car traveling down a nightscape city street that could pass for West Los Angeles. An interior shot of the moving vehicle reveals a young couple with a newborn in a heated exchange. Tension is in the air. Dominance and control. Neon lights flash giving an illusion of a video game. Mention of splitting up. Then a massive collision.

From here mise-en-scene and cinematography get very interesting as time becomes fluid with death and out-of-body astral planing. Carolina Costas creates this fluid time continuum effect through various camera angles, movements, and lens choices. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Inception cinematography and mise-en-scene where up is down and down is up as our lead characters are passing in and out of linear time going forward and back revisiting critical moments in their relationship trying to explain to one another what each was experiencing in those moments. I’m thinking Ghost (1990) meets Before Sunrise.

In the Q & A following the film led by AFI Programmer Claudia Puig,  Miele revealed the impetus for the film came from her life experience of being in a traumatic car accident with her husband. The experience changed her perspective on mortality and the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle she led. Sienna Miller also participated and shared Adrienne was one of her most challenging roles as an actor due to numerous emotional arcs, beats, and emotional u-turns. Miller and Miele seemed to both agree on the success of the film hinged on how surreal her character could be. In addition, Wander Darkly was shot in Los Angeles and Miele really wanted the story to be an LA story about an interracial couple. Producer Monica Levinson brought some of her surreal magic to the production set with the inclusion of dolphins!

On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Luna is no slouch as Matteo either. Steadfast and earnest as he explains his flighty behavior with axioms of “for better or worse,” and “you have to take the good with the bad.” As contentious as the relationship is/was, watching the two come to a resolution was emotionally moving and deeply satisfying to watch. The sound design by Frank Gates and the music by Alex Weston was more than complementary. They were an integral part of the film’s narrative as were the dolphins.

Wander Darkly is as good a film as I’ve seen this year and is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: Belushi (R.J. Cutler, 2020)

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love and humanly struggles.

Never one to take a back seat, Belushi found himself behind the fame and popularity of Chevy Chase and SNL’s Weekend Update. Belushi pushed boundaries and raised the ire of SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels in advocating for his performance routines. At SNL Belushi created some of the most-talked-about and memorable characters of all time. His Olympic gold-medal-winning breakfast of champions – coffee, cigarettes, and mini chocolate donuts – and his spot-on imitation of Hall of Fame Rock and Roll icon, Joe Cocker.  Seemingly, everyone was caught by surprise when Cocker was the musical guest on SNL and Belushi came on stage and the two performed a stunning rendition of “Feelin’ alright.”

 

While remaining a cast member of SNL, Belushi participated in the filming of Animal House as the lovable, disrupter “Bluto,” and managed to form a stellar band, The Blues Brothers.  To say John Belushi had arrived would be an understatement as was on the #1 television show (SNL), had the #1 comedy in movie history (Animal House), and the #1 record album (Blues Brothers Soundtrack) in the world. In addition, Belushi seemed to demand respect for his work and he also seemed to covet respect as a person. He and fellow SNL cast member, Dan Ackroyd, would eventually leave SNL and create two Blues Brothers films together. The Blues Brothers (1980) has become a cult classic.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.