Culture, Film Festivals, LA, Movies
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AFI FEST ’15: A Week of Films, Filmmakers, and Fun

This year marks my first time attending AFI Fest, and my experience was truly one to remember. Festival passes start at $375, but my class schedule only allowed for me to attend a few screenings, so I took advantage of the fest’s free tickets (yes, free!). This year I attended the premiere of By the Sea, with an introduction by Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Mustang with both an introduction and Q & A with the film’s director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and ensemble cast, and Youthfollowed by a conversation with Michael Caine and director Paolo Sorrentino. I had plans to see The Lobster, which looks bizarrely entertaining, but unfortunately had to miss it due to schedule conflicts. After as much fun as I had this year, I plan on attending AFI Fest for as long as I’m living in Los Angeles – it’s a festival that all film lovers should experience at least once!

What I found so refreshing about AFI Fest can be summed up in their mission statement: AFI Fest is “American Film Institute’s annual celebration of international cinema from modern masters and emerging filmmakers. ” In her introduction of Mustang, festival director Jacqueline Lyanga explained that AFI wasn’t simply interested in seeking out world and national premieres (unlike most major and minor film festivals), instead focusing on the quality and diversity of the work, and supporting both emerging filmmakers and already well established auteurs. It’s a festival thats existence seems entirely based on a love for films; celebrating both those who make them and those who watch.

Here’s an overview of the films that I had the chance to see:

By the Sea

Synopsis: “Set in France during the mid-1970s, Vanessa, a former dancer, and her husband Roland, an American writer, travel the country together. They seem to be growing apart, but when they linger in one quiet, seaside town they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as a local bar/café-keeper and a hotel owner.”

Thoughts: Although I didn’t adore By the Sea, and I felt that the story wasn’t necessarily enough to carry a lengthy feature, I did appreciate Jolie-Pitt’s portrayal of love and loss. I often consider the concept of the male gaze when watching films (or more appropriately, the white heterosexual male gaze) and I thought that it was interesting to watch sex scenes directed by a woman. Jolie-Pitt’s work, though not entirely profound at times, showcases a particular feminine sensibility that is seriously lacking in most American films. In short, this review by Katie Walsh basically sums up my thoughts on By the Sea.

Mustang

Synopsis: “In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play sets off a scandal that has unexpected consequences. The family home is progressively transformed into a prison; instruction in homemaking replaces school and marriages start being arranged. The five sisters who share a common passion for freedom, find ways of getting around the constraints imposed on them.”

ThoughtsMustang was directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, co-written by Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour, and stars five exceptionally talented young actors: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu, and Ilayda Akdogan. SHOUT-OUT TO WOMEN MAKING MOVIES! Mustang is particularly bold, intimate, artful, and indisputably one of the best films of the year. Not only was it well received at Cannes and TIFF, but it was selected by France as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, and won the New Auteur Audience Award at AFI Fest.

Mustang is beautiful from start to finish, and is such a breath of fresh air. It’s spectacularly well written, with a story and performances that are completely engrossing, and is heartbreaking, yet powerful beyond words. I’m not sure what sort of theatrical release the film will have in the U.S., but you should absolutely see it if you have the opportunity!

Youth

Synopsis: “A retired orchestra conductor is on holiday with his daughter and his film director best friend in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday.”

Thoughts: Each year I come across a movie that is clearly my favorite. Others may be “better” in some “objective” ways, but one film always speaks to me and my very particular tastes. This year, at least so far, that film is Youth (though I should note that Mustang follows it immediately at #2). It’s bizarre, gorgeous, and so very European. I love love love love love it. Youth is funny, and weird, and heartbreaking, and stunning. It’s unusual, yet oddly familiar, and in many ways represents the highs and lows of life itself. As with Mustang, I recommend you just watch it, though I’ll admit that this one’s not for everyone!

Were you at AFI Fest? If so, what were your favorite films at the festival?

[Synopses via IMDb]

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