Being a film lover in Los Angeles is like being a food lover in Paris or a kangaroo lover in Melbourne — there are opportunities to indulge your passion incredibly often. Not only are there dozens of first-run theaters, there’s a handful of wonderful repertory venues and museum screenings of movies of all kinds. One of the best ways to watch and experience a ton of cinema at once is at a festival, and for people who can make it, there are few festivals as varied and evocative as the annual AFI Fest. Of course it’s interesting — it’s the American Film Institute!
This year’s AFI Fest runs from November 5-12 in Hollywood at various historical theaters like the TCL Chinese, Graumann’s Egyptian, and the El Capitan. There are dozens of movies and events to watch in various categories, both star vehicles and low-budget indies, but for the purposes of this preview, I’ve chosen seven that look of particular interest to me, and I hope to you as well.
We’ve talked about this for awhile because we’re all pretty stoked about it. This is Justin Kurzel’s epic version of Shakespeare’s shortest, but still great, tragedy about the Scottish king. Michael Fassbender plays the titular warrior-turned-haunted-ruler and Marion Cotillard plays his conniving, power-hungry wife who really hates spots. You can catch this one Friday night at 9:15 in Chinese Theater 1 or on Wednesday the 11th at 3:00pm at the Egyptian.
One of my favorite tracks of programming at AFI Fest is the Midnight series, which shows the darker, usually scarier films out there. A few years ago, for example, I caught the super weird Belgian giallo pastiche The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, which has stuck with me. This year there are three such Midnight shows, the first one being Southbound, a horror anthology where a series of characters who encounter malevolent forces on a desert road. This one is playing Friday night at 11:59pm or Sunday, November 8, at 9:30pm, both in Chinese 1.
Virtual Reality & Immersive Storytelling Showcase
It’s not just about watching narrative films in a darkened theater; this year’s AFI Fest also features a State of the Art Tech showcase on Saturday and Sunday November 7 and 8. The focus this time is about virtual reality and immersive storytelling. There will be different workshops and demonstrations all about melding cinema with these new and totally innovative storytelling methods, allowing people to go inside a subject. Google is presenting a keynote address by animator Glenn Keane, and there will also be panel discussions with leading artists in the field. All of this, as cool as it is, is free to passholders and guests. There’s a lot to know about this stuff, so I’d recommend visiting that page of their website.
The Mysterious Death of Pérola
Foreign films are very well represented every year at AFI Fest, and a lot of those films have their North American premieres there. One this year that’s caught my eye is this Brazilian/French drama from writer-director Guto Parente. A woman lives alone in an old apartment and starts to succumb to loneliness until her dreams start to merge with reality. Looks very creepy and possibly David Lynchian. I’m intrigued and terrified, my favorite place to be. This film, part of the Breakthrough track, is playing Saturday November 7 at 6:45pm in Chinese Theater 5 and on Monday November 9 at 4:30pm in Chinese Theater 4.
You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been, which is why the AFI usually programs several classic films, and films about classic films, in their Cinema Legacy track. On top of the Harold Lloyd silent masterpiece Safety Last!, they’re also showing this documentary by Kent Jones about the historic days-long interview of Alfred Hitchcock conducted by Francois Truffaut for what became a tome of film literature. Critics, writers, and filmmakers get together to discuss why this is such an important piece of film scholarship and we also get to listen to the interview snippets straight from Hitchcock’s mouth. Can’t wait for this one, but it’s only playing Saturday, Nov 7, at 8pm at the El Capitan, so best not dawdle.
Queen of the Desert
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t always inordinately interested to see the next film by the immanently fascinating Werner Herzog, be it narrative or documentary. His newest falls in the former category and is a historical drama about the explorer, cartographer, and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, played by Nicole Kidman. Part T.E. Lawrence adventure, part Jane Austen romance, the film looks like the definition of epic, yet given Herzog’s proclivity for not shying away from the darker side of human existence, there’s a good chance this will go to places the trailer isn’t prepared to show us. Supporting cast includes James Franco, Damian Lewis, and Robert Pattinson. This movie is only showing Sunday, Nov 8, at 8:45pm at the Egyptian.
On Directing: A Conversation with Ridley Scott
I think it’s impossible to be a film fan and not be interested in the work of Ridley Scott, who has one of the longest and most varied careers in Hollywood. He’s directed masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, and this conversation will take us step by step through the process by which he made his most recent hit, The Martian, which has slowly become one of the most successful and best reviewed films of the year. This takes place Wednesday, Nov 11 at 6:30pm in Chinese 1. It will fill up, so I would certainly suggest getting there early.
These are only seven of the many, many days worth of programming to explore at this year’s AFI Fest. Head to their website now for a full schedule and description of films and events happening between now and Thursday, Nov 12, 2015.
Which films are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments below!
Images: American Film Institute, All Rights Reserved
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!