Before I say anything about AFI Fest I need to give Isabel a huge shout out for letting me know it existed in the first place. A while back I was whining that all the hype from the BFI Film Festival was making me wish I was back in London, and Isabel blew my mind by telling me about AFI Fest. How on Earth it's possible that someone who loves going to the movies as much as I do, and grew up in LA didn't know about this film festival is beyond me but I'm glad I know now because it was amazing.
The American Film Institute puts together this festival every year, and it's completely free! I think the limit is 30 tickets per person, which is more than enough. I didn't plan my schedule out very well, I kind of went wild when the festival's schedule was released and requested 2 tickets for the first five movies that sounded good, and meant to request the times off so my work schedule wouldn't conflict. I completely forgot to do that, but in an incredible stroke of luck only one of the screenings conflicted with my work schedule so I swapped those tickets for another screening.
In the end I had tickets for Deux Jours Une Nuit, The Midnight Swim, Bande Des Filles, Viktoria, and Manos Sucias. I decided to take Metro to the theater to avoid having to park on Hollywood & Highland and completely underestimated my travel time, so I missed Deux Jours Une Nuit. I was bummed, but since Marion Cotillard is the star I'm sure that it will come out on limited release at least so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for it.
The Midnight Swim was the first screening I saw and it did not disappoint. The film is about three half sisters that have all come back to their childhood lake house in the wake of their mother's drowning. The entire film is shot by June, the youngest sister. At first this effect was hard to adjust to, there are a couple really shaky shots throughout, but overall I really loved that the audience sees the events of the film literally through June's lens. The title comes from a myth that is described within the film about seven sisters that go swimming at midnight and drown one by one. I stayed for the Q&A with the cast and the director after the screening, and the director said that the house they filmed in actually belongs to her family; it was the place she spent her summers as a child. She also mentioned that the myth really does circulate around the area and that her mother used to tell it to her and her sisters to warn them that a drowning person can pull you under. That really stuck with me after the screening and pulled together a lot of different elements from the film in my mind. I loved The Midnight Swim, and I was so happy to see that it won an Audience Award at the festival. During the Q&A the director mentioned they didn't currently have a release plan, but I really hope it gets released in the US because I already want to see it again.
I saw Bande Des Filles next, the English title is Girlhood but I think Bande des Filles captures the mood of the film more. Granted, my French is getting rusty but I would translate it as Girl Gang and I think that really conveys what the film is about. It follows Marieme (who changes her name to Vic) through her life in the suburbs of Paris. My French professors at school focused a lot on social issues in France like education, immigration, and life in the suburbs of Paris, so I was really excited for this film. I don't want to give too much of the plot away but I really liked the way the film highlighted the importance of friendships between girls in that specific community. This is another one that I loved, and I can't wait to see again.
Viktoria was the only film I saw at the festival that I really did not enjoy. It follows a girl, Viktoria, who's born without a belly button 9 years before the fall of communism in Bulgaria. The first third of the movie focuses on her mother, who is unenthusiastic about her pregnancy, the second third showcases young Viktoria as she's celebrated as the poster child of Bulgarian communism, and the final third focuses on the family after the fall of communism. I didn't really see how all the different threads connected. While the lack of a belly button seemed to suggest a break down in the mother/daughter relationship, the role communism played in that didn't make much sense.
Manos Sucias was the last film I saw and it definitely brought the festival to an end on a high point. We almost missed this one, we ended up getting into line late after pausing for coffee and barely made the cut off. Since we made it into the theater by the skin of our teeth, we had to sit in the second row, but it was totally worth it. The film takes place in Colombia and follows two estranged brothers who are unexpectedly reunited for a job delivering drugs. The film focuses a lot on racial tensions in Colombia, and during the Q&A so many Colombians in the audience thanked the director for shedding light on the issue of racism in Latin American communities. This is another film that I would really like to see again, preferably from the comfort of my usual seat in the back row.
Next year I'll hopefully be better prepared; I think the way to go would be to get tickets for multiple screenings in one day. Still, I had so much fun at the festival this year and I'm so glad I'm finally in the loop. Better late than never!