AFI programmers offer up personal favorites

They made the hard choices so you don’t have to, prizing out the best from 3,084 films that were submitted to or invited by festivals like Berlin, Cannes and Karlovy Vary. Now we’ve pushed the programmers of the AFI Fest further, demanding that they steer discerning festgoers to a handful of personal favorites.

director of programming

I’m very proud about the number of returning filmmakers, since making filmmakers happy is one of my top priorities. As to my favorites, it is such a tough call, but here goes:

“C.R.A.Z.Y”:This wonderful film from Quebec really captured my heart; a family saga that spans 20 years. Writer-director Jean-Marc Vallee clearly cares about his characters, a quirky bunch that brought me to laughter and tears. The lead character, beautifully portrayed by Zachary Beaulieu, struggles with his sexuality and his relationship with his father. I adored the soundtrack. This is Canada’s submission for the Oscars. It has not found distribution yet, but I do expect it will at AFI Fest.

“Tsotsi”:Winner of the people’s choice award at Toronto; recently chosen as South Africa’s Oscar submission. A well-told and beautiful film. Writer-director Gavin Hood elicits powerful performances. Presley Chweneyagae beautifully portrays Tsotsi, an angry and violent young man who slowly gets in touch with a softer side of himself, hidden within his brutal exterior, which protects him from his cruel surroundings.

“The Gigolos”:A real treat, one of the freshest things I’ve seen in a long time. The humor is so wonderful, and it’s such an original take on the subject. A feature debut that is hysterical and memorable.

“A Dios Momo”:This Uruguayan production is quite impressive, with a strikingly beautiful design and a rich, magical story. Leonardo Ricagni is truly a talent to watch. We screened his directorial debut, “Indocumentados,” as a world premiere at AFI Fest 2004, and I’m so pleased he has given us the world premiere of this wonderful new film. 

“Zozo”:Josef Fares is enormously talented. We had the pleasure of screening “Kops” at AFI Fest 2003, so we are thrilled to welcome him back with his most riveting and personal story to date. The young boy, Zozo, loses his entire family during the Lebanese civil war, and struggles to find himself in Sweden. Fares himself was born in Beirut and immigrated to Sweden at the age of 10, so I can only imagine the emotion of bringing his own story to the screen.

“On the Other Side”:Gustavo Loza’s film, which has been selected as the official entry from Mexico for the Oscars, deals with the children left behind when their fathers leave the country in search of a better life for their family. Told from the perspective of the children, this unique story will not leave a dry eye in the house.

“The Refugee All Stars”:This film broke my heart again and again — the stories told by the African refugees of the torture they experienced was hard to take. But the love they feel and continue to express and share with the world was amazing. You expect some outrage after what they have been through. But their choice, to form a band and write songs with beautiful lyrics of love and peace, is truly inspiring.

“Next Door”:There is nothing more exciting to watch than a really tight thriller. This one kept me on the edge of my seat with my hands over my eyes. Norwegian writer-director Pal Sletaune (“Junk Mail”) will keep you wondering about the real truth until the final moments.

“Screaming Masterpiece”:As I watched this film, I kept cranking my stereo louder and louder, till I had to jump up and dance to the awesome music. I have never seen a music documentary that encompassed so many genres. But the real hero is Iceland itself, a beautiful land of contrasts and a unique creative process that seems the only place from which such sounds could originate.

senior programmer

All the films in the fest represent something in particular to me that needed to be highlighted, but here are

some of my favorites, in no particular order.

I love the new Winterbottom film, “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” It’s so witty and creative.

For their truly independent flare: “The GoodTimesKid,” from the U.S., and “The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years,” from Bolivia. “Joy” and “What a Wonderful Place,” two very different, exceptional films from Israel.

“TransAmerica,” because Felicity Huffman is extraordinary in this film. “A Dios Momo,” a gorgeous, Fellinesque film from Uruguay.

Also, “Dark Horse,” “The Gigolos,” “Tsotsi,” “On the Other Side,” “Zozo,” “Almost Heaven,” “Dead Run,” “Wrong Side Up,” “Tatooed,” “The Big White,” “In Memory of My Father.” These are remarkable films that really stood out for me.

There are also some great documentaries in the fest: “Buckle Brothers,” “La Fabri-K/The Cuban Hip Hop Factory,” “Desire,” “Factor 8,” “Pablo: The Poet’s Lives.”

Among our galas, “Walk The Line” and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”

documentary programmer and director of operations

“Factor 8,” a shocking expose of tragedy when HIV-tainted blood was used in a drug meant for hemophiliacs. It will hopefully inspire public outcry. “The Refugee All Stars,” West African refugees form a band, record an album and inspire a nation. Their struggles are almost unbelievable, and the music will make your heart smile.

“Pablo,” a truly artistic homage to Neruda, featuring his own words, interviews with those he inspired and images from the country he loved. In “Back to Bosnia,” a young filmmaker takes an unflinching, verite-style and highly personal look at her family’s journey in the aftermath of war.

“Screaming Masterpiece,” both modern and ancient, this is the music of Iceland. The film envelops you in the intensely luxuriant music of Sigur Ros, Bjork, Mum, Bang Gang, Slow Blow and more, with the hauntingly beautiful landscape of Iceland as the backdrop. “Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock,” the annual happening in the Nevada desert, must be experienced!

Also, “Devil’s Miner,” rich with the vibrant cultural beat of Bolivia. “Fuck,” in which celebrities and others talk about the four-letter word and its cultural implications. “La Fabri-K/The Cuban Hip Hop Factory,” the music will make you want to leap out of your seat! “Through the Fire,” the basketball version of “8 Mile,” a must-see for anyone who champions the underdog.

series producer, festivals

In our international shorts competition, we have more world premieres than ever before. This is a way to see the biggest and brightest filmmakers coming next.

“AdCorp, Inc.,” with Andy Dick. Absolutely hysterical. Andy and his crack team of ad executives try to come up with a new name for their company.”

“No Grey Twilight,” a short with no dialogue about the rodeo circuit. A grainy, cool look, with an incredible design and filmic technique. A bird’s-eye view into lives you would never see.

“The Abortion Diaries,” women who’ve been through abortions give testimonials. An unbiased account of a controversial topic, and a world premiere.

“Man Seeking Man,” a 50ish man puts out a “man seeking man” ad after having lived a heterosexual life. Complications arise when his estranged son comes calling.

“First Rendezvous,” a short horror thriller from Italy, from the point of view of a young woman who’s been drugged. Absolutely terrifying, but wonderful.

“The Youth in Us,” one of our most cinematic shorts, directed by Josh Leonard, with star Lucas Haas. Relies on a perfect twist.

Among special screenings: “The Big White,” “Pele Forever,” “Breakfast on Pluto,” “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic.”

— compiled by Amy Dawes

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