Fest Traveler: AFI 2012

Over eight days in November, filmmakers and cineastes will mix and mingle on four short blocks on Hollywood Boulevard, as 136 films from 28 nations screen at the annual AFI Fest.

This final event on the world cinema calendar can lay legitimate claim to being the “Fest of Fests,” its selections representing the cream of 10 months of international hoopla from midwinter Sundance to autumn’s Telluride and Toronto.

“Our goal is to contextualize the year in cinema for our audiences,” claims fest director Jacqueline Lyanga.

She and associate programming director Lane Kneedler take in 600 films apiece annually, touring the fest circuit like surfers tracking the perfect wave.

“We’re not a festival focused on premieres,” Lyanga insists. “We’re looking for the best of the year.”

This year’s best includes all the major Cannes prize winners; a dozen foreign-lingo film Oscar submissions; awards contenders such as “Life of Pi” and “Silver Linings Playbook”; and a variety of edgy international selections meeting Lyanga’s express criteria: “Does it explore new ways of presentation in content or form? Is it about something? Does it have a point of view?” (There are only two world preems but they’re doozies, “Hitchcock” today and “Lincoln” on Nov. 8.)

AFI Fest provides access as few other events can. Thanks to Audi’s sponsorship, every screening is on the cuff, opening up a unique showcase to strapped students and fans.

Moreover Lyanga says, “It might be a year or more before some films are back in the U.S. market. We give the audience a chance to be a part of the discussion around the films during the year they were made.”

This year’s conversations will be spurred by hard-edged looks at the justice system in “The Central Park Five” and “West of Memphis,” and the sophisticated, questioning nostalgia of Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa” and Olivier Assayas’ “Something in the Air.”

Other filmmakers are revisiting old themes. Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” explores a variation on women’s struggle for self-determination after “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” while Lyanga says Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone in Love” “could be a companion piece to ‘Certified Copy,’ in its investigation of the intersection of reality and fiction.”

To AFI president-CEO Bob Gazzale, the fest “embodies the vast and varied mission of AFI: to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers.” That next generation’s opportunity to hobnob with the greats is another unique feature of the annual festivities that began as Filmex in 1971.

With the Hollywood locale drawing eminent helmers like catnip, it can feel like international cinema’s Old Home Week. In 2011 Bela Tarr was reunited with thesp Tilda Swinton, and Michael Roskam (“Bullhead”) hung with the Dardenne brothers; this year, the likes of Leos Carax, Mungiu, Assayas and Potter are expected to drop by.

Most notable of all is Bernardo Bertolucci as designated guest artistic director, a post Gazzale says was designed “to give voice to a master, an artist whose unique perspective would inspire audiences and artists alike.” (David Lynch and Pedro Almodovar were previous honorees.)

The “Last Tango in Paris” auteur ran AFI master classes in 1974 and 1979. (“He specifically used the word ‘reunion’ in his email,” Lyanga reports.) He’ll be presenting a doc on the making of his next feature, as well as four cinema classics he chose as meaningful.

And thanks to the AFI Fest’s unique intimacy, the audience will be able to quiz him on what he finds so inspiring about “The Rules of the Game,” “Sunrise,” “Vivre sa vie” and (of all things) “42nd Street.”

HIGHLIGHTS


OPENING NIGHT
Fox Searchlight’s “Hitchcock,” about the love story between the iconic director and his wife, makes its world debut.


WHERE EAGLES FLY
“Silver Linings Playbook,” where Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Philadelphia’s football team all mix, unspools at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Egyptian.


JUSTICE ON TRIAL
The story of the three men accused of murder gets a docu workup in “West of Memphis,” 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 3.


EVERLASTING LOVE
“Amour,” the winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, reveals what a couple will do for each other in the later stages of life. The film will unspool at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 3.


NEW ROLE
Two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman goes behind the camera for the first time with “Quartet” (9 p.m. on Nov. 4, Egyptian), starring Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon.


GALLIC TREAT
French thesp Marion Cotillard suffers a tragic accident in “Rust and Bone” and sorts out what her life will mean going forward (7:30 p.m., Nov. 5).


CLOSING NIGHT
Steven Spielberg’s examines America’s 16th president in “Lincoln,” with Daniel Day-Lewis.

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