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AFI Sidebars Spotlight New Voices, Emerging Talent

Looking for the next Alfonso Cuarón, Dee Rees or Damien Chazelle? AFI Fest’s New Auteurs and American Independents sections are the place to discover them.

Comprising 18 films, this year’s New Auteurs program features a diverse mix from around the world including China, Germany and India, with 11 female and seven male up-and-coming directors in the mix. Meanwhile, the American Independents section features 11 narratives and documentaries — five of which are directed by women.

According to AFI Fest director of programming Lane Kneedler, both sections are a showcase for emerging filmmakers, some of whom have a
few films under their belts, and display a diversity of storytelling styles and modes.

“What we really see as a part of our programming mandate is to support filmmakers who are taking their first tentative steps into their careers and still establishing their aesthetic,” Kneedler says. “Being there with these filmmakers early in their careers to help support them as they’re stepping out into the international stage is the most exciting part of programming for us.”

Two of the 18 New Auteur selections — Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė’s impressionistic “Acid Forest” (Lithuania) and André Novais Oliveira’s narrative “Temporada” (Brazil) about a single woman settling into a new job in an unfamiliar city — will make their North American premieres at AFI. All 11 American Independents will have made their North American and world premieres prior to fest.

“While a lot of the American Independents’ films that were selected this year have played at places like Telluride, Toronto or Sundance, they’re still films that we feel are a bit under the radar and that deserve additional attention,” Kneedler says.

Galen Summer’s documentary short, “Sidelined,” is one of those films. The film, about 1978 NFL cheerleaders who posed for Playboy, explores the controversy that ensued and offers a timely reflection on how culture grapples with female sexuality. The A&E Indie Films short debuted at Tribeca Film Festival in April and went on to play at festivals around the country but has yet to be seen in Southern California.

“There were many reasons why I applied to the AFI festival,” Summer says. “The main one being that I wanted a really good Los Angeles premiere screening for the film. AFI provided just that.”

Other festival favorites screening in the American Independents program include John Chester’s feature doc “The Biggest Little Farm” about the director’s attempt to create a sustainable family farm outside Los Angeles, and Alex Ross Perry’s psychodrama “Her Smell,” starring Elisabeth Moss as a strung-out rock star.

This marks a return visit for Perry. AFI previously screened his second film, “The Color Wheel,” at its fest, and while Kneedler doesn’t claim to have spawned Perry’s career in cinema, he does believe that 2011 screening before industry crowds has proven valuable to the helmer.

“Alex has played in other festivals like Sundance and Toronto, which have been huge to his career,” Kneedler says. “But we still think that giving a filmmaker like him a showcase with his early in Los Angeles, where you can get very industry audience, has been really helpful.”

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