AFI FEST, 2014


AFI FEST, the longest-running international film festival in Los Angeles, returns to Hollywood Nov. 6–13. Hubbed at the TLC Chinese Theatres, The Dolby Theatre and The Egyptian Theatre, this year’s fest offers a cherry-picked selection of the best in international films, indies and up-and-coming filmmakers.

Free tickets for their slate of seventy-three features and 45 shorts are available at Priority and Reserved Seating Available with Patron Packages and Cinepass Express Passes ($650-$5,000) available at

Thursday’s Opening Gala – J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year”, starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks, looks at the 1981 crime wave that hit New York City, through the eyes an immigrant and his family trying to make it, as rampant corruption threatens to destroy all they have built. (Nov 6)

“Foxcatcher”, which screened In competition for Cannes Palme d’Or, 2014, is the Closing Night Gala film (Nov. 13.) The bio pic focuses on two Olympic wrestlers, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, and their relationship with the oddball heir to the Du Pont fortune (Steve Carell). ” Bennett Miller (“Capote”, “Moneyball”) Miller won Best Director at 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Other galas include the World premiere of Rupert Wyatt’s remake of the Dostoyevsky-inspired “The Gambler”, starring Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lang: Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel “Inherent Vice”, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones’s Western “The Homesman.” Jones’ directed and starred in the film along with Hilary Swank.  CRITIC’S NOTE: “The Homesman” screened in competition for the Cannes Palme d’Or, 2014.

Sophia Loren will be honored on Wednesday, November 12, at the Dolby Theatre (home to the Academy Awards). The Special Tribute will feature a screening of her son Edoardo Ponti’s short film HUMAN VOICE (VOCE UMANA) in which she stars and MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE [MATRIMONIO ALL’ITALIANA] (DIR Vittorio De Sica, 1964).

Several filmmakers return to AFI FEST this year including CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA’s Olivier Asayas; THE SALT OF THE EARTH’s Wim Wenders, MOMMY’s Xavier Dolan, THE ABSENT’s Nicolás Pereda, SELF MADE’s Shira Geffen and BUZZARD’s Joel Potrykus.

22 AFI alumni are represented in 9 films: including FOXCATCHER edited by Jay Cassidy (AFI Class of 1976); THE GAMBLER by production designer Keith P. Cunningham (AFI Class of 1990); THE HAIRCUT directed by Alexis O. Korycinski (AFI Directing Workshop for Women, Class of 2014); INHERENT VICE by cinematographer Robert Elswit (AFI Class of 1977); SLUT by producer Lisa Gollobin (AFI Class of 2014), director and screenwriter Chloe Okuno (AFI Class of 2014), cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen (AFI Class of 2014), editor Michael Block (AFI Class of 2014) and production designer Yihong Annie Ding (AFI Class of 2014); and TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER by associate producer Erin Li (AFI Directing Workshop for Women, Class of 2013).

VIOLET-Tyro Flemish writer-director Bas Devos’ exceptional “Violet”, shot by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (“Bullhead”) won the Berlinale Generation 14plus Grand Prix .

Devos as a stylist, occassionaly reminiscent of Gus Van Sant (“Paranoid Park”), He’s not afraid of distortion and out of focus movement that recalls experimental work of the early 60’s. In the Mall we follow Jessie in long shallow focus shots, the background a blur. Long takes, white noise and electronic visual feedback are this filmmaker’s palette.

What’s more, he seems to have taken some inspiration from Ruben Ostlund. (Ostlund, who shocked with his disorienting camera angles in Sweden’s 2009 Submission “Involuntary”,  returns to the Oscar Race with his more straight forward 2014 “Force Majeure.”)

At The Festival Of New Cinema, Montréal, “Violet” won both the AQCC (Critic’s) Award and the Daniel Langlois Innovation Award “for its daring aesthetics, creative use of new technologies and/or groundbreaking treatment of a sensitive subject matter”.

Experimental digital artists Herman Asselberghs & Fairuz, created many of the film’s startling sequences. Lo-fi images from security cams,  shared video media and games footage riding on a bed of concrete sound design  (Boris Debackere) take us into the world these disconnecting teens inhabit. The installation artists, who play with image fragments, numeric and graphic material, text, sound, are comfortable in the boundaries between image and sound.

Confident Devos tells his story with image. Shooting on old school high-resolution 65mm (digitally projected) and the digital Alexa, he uses the square Academy ratio to increase anxiety.

Impressionist colors bleed through digital screens. We are watching a bank of four CCTV monitors security camera’s in a mall. Different angles reveal two sets of teenagers roving the hall. Angst increase. A security person, partially seen in reflection on the monitor, leaves the room, one of his cameras reveals a fatal stabbing: a random act of violence.  It’s unsettling, as if our voyeurism makes us complicitous.

Hugging the wall, timid Jesse (Cesar De Sutter), a lanky blond 15-year-old watches the stabbing from the hallway. After they flee, he speaks to his pal “Jonas, Jonas?” but paralyzed, he never approaches to help him and the boy slowly dies in front of his eyes.

When a pack of school friends comes to his house, after the tragedy, on their BMX bikes, there’s a strange sense of menace. It’s unclear if they blame him or even if they know the killers.  Affectless, the pack of boys ride though their upscale suburban neighborhood, curving street, they crisscross each other and bunny hop their bikes, talking with their bodies, unable to connect emotionally.

It doesn’t help that Jesse is socially inept. He’s got one friend who he can talk to, another even asks. “Why was Jonas stabbed and not you?” Constant questions further alienate, freezing up his grieving process.

Devos must be a biker, he choreographs the freestyle wheelies, stopies and jump outs into something memorable. The pack goes to a wooded Bike park. In a hypnotic sequence the riders ride towards, flowing over a series of rollers, they dip below sightlines then fly-doing air tricks off sides. 

Later one of the riders says, ‘I don’t care what the others think. “In my eyes, you’re a coward,” Jessie’s the second murder victim here, trapped inside himself, haunted.

Life goes on in the suburban estate; the boys’ bike park trips seem more central than Jonas’s funeral. or the eventual capture of the killer. There’s grit too. Dog’s attack rubbish bags, and we’re uneasy, as if a body part might spill out

Jessie’s folks (Mira Helmer, Raf Walschaerts) haven’t a clue. They’d like to help but how? Jessie wanders at night, stalking his dead friend’s house. He lurks in the yard, watching the back of their house, their goings on, their grieving like an outtake from Rear Window. As he watches one light goes out after another, as the family goes to bed.

And Jesse does this nightly, as his father discovers one night. Devos captures the banality of loss. What do you do with your dead kid’s clothes? His bike?

He visits Jonas’s parents, as if to make up for their missing son. He’s at home in their house. Jonas’ dad, Thomas (played by Koen De Sutter, César’s actual father) reaches out to Jessie, It feels like he’s attacking, but in ends in a fatherly kiss.  In one plaintiff scene, Jessie rides home at dusk, pulling Jonas’ bike with him.

Midway in the film there’s a bravura sequence at a concert.  San Francisco’s-black metal  “Deafheaven” plays a thrashing version of ‘Violet. (Hence the title.) Strobe lights illuminate a bouncing group of music fans. Bodies move to the music. The camera picks up the mass of bodies all looking forward and in a slow zoom eventually frames Jessie, staring, full of impacted rage, his face turning ghoulish under the repetitive strobe. At last he can feel something, layers of sorrow rage and the despair of powerlessness. Eerie, like the tone of the film.

The closing 8-minute shot reminds us of the journey we’ve been submerged in.

HAEMOO: Director Sung Bo Shim’s “Haemoo” (‘Sea Fog”) grabs you and never lets go.

Sung Bo Shim co-wrote the script to Joon-ho Bong’s powerful Snowpiercer”. Joon-ho Bong co-wrote and produced “Haemoo.” The team delivers another gripping film with story telling that recalls Hollywood films of the 1950- 60’s.

Set during the IFM crisis that beset South Korea in 1997, Sung Bo Shim’s establishes the bleak working conditions for fishermen.  Vet fisherman Captain Kang (Kim Yoon-seek-“The Yellow Sea”) risks losing his old ship. The owners, sympathetic husband (Gi Ju-Bong) and angry wife (Yum Hye-Ran) are threatening to sell it to recover their loans.

Desperate to keep his ship and the way of life prized by his loyal crew, hE makes a devil’s bargain. Fixer Yeo Sang-Goo (Jo Duk-Je) arranges a lucrative smuggling job. Instead of the fake gold watches Kang expects to carry, he agrees to move Chinese-Korean immigrants into the country. He waits to inform the crew until they are at sea

The film is adapted from the 2007 stage play, based on the true story of 25 Korean-Chinese illegal immigrants who suffocated to death in the storage tank of the fishing vessel Taechangho;

Sung Bo Shim’s story seduces us with naturalistic character arcs before it’s hellish last act. Part Social realism, but laced with dark comedy, the story becomes a harrowing portrait of men at their worst, squeezed into survival mode by the neo colonial device known as the IMF debt restructuring.

The loyal boatswain of the ship Ho-yeong (Kim Sang-ho) agrees, as does the ship’s chief engineer Wan-ho (Moon Seong-guen). Wan-ho is the master of the engine room, even the captain defers to him, but he’s also indigent, and he’s been living on board. Dong-sik (Park Yoonchun), the youngest crewmember onboard is supporting his aged mother, so he agrees. Two crew: macho jerks round out the crew: Chang-wook (Lee Hee-joon) and Kyeong-goo (Yoo Seung-mok). Untrustworthy, sex-obsessed Chang-wook puts the crew at risk.

During the midnight scene, where the illegals swarm from their tanker to the smaller ship, sweet Dong-sik dives into the water to rescue a comely young woman Hong-mae (Han Ye-ri). His protective impulses awakened, he invites her to warm up in the engine room, setting a sub plot in motion that drives much of the action. Yoonchun, a member of the Kpop group JYJ, is an actor to watch.

An older cynical woman trades sex for a chance to stay in the engine room, but the Captain tosses her out.

Tyro director Sung Bo Shim is at home with intimate dramatic scenes and exciting set pieces, and he clocks a story of moral complexity worthy of a veteran 40’s Hollywood director.

Like “Snowpiercer”, the unpredictable “Haemoo” shifts genre and moods adeptly. Only the final act seems to recycle familiar tropes, but by that time we’re fully invested.

Ha-jun Lee’s gritty production design establishes the warm toned engine room, the dank fish hold, and the spare upper decks.  We’re sucked into the damp, claustrophobic quarters, and the seedy banality of the crew’s existence, as well as their uneasy bonds and jealousies.

DP Hong Kyeong-pyo (“Snowpiercer”) is a supple shooter, easily flowing from camped quarters to dramatic shots of the roiling crashing waves. He’s adept at capturing the chaos of large set pieces. In the ship’s limited locations, he uses characters’ movement in and out of frame to add to the mounting tensions.

Part social realism, but laced with dark comedy, the story becomes a harrowing portrait of men at their worst, squeezed into survival mode by the neo colonial device known as the IMF debt restructuring,

MANIOS SUCIAS: Set In Buenaventura, Colombia’s key Pacific port, Joseph Wladyka’s immersive “Manos Sucias” (“Dirt Hands”) takes us deep into rural Columbia, to a backwater of the brutal drug smuggling trade, where
Vicious gangsters prey on the indigent fishermen

Displaced by port development, fishermen are forced to work for the drug trade, which uses the port as its smuggling hub.

New York filmmaker Joseph Wladyka (a protégé of his NYU prof Spike Lee) imbedded himself in the local culture to develop and shoot his taut drama, a rare look at the rural, and racial component to the Columbian Cocaine Trade that still holds the country in its grip.

Two Afro-Columbian brother, long estranged, re-unite on a dangerous mission. Experience smuggler, older brother Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez) knows the ropes. His wife has left him. His son was shot by a paramilitary gang. He’s looking for one last job to finance his escape from Buenaventura (the ironically named Good Fortune). Younger brother, Delio (Cristian James Abvincula), a wannabe rapper with an infant son of his own, is in thrall to the local gangsta’s. With the threat of death hanging over their heads if they disappoint their bosses, the two haul a submerged “narco-torpedo,” loaded with 100 kilos of cocaine, to Panama. They must avoid Navy boats, the paramilitary and desperate, thieving locals.

Calm moments between the riskier parts of the journey, allow the brothers to reconnect. Jacobo is closed off, weathered by tragedy; Young lively Delio warms him up.

The non-pro actors turn in solid performances in a regional dialect, unfamiliar to most Columbians.

DP/co-scripter Alan Blanco takes a straight forward approach to the story, Avoiding the usual Drug-film tropes, and the picture postcard beauty of the locale, the team winkles out fascinating sociological details, Like the ‘Witches’- scooter-driven sidecars running on old railroad tracks. In one scene, the boys, and their ‘prisoner” run across the local para-military. Head to head, they disassemble their side car to let the suspicious military thugs pass.

Wladyka won Tribeca’s Best New Narrative Director, 2014.

SONG OF THE SEA: Tomm Moore’s gorgeous hand drawn animation, “Song Of the Sea” is a sweet follow-up to “The Secret Of Kells”. Once again he dazzles with his folkloric style, enriched with Celtic knots, rune forms and decorative flourishes from many cultures.

His story, based on the age-old Selkie myth of the Celtic Isles, draws on pre-Pictish designs as well as his now familiar swirling details.

Selkies, most often female mer-people, come ashore and live among humans, safe and able to return to the sea, as long as their mate guards their magical seal skin

Returning cast and crew include Brendan Gleeson, producer Paul Young, production and layout designer Adrien Merigeauand composer Bruno Coulais. “Kells’ distributer G-Kids, helped back the Cartoon Saloon production.

Young Ben (David Rawle) lives with his light keeper father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and his beloved mother (unbeknownst to him a Selkie) on a remote promontory. Pregnant with his little sister, Mother (Lisa Hannigan) goes into the sea to give birth. Beautiful Saoirse washes ashore. All that’s left of mother is her magic shell, which Ben is to keep safe, her stories, and a mysterious chest.

Time passes; Grumpy Ben must take care of his long mute baby sister. Conor’s mother, Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) decides it’s unsafe for the children to run wild on their island and drags them to Dublin to civilize them. Not only must they leave Ben’s beloved island, but they’re forced to leave his loyal sheep dog Koo behind.

Resourceful Ben draws a map of their journey, peppered with kid landmarks like Scary Mountains, As he draws, the map appears in the rear window of Gran’s poky auto, like a process shot, alternating with the russet colored country road. Magical Koo escapes the island and tracks them down.

Half-Selkie, little Saoirse snags the shell, and although she cannot speak, she’s able to conjure spirit lights from the horn that lead the children through their various adventures.

Running away, Ben and tag-along Saoirse meet a group of underground fairies, fleeing the cruel Owl Witch Macha, busy capturing benevolent fairies, stealing their spirits and turned them into stone.

Only a Selkie’s song can release their benevolent spirits from the Witch’s jar and restore balance to the world. In fact it’s left to wee Saoirse and brother Ben to do nothing less than save the world.

Macha’s minions, spying Owls, follow the children and the rebellious fairies.

Throughout their adventure, they encounter rocks with runic facial features, all magical creatures trapped in Macha’s (Mabb) earth-destroying spell. Imagine their surprise, finally reaching the fearsome witch Macha’s stone house, (and her collection of bottled spirits) when she takes the shape Granny.

Macha is a version of the great Gallic Cailleach, a shape shifting goddess who created the mounds, Cairns and rocky coasts of Irelands and Scotland, including a Great rock, said to be the crouching figure of her son, the giant Mac Lir.

“Secret Of Kells” was full of rotating circular shapes with outlines that rotated counter clockwise, embellished with motifs from the iconic midlevel book. The rotating circles re-appear in the newest film, here illustrating the magical tales spun my Ben’s missing mother, as well as Celtic knots, pre-pict figures and runic elements. Liquid floating sprits with long flowing tails, seen in Kells, reappear as well. The dramatic wave look like Hokusai’s curling prints.

Brightly colored “Secret Of Kells” offered comic relief, with its monk characters, drawn with the geometric verve of old UPA, atomic style animation. “Storm Of The Sea” has playful elements; some background objects are drawn from a child-like perspective, but with it’s subdued oceanic palette and misty watercolored background art, is a more lyrical adventure.

Moore weaves his details out of light, from the will-o-the- wisp dancing lights to the magnificent aurora borealis that fill the sky at the triumphant end of the adventure.

EDEN: Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Eden” profiles the rise and fall of a Parisian DJ.  An elliptical structure shot in a woozy, fluid camera style, and minimal naturalistic performances, help to thaw her chilly style of story telling.

Thirty-something French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s previous outings (“All is Forgiven”, “The Father of My Children” (her best) and “Goodbye First Love”) took a distant un-inflected view at tragic relationship drama.

Based in part on her brother (co-writer) Sven’s experiences in the International scene of the 90’s. Passive Paul Vallee (Felix de Givry) jesstisons his studies to become a DJ and promoter, living the highlife and crashing and burning, with the coke fueled twenty-year ride known as the EDM dance scene. Scene-sters and cohorts include the depressive Graphic novel Cyril (Roman Kolinka) and the older, cynical promoter producer radio DJ Arnaud (Vincent Macaigne).

Disappointing his mother (Arsinée Khanjian), who repeatedly bails him out financially, he forms the initially successful team Cheers, with Stan (Hugo Conzelmann). Their focus on Garage and neo-Disco, when no-one else in Paris is into it, builds a meteoric rise, and soon they are touring internationally.

Paul links up romantically with American expat (Greta Gerwig), who leaves him, Louise (Pauline Etienne). who overcomes his reluctance and lives with him, and opportunistic glam gal (Laura Smet).

Tangential but on a parallel and successful ride to fame, Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo aka Daft Punk (Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay) rise to the top of the scene. A running joke about the pair peppers the film.

DP Denis Lenoir the camera’s rakes the dance floor, at play among the smoky, neon-lit party where dancers exalt in their private Ecstacy-driven celebration. It’s as good a portrait of the scene as any on film.
Director of photography Denis Lenoir, Production designer Anna Falguères and Editor: Marion Monnier are in slendid form.

Watch for house music icons La India and Tony Humphries playing themselves.
ON ACTING: A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL KEATON AND EDWARD NORTON – Known for creative fearlessness and meticulous approaches to their craft, actors Michael Keaton and Edward Norton will discuss their careers.   Keaton and Norton currently star opposite each other in BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (DIR Alejandro González Iñárritu).

ON CINEMATOGRAPHY: A CONVERSATION WITH ROGER DEAKINS – Legendary director of photography and 11-time Academy Award® nominee Roger Deakins shares his wisdom and expertise in a discussion about the art of cinematography, and his upcoming release UNBROKEN (DIR Angelina Jolie). CRITIC’S NOTE: DO NOT MISS. Deakins unmistakable work on films like “Revolutionary Road”, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, “The Hudsucker Proxy”, “Passion Fish” as well as frequent collaborations with the Coen Brothers:  “True Grit”, “A Serious Man”, ” 2007 No Country for Old Men”, ” O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The Big Lebowski”, “Fargo”, ” Barton Fink” etc, form a remarkable ouevre.

INDIE CONTENDERS ROUNDTABLE – The Hollywood Reporter presents a diverse panel of distinguished filmmakers who have done standout work this year in independent films.  The discussion, moderated by THR’s columnist and blogger Scott Feinberg, will touch on their lives, careers and influences, as well as the challenges and rewards of working on indies.

YOUNG HOLLYWOOD ROUNDTABLE – The Los Angeles Times returns with its very popular Young Hollywood Roundtable.  Some of the year’s hottest rising starts will engage in a lively discussion with the Times’ Amy Kaufman on their life in the industry and being thrust into the limelight.

This year an inaugural technology showcase, STATE OF THE ART – INNOVATION, STORYTELLING AND TECHNOLOGY, with curated and sponsored discussions. will take place November 6 through 13 in Hollywood, CA, at the Dolby Theatre®, the TCL Chinese Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, with the technology showcase running Monday, November 10 through Wednesday, November 12.

“Dolby, the festival’s newest partner, enables us to bring our audiences and filmmakers an extraordinary movie-going experience in a world-class venue and provides the festival with a theater where we can launch this engaging forum on technology and storytelling,” said Jacqueline Lyanga, Director, AFI FEST.  “This year at the showcase we’ll be putting a spotlight on the evolution of Weta Digital’s technology, DreamWorks Animation’s new PrEMO software, and Dolby’s next-generation sound technology, Dolby Atmos.”

This presentation will explore the history of how Weta Digital’s artists have evolved their technology and techniques over the last 20 years and focus on an in-depth case study of the innovation in performance and effects as seen in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF APES.  Panelists include Weta Digital Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Lemmon.

At DreamWorks Animation, the animators have a new tool at their disposal:  PrEMO, built on the Apollo Platform with support from HP and Intel, which enables them to manipulate the movement and expressions of characters with unparalleled fluidity and freedom.  The use of PrEMO has resulted in a new kind of animations, first brought to life on the screen for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2.  Presenters include writer/director Dean DeBlois and DreamWorks Animation’s Chief Technology Officer, Lincoln Wallen.

Welcome Address from Dolby – Sponsored by Dolby Laboratories – Monday, November 10

Technicolor’s Production Services’ President, Tim Sarnoff, will deliver the keynote address.
Technicolor, a revered name in entertainment, is approaching its 100th year of operations.  Over the last century, Technicolor has reinvented itself at strategic crossroads of change – the latest being around the industry’s move into digital – while bridging an ever-expanding range of production workflows, as emerging global viewing platforms proliferate.  The company has remained current by staying true to a few strategic core values: its enduring commitment to serving storytellers and their creative process.

THE SOUND OF IMAGINED WORLDS – Sponsored by the Dolby Institute –Wednesday, November 12
Filmmakers tend to concentrate on the visuals of their imagined worlds, but what about the sounds?  Spend time with leading sound artists Erik Aadahl, Will Files, and Skip Lievsay as they present clips and talk about the imagined worlds of recent blockbuster films GODZILLA, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and NOAH, and learn about how technologies like Dolby Atmos help filmmakers immerse their audiences in fully realized environments with detailed soundscapes. Moderated by Dolby’s Stuart Bowling and Glenn Kiser.

See “AFI PROGRAM AND RECOMMENDATIONS” for complete program notes.

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About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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