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AFI's Lineup This Year Is Legit - Here's What To Pay Attention To

(Photo by Jasmine Lord. Courtesy of AFI Fest.)

Sure, you can go to a movie any time. You can sit on the couch and watch one. You can even see one on your phone if you really wanted to. But going to a film festival—in particular, the AFI Fest—you get an immersive cinema experience that you can't have anyplace else. Not only are you surrounded by other film lovers , but you can see films that you may never see anywhere else, or before they're released widely.

This year's festival, which kicks off on Nov. 14 and runs until Nov. 21, screens more than 140 films in iconic venues, including the retro-glam Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the historic TCL Chinese Theatre. These selections span all genres, including documentaries, shorts, and foreign films. You'll have ample opportunities to attend galas and special screenings, and see releases from emerging auteurs, as well as AFI alumni. And in an industry that is scrutinized for its lack of diversity, the festival is moving forward on inclusion by prominently featuring films about racial injustice and by artists of color, and a full 51 percent are directed by women.

It can be dizzying to stare down all those film-filled days and nights, with so many heart-wrenching decisions about what to see and what you'll regretfully need to skip. One idea: break out of your usual film-watching habits to learn something new—so if you're a documentary lover, maybe try some dramas. If you're a sitcom person, try on some shorts for a change. Here's a list of the things you should keep on your radar during this packed eight-day event:

(Photo by Campbell Addy. Courtesy of AFI Fest.)

World Premiere of Queen & Slim

Opening Night Gala: Nov. 14, TCL Chinese Theatre, followed by an after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel

Queen & Slim, the opening night gala screening in this year's festival, tells the tale of a ho-hum first date turned deadly. When a Black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and Black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith), get pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, tragedy ensues and the couple goes on the run, merging their fates. The video of the incident goes viral, moving hearts across the country and serving as a lightening rod for collective trauma, terror and grief.

It's directed by two-time Grammy-winner Melina Matsoukas (AFI Class of 2005) and written by Emmy-winner Lena Waithe from a story by Waithe and James Frey. It's described as "a consciousness-raising love story that confronts the staggering human toll of racism and the life-shattering price of violence."

"My mission as an artist is to create change in the world. My time at AFI further instilled the power of film as a tool for change, and I hope that Queen & Slim sparks dialogue, leaving viewers thinking about themselves and the world long after leaving their seats," says Matsouskas.

Indie Contenders Roundtable. (Courtesy of AFI Fest. )

Indie Contenders Roundtable

Sunday, Nov. 17, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's historic Blossom Room

Independent film is the moral compass and artistic muse for the film industry, and this annual panel is an audience favorite. Film trendcaster and Hollywood Reporter writer Scott Feinberg leads a 90-minute panel of A-list actors recognized for their outstanding performances in independent film. The voices in the dialogue include: Awkwafina, Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown, Tony and Grammy-winner Cynthia Erivo, Jimmie Fails, Emmy-winner Jon Hamm, Florence Pugh, Emmy-nominee Kerry Washington, and Oscar-nominee Alfre Woodard.

World premiere of Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell

Gala: Wednesday, Nov. 20, TCL Chinese Theatre

The nation was riveted by the story of Richard Jewell, who found a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. His quick thinking saved the lives of countless bystanders, but within days of his heroic act, he landed in the number-one spot on the FBI's suspect list. Vilified, his life turned to shambles and with the help of an anti-establishment attorney, he battles the powerful institutions to clear his name.

Eastwood's film stars Academy Award-winners Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, and Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell.

"Clint Eastwood is an American icon," says Bob Gazzale, AFI president and CEO. "It is an honor for AFI to premiere this next chapter in his storied career - one that continues to enrich the nation's cultural legacy with undeniable impact."

The Banker. (Courtesy of AFI Fest.)

World Premiere of The Banker

Closing night Gala: Thursday, Nov. 21, TCL Chinese Theatre

George Nolfi directs Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson in a lifted-from-life story about true social and economic resistance in the Jim Crow Texas during the 1950s. Throughout most of American history, the system's been stacked against African American homebuyers. The Banker follows two entrepreneurs who figure out how to circumvent the racial limitations and quietly provide housing loans to the Black community.

"The Banker joins a remarkable group of films being released this year that openly confront centuries of racism and injustice in our country, while celebrating the brave individuals whose activism has created real change," says Director of AFI Festivals Michael Lumpkin.

(Courtesy of AFI Fest.)

Alan J. Pakula Tribute

Each year, the festival holds a tribute to an esteemed icon in the industry. Fans of the late Academy Award-nominated producer-director Alan J. Pakula will be thrilled to see a screening of a new documentary, Alan Pakula: Going for the Truth (directed by Matthew Miele), as well as three of his classic films, Klute, Sophie's Choice, and The Sterile Cuckoo.

Clemency. (Courtesy of AFI Fest.)

Special Screenings

Throughout its run, the festival also showcases highly anticipated films, acclaimed directors and emerging talent. "These are the kind of movies that are getting a lot of buzz right now. They're also potentially award contenders," Pepdjonovic says.

One of the highly anticipated screenings this year is Clemency, directed by Chinonye Chukwu. Its star, actress/producer/activist Alfre Woodard, will be on hand for an in-depth conversation about her career, the film, and the film's theme of extreme friendship under tough circumstances.

Other standouts in the series Atlantics (directed by Mati Diop), Blackbird (directed by Roger Michell), Just Mercy (directed by Destin Daniel Cretton), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (directed by Céline Sciamma), The Song of Names (directed by François Girard) and Troop Zero (directed by Bert & Bertie).

Know Before You Go

You can buy tickets to individual screenings, but your money goes further in the form of festival passes ($250-$500) and AFI memberships. Make sure to check the movie list carefully so you can plan for your best possible experience.