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10 Films We Want To See At AFI Fest

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The American Film Institute's AFI Fest returns to Hollywood tonight, opening with a gala screening of Saving Mr. Banks, Disney's own hagiography of their namesake and the story of how Mary Poppins was made. One week later the whole affair closes with the highly anticipated new Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. Other major films screening at AFI include Alexander Payne's Nebraska and Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

While AFI Fest provides us an opportunity to catch these and other forthcoming films just before the Oscar season rush, what makes AFI Fest such a great festival is the abundance of world and independent films that may unfortunately be our only chance to ever catch them on a big screen in Los Angeles. You don't need another person to tell you to see the new Coen Brothers movie. Here's a list of ten smaller films that you should go out of your way to catch in the next seven days:

  • Charlie Victor Romeo has perhaps the most fascinating premise of all the films at AFI Fest. A project undertaken by New York's Collective: Unconscious Theater on stage since 1999, Charlie Victor Romeo is a series of dramatizations taken straight from the black box recorders from doomed flights, set entirely within the cockpit. The 3-D projection serves to create a literal sense of scale and depth to such harrowing moments in confined spaces.
  • Closed Curtain marks Jafar Panahi's return to narrative filmmaking after being placed under house arrest by the theocratic dictatorship of Iran and his first film since 2011's document of his house arrest, This Is Not a Film. With Closed Curtain (co-directed by Kamboziya Partovi) he returns to the topic of his own oppression, both legal and artistic, but this time with a fictional allegory.
  • Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about what may have been a legendary cult movie: Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. Of course we were instead left with an actual completed failure that has gone on to be a legendary cult movie with David Lynch's own adaptation of Dune.
  • Like Father, Like Son is the latest from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda that tells the story of two families that discover their six year-old sons were switched at birth. It’s a heartwarming tale that touches on issues of class divide and non-traditional families that transcends cultures. Your mom will love it.
  • Manakamana is yet another unconventional documentary from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnograpy Lab. Unlike their previous work, Leviathan, that literally immersed the viewer into the dangerous and tumultuous world of the fishing industry, Manakamana uses a stationary camera to document the passengers of a gondola ride taken by the Nepalese to a shrine at the top of a mountain. It is a beautiful meditation on the act of observation.
  • My Afghanistan: Life in the Forbidden Zone takes the story of the war-torn country away from the Western media and puts it back in the hands of its own people. Danish journalist and documentarian Nagieb Khaja employs a handful of Afghan citizens and has them document their daily lives with cell phone cameras, including everything from trips to the market and school to Taliban firefights literally happening outside their own window.
  • Our Sunhi is the second film this year already from prolific Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo. In Our Sunhi, Hong touches on his usual tropes: heartbreak, love triangles, long-winded soju-fueled drunken conversations, and insecure men. Hong achieves more with intimacy than the grandeur of his Korean contemporaries. While detractors have chided him for making the same film fifteen times, I say the more Hong films the merrier!
  • The Sacrament screens as part of AFI Fest’s Midnight Movies program that spotlights horror and grindhouse films. Your best bet from that set will probably be the latest from up-and-coming American horror maestro Ti West, whose latest explores the world of cults and the power of suggestion.
  • The Selfish Giant is a step up for British director Clio Barnard, who made a mark with her innovative documentary about Andrea Dunbar, The Arbor. While The Arbor achieved surrealism by employing actors lip-synching recorded interviews, The Selfish Giant reaches higher ground by turning the story of two young boys rejected by society into a modern day fairytale.
  • The Wind Rises is the final film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Unlike the usual lighthearted and fantastical fare of his Studio Ghibli output, The Wind Rises is a historical portrait of 20th Century Japan on the eve of troubled times. It screens at AFI Fest (along with a week-long qualifying run at The Landmark tomorrow) in its original Japanese audio track with English subtitles. Be sure to catch it now before Disney releases it next year dubbed in English.

Don’t forget to also check out the Shorts Program and also the six films hand-chosen by Guest Artistic Director Agnès Varda, especially her masterpiece Cléo From 5 to 7.

All screenings take place at either TCL’s Chinese Theatre, TCL Chinese 6, or the Egyptian Theatre and are, best of all, free. Click here to find out how to get tickets.

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Carman Tse is a native of Northern California but not one of Those Guys that hates on Los Angeles (despite his affection for the Giants over the Dodgers). When he's not sharing long-winded thoughts on movies, he's probably sharing long-winded thoughts on baseball or reading about weird sea creatures.