So money’s been getting a little bit tight lately (and very well could be for a while as I decide whether to move on from the company I’ve spent the past four years with to little financial gain) which means the annual laboring over whether to drop almost $250 on an AFI badge came a lot easier this year. Having become something of an expert on film festivals in the past few years, I’ve really come to appreciate just how convenient and unique AFI is, specifically its one-stop-shop approach to exhibition, infrastructure and networking. The biggest deterrent to seeing films at a festival is simply the energy exerted in getting from one theater to another in time. By setting up shop at the Arclight in Hollywood and setting up the filmmaker’s lounge on the parking structure’s rooftop, they’ve removed all barriers to sampling as many films as you desire and making the rounds at the after parties.
The problem though is that AFI’s a bastard step-child as far as festivals go. Located at the ass end of the calendar year, the festival is a dead zone between the unveiling of year-end Oscar contenders at Toronto and breaking indie films at Sundance a couple months later. The premieres they do get are those that have either been screened elsewhere (as is the case with Juno) or reek of misfires no one else wanted (hello Lions for Lambs). Most depressing of all is the fest’s slate of American independent films which, in my four years of attendance, have been without exception horrendous. In the interest of keeping up with other festivals, AFI added a “Dark Horizons” category to attract genre fans but they seem surprisingly uncommitted this year (Stuart Gordon’s Stuck and Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears both screened at Toronto to much acclaim yet neither chose to make their US LA premieres at AFI).
The one niche the festival has carved out for itself is as a forum for the world’s best foreign cinema, specializing both in films that premiered at Cannes as well as representing the year’s foreign language Oscar contenders. But over two hundred bucks is an awful lot to shell out just to see Cannes winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Southland Tales a week early. Thankfully, and through the graciousness of others, a badge has been dropped into my lap. This of course changes everything, as a dozen borderline titles I might never have given a second’s thought to all of a sudden sound promising (including a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see at Austin due to the aforementioned logistics).
I usually have such a hard time enjoying myself at AFI because I’m always aware of how I’m barely getting my money’s worth. This year, there should be no such issue. Once again I find myself engaged and excited. Stay tuned for updates throughout the first 2 weeks of November.