AFI Fest 2013

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Where: Hollywood, CA

The heart of Hollywood has been pulsating even louder than usual lately. The American Film Institute (AFI) took over the TCL Chinese 6, TCL Chinese, and the Egyptian Theaters to showcase the best in 2013 cinema from around the world. What is already one of the most eclectic and congested parts of town, an 8 day film festival added to the Hollywood & Highland mix makes for an exciting, though admittedly, exhausting experience. One can’t help but sit and people watch – overstimulated by everything from the most obvious of tourists, to street performers and impersonators alike, to cliché “industry” types and other cinephiles waiting in festival lines hours at a time. The bright lights and crowds move about on Hollywood Boulevard just beyond, a frenetic nature in the air.

Within the chaotic atmosphere, you find the quiet. For me, the quiet came as the theater darkened, comfortably seated, my favorite person next to me, the first frame – at once dark – illuminates the big screen. It’s still pretty mesmerizing to me given the number of films I’ve seen in my life; in particular, over the last 10 years or so; how given the right circumstances I’m instantly transported into another world, temporarily leaving my own.

This year, a conscious decision was made to see the smaller foreign and independent american films over fighting for tickets and seats to the large galas and world premieres. This found me taking in films from all over the world from established directors to newer emerging filmmakers.

And yet, among the frenzy, the quiet, the excitement, the exhaustion; something felt different about this particular festival season.

Last year and in years past at AFI, there were films I knew while watching them unfold would be among my favorites of the year because I was already so lost in their mystic.

The Hunt, in 2012, comes to mind. The moment Mads Mikkelsen walks into the town church and sits in a pew among his peers who have ostracized him so deeply in the wake of false child molestation accusations, his eyes so rich in emotion, I can still feel that experience a year later. That scene remains one of the finest acting performances I’ve ever seen. I recall seeing Central Park Five that same year, unbelievably upset by such a story; infuriated with our legal system. A system that is still failing these young men wrongfully accused of a crime with no retribution, not even so much as a simple “I’m sorry.”

In 2011, Snowtown was so well-crafted and got under my skin so deeply, I remember physically hating the movie. I was in such a conflict as I cast my ballot at the end of the film. I wanted to say the film was awful. And it was. But only in sharing a visually graphic recreation of unfathomable acts that happened in real life. It was at that exact moment, I learned you can equally hate and like a film. I loathed what this film represented and how it made me feel, but it was so accomplished that I had to put my judgement aside about the narrative, and focus on the storytelling.

In 2010, my first official full AFI fest experience – I found myself taking in the galas and premieres to some of the best films of that year. Blue Valentine not only painted an unflinching portrait of a deteriorating relationship, but it introduced me to Ryan Gosling himself (*swooning*) during the Q&A afterward. The Fighter, I recall was two hours of pure unadulterated fun. The audience so engrossed, we cheered all the way through…and did so out loud. This is where Melissa Leo officially became my hero.

I can’t say I walked away from AFI FEST 2013 feeling this way, as if I’ll look back with the same fondness at key moments so vivid, it’s almost as if it just happened. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all of the films that I saw this year when I think about them individually. They each had a captivating narrative and a visual style that aptly told their story. However, collectively, when I look back over the 6 films that I took in this year, the overall power of a cinematic experience didn’t hit me as profoundly as in previous years. Perhaps I should have taken in more of the galas and premieres to create those larger than life moments, mixed in with the quiet ones to create a more memorable time. Perhaps I should have simply chosen a different selection of films to see altogether.

Nonetheless, I always applaud the art of making a film – knowing how much time, passion, and effort goes into crafting words onto a page, cultivating a motion picture for audience consumption. That alone is no small feat.

Here are the 6 films I saw at AFI Fest this year, ranked from my favorite to my least favorite.

#1 | Like Father, Like Son

 #2 | Gloria

#3 | Blue Ruin

#4 | Stranger by the Lake

#5 | Breathe In

#6 | The Unknown Known

As we near the end of the year, Like Father, Like Son and perhaps even, Gloria, have a shot at making my top 10 of 2013. We’ll have to see how the next 7 weeks play out at the movies.

Until next year…

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{How to kill time while waiting: snapping random pictures of your feet, your kindle, and your food.}


{AFI FEST 2013.}


AFI Fest 2012

AFI Fest officially ends today. 8 days and 133 films from across the globe, screening in some of Hollywood’s most historic theaters. From November 1st though November 8th, hundreds of people waited in lines in front of The Egyptian Theater, The Chinese 6 Theater, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater in an effort to celebrate the undeniable magic of cinema.

Perks of attending this festival: free films, hanging among film enthusiasts and industry “hot shots” alike, enjoying the chaos that is Hollywood, and engaging in some of the most compelling storytelling collectively curated under one umbrella.

Not so great parts: standing in line for up to 2 hours to see a film, getting terrible seats because half the theater is already reserved for said “hot shots,” spending tons of money on parking, and my personal favorite – not being able to see the subtitles on the screen because someone’s head is blocking them. Happened to me twice!

{Personal highlight? Hot Tamales in the old school packaging!}

I appreciate what the American Film Institute aims to do with this festival and was very happy with all 6 films that I saw over the last week. They were excellent stories that brought up injustices in our legal system, shared insight into the wrongly accused, the bullied; and even added a bit of humor to the life of an icon.

Naturally, I have my complaints: the lack of organization with lines and people not knowing where to stand; the strange method of giving a ticket, to receive another ticket, to then get another ticket into a screening seemed wasteful; and consistently starting films late, while expected in a festival atmosphere, didn’t help matters after you’d already been waiting in line for hours.


I do want to acknowledge that it’s not easy coordinating and pulling off a festival. I can only imagine the amount of planning, scheduling, and rescheduling that went into such a feat and I commend that. However, I’m looking forward to get back to seeing movies the old-fashioned way. Where you pay for a seat, can sit wherever you want, and not a 2 hour-long line in sight! 🙂

My grades on this year’s films I saw:

Hitchcock – Grade: B
The Central Park Five – Grade: A-
West of Memphis – Grade: B
After Lucia – Grade: A
The Hunt – Grade: A
Rust and Bone – Grade: B+