The AFI Fest is always a good place for local film buffs to catch the first public screenings of hot awards season contenders. The film festival’s 2017 edition, which concluded Thursday, was no different, offering up galas and free showings of such heralded movies as “Mudbound,” “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Shape of Water,” “Wormwood,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Hostiles,” “Molly’s Game,” “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” and “I, Tonya.”
Additionally, the festival introduced to L.A. such acclaimed foreign fare as Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman,” Israel’s “Foxtrot,” France’s “Happy End,” Germany’s “In the Fade,” Russia’s “Loveless” and Norway’s “Thelma,” all of which will be opening commercially here over the next few months.
Just as valuable if not moreso, though, AFI Fest also functions as a place of discovery, at least for those of us who don’t get to international film festivals earlier in the year. The majority of the programming is about movies that may never otherwise be seen in SoCal, and that you’ve heard very little if at all about.
Some of the works were really sad (see No. 5 below), some incredibly angry (the Fest’s World Cinema Audience Award winner, “The Insult,” that Russian thing mentioned above) and a few just made you go, ‘What the…?’ (New Auteurs Audience Award winner “What Will People Say,” Zambia-set absurd tragedy “I Am Not a Witch”). All in a good way, those, even if they weren’t what you’d conventionally call fun times at the movies.
The true thrill of something like AFI Fest is exposing yourself to exciting new talent, perspectives and ideas – and sometimes, indeed, just an unexpectedly fun time at the movies.
Here are five of the relatively unknown features that impressed me at AFI Fest 2017:
1. A Ciambra: Director Jonas Carpignano was born in New York City, but in Italy’s official Oscar entry he captures the life of a boisterous Romani family in Southern Calabria with remarkable authenticity. Employing a real group of nonprofessional actors, he immerses us in the criminal world of 14-year-old Pio, a whiz at stealing cars, copper and electricity whose loyalties are torn between his own large clan and African immigrants who show him, however illegal, kindness. Very Neo Neorealist, ultra-handheld (and remarkably non-shaky and tight about it), super delinquent.
2. Pendular: Not an art film so much as a film about making art,…