11/05/2011 02:18 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2012

AFI Festival 2011: Jacqueline Lyanga Picks Her Favorite Films Of The Fest

This year's American Film Institute Festival commenced Thursday night with the premiere of Clint Eastwood's highly anticipated biopic "J. Edgar," starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The night marked the beginning of that time of year -- when the Academy Award buzz begins to infuse the city. But more importantly, it's also the time that AFI brings the year's best movies to LA audiences.

Throughout the days and nights from Nov. 3 to Nov. 10, AFI takes over Los Angeles' legendary movie theaters. So to figure out how to tackle the epic cinematic calendar, The Huffington Post spoke with Jacqueline Lyanga, director of AFI Fest.

How did the experience of being an MFA fellow at AFI enlighten your experience as director of the AFI Festival?
When I started at the [AFI] Conservatory, on opening day [former AFI director] Jean Firstenberg would come give a lecture to the fellows, and the focus was on collaboration. And it is so essential in this business, whether it is on the production side or on the festival side. It's that kind of collaboration, the trust, the tuning in to artistic influences, being able to engage in conversations and dialogue between the filmmakers, which enables festivals to, I think, be influential and enables the festival to kind of, over time, really find its voice.

How do you believe that the festival collaborates with the city of Los Angeles?
Well, that is the big part of the year. When we're not screening films, we're building partnerships with other organizations in the city -- whether it is a cultural organization that we would bring on to support a film or a consulate that comes on board to support a specific filmmaker. Or with an organization like the American Cinematheque, the Egyptian -- it is essential, it is really important for us to support each other -- like Outfest, Cinefamily, Fantastic Fest. And as much as we can, we like to work with them.

What films are you most looking forward to audiences seeing?
The films that I'm looking to having audiences see at the festival are some of my favorite films at the festival, and they also happen to be their countries' Oscar submissions -- which is really fantastic.

"Miss Bala" is one, directed by Gerardo Naranjo, who is also an AFI Conservatory alum. He did the directing program here, and he is based out of Mexico City.

Wim Wender's latest film, "Pina," is a 3D dance documentary. It's truly spectacular. Pina Bausch unfortunately passed away just as he began to make this documentary, and it really takes you into the world of a dancer and the process of choreography.

I also really love "A Separation," which I saw first in Berlin. Great screen writing in that film. Also, there's great screen writing in "Footnote," about the competition within the family. The writing is just brilliant.

Do you think that there is an underlying quality of the films that have been chosen for the festival this year?
If there was an underlying quality to all the films, it is that they've all been very carefully chosen. We spend a lot of time watching films. We each watch about 600 films a year. We also talk, we argue, we debate, we exchange emails. We're in constant conversation throughout the year about the films that we have seen and what we'd like to have make up the program. I think it is that yearlong engagement, the yearlong discourse around the films, that makes the program stronger.

Browse the AFI foreign language Oscar submissions: