The 26th Annual AFI Film Festival ended in Hollywood on November 9. Ninety-two feature-length films were screened at the festival (including a surprise screening of Skyfall, which was not originally part of the program).
In addition to the red carpet galas, and special screenings of larger released films, there were four categories eligible for audience or juror awards: World Cinema, New Auteurs, Young Americans and Short Films.
The winners from the jury and the audience are listed at the end of this article. First, I wanted to write a little about a film from each category that didn't win, but I felt should get a special mention.
World Cinema: Miguel Gomes' Tabu is a quiet, yet powerful triumph, one with black and white reveries that accurately represents the joy and anguish of memory.
The film is divided into two sections: one concerns a lonely woman in Lisbon, Pilar, (Teresa Madruga) who is concerned about an elder neighbor (Laura Soveral), Aurora, who might be entering dementia. When Aurora gives Pilar a list of people to contact whiles she's in the hospital, Pilar is skeptical that the names are real people. She is able to find Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo) who tells her the story of his illicit love with a younger Aurora in Africa; the second part is flashbacks to their affair.
Does this sound like The Notebook now lensed in black and white, in an exotic location? Fear not, with dashes of eclectic characters and fanciful technique Tabu is more akin to a Guy Maddin film. Gomes does not use any dialogue for the second portion, even when you see the younger couple (Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta) talking; you only hear Ventura's narration over the images, punctuated by occasional sounds of running water, wind, gunshots, an orgasm and -- whenever Ventura's 1960s rock and roll band plays -- the soundtrack features the matching music and words (in English). This second portion works so well because it is how memory works: You have a feeling about a person and remember certain circumstances, but the memory tends to boil down to a certain feeling you had from a specific look or the surroundings where it took place.
New Auteurs: Director Brandon Cronenberg wasn't just competing against other new auteurs but inevitable comparisons to his auteur father, David Cronenberg. For Antiviral, his feature film debut, Brandon tackles the body horror genre that his father is best known for, which only invites further comparisons.
In the near future, celebrity obsession continues to grow organically and literally, as a company begins to harvest and sell viruses contracted by celebrities to clients that want to get closer to their idols. When an employee (Caleb Landry Jones) injects himself with a virus that was created by a rival, and killed a public sensation (Sarah Gadon) he must unravel the reality of her death before the same will happen to him.
Brandon Cronenberg's celebrity worship fable presents a world where every internal part of celebrity is for sale: their skin cells are donated at a price to be grown and bought at a meat market to ingest, you can inject herpes from a superstar into your lips as if they'd leaned into you for a toxic kiss, and of course, a replicant can be created. Cronenberg has a great visual eye (he favors an appropriate white and sterile mis-en-scene, as the filth is reserved for his characters) and although his story lacks subtlety it doesn't pound with a hammer. The problem is that the characters we follow are just as despicable as the celebrities that sell every inch of themselves, so there is no investment in Jones' race to cure himself. There is enough visual and story promise in Antiviral to make Brandon a talent to look forward to -- and with storytelling growth -- he could find wiggle room from patriarchal comparisons.
Young Americans: Brothers Bill and Turner Ross are a curious pair. Their two documentaries (45365 and now Tchoupitoulas) follow their own whimsy in portraits of people and place; they are kinetic adventurers, and with Tchoupitoulas they have a dreamy travelogue.
Tchoupitoulas is a street in New Orleans. The Ross brothers follow three young boys from across the Mississippi River into the French Quarter for a night of revelry. Both the children and the filmmakers treat this as a visit to a playground. The adult ramifications aren't lost on anyone, though, and the Ross brothers are able to capture candid openness, but also, candid observations that the boys have about dreams, religions and goals. It is a rare treat to have individuals both in front and behind the camera whose entire narrative purpose is to live in that moment as if it defines everything.
Grand Jury Awards for New Auteurs:
Grand Jury Award: Eat Sleep Die by Gabriela Pichler (Sweden)
Special Mention for Performance: Mati Diop, Simon Killer (USA)
Special Mention: Here and There, directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza (Mexico)
Audience Award, World Cinema: A Royal Affair, directed by Nikolaj Arcel (Denmark)
Audience Award, New Auteurs: A Hijacking, directed by Tobias Lindholm (Denmark)
Audience Award, Young Americans: Only the Young, directed by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims (USA)
Audience Award, Breakthrough: Nairobi Half Life, directed by David Tosh Gitonga. (Kenya/Germany); award accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.
Grand Jury Awards for Shorts:
Grand Jury Award, Live Action Short: Introducing: Bobby, directed by Roger Hayn (USA)
Grand Jury Award, Animated Short: Oh Willy..., directed by Emma De Swaef and Marc Roels (Belgium, France, The Netherlands)
Special Jury Award for Animation: Belly directed by Julia Pott (UK)
Special Jury Award for Documentary Filmmaking: Whateverest directed by Kristoffer Borgli (Norway)
Honorable Mention for Performance: Raul Castillo, Narcocorrido (USA)
Honorable Mention for Promising Vision: Dogs Are Said to See Things, directed by Guto Parente (Brazil)
For additional AFI coverage:
- The Central Park Five
- Ginger and Rosa
- Holy Motors
- Laurence Anyways
- On the Road
- Rust and Bone
- The Sapphires
And a summary of the festival from Latino Voices.