AFI Fest opens with premiere of ‘Mudbound’

AFI premiere film, "Mudbound"

AFI premiere film, “Mudbound”

The thing currently shaking Los Angeles right now is not the 3.6 quake we felt this morning. For me it was the opening of the AFI Fest presented by Audi.

It is truly the premier indie festival to see films from all over the world, some which will make their way to the Oscars.

From November 9-16, I’ll be crisscrossing Hollywood Blvd to the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, Dolby Cinema at the Vine, the Mark Goodson Screening Room at the American Film Institute and The Hollywood Roosevelt.

Jessica Chastain on the AFI red carpet
Jessica Chastain on the AFI red carpet

This year, the American highlights include titles such Errol Morris’ 4.5 hour documentary-fiction mashup, Wormwood, The Disaster Artist, and James Franco’s wild look at the making and unmaking of an LA sensation named Tommy Wiseau.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the classic, Barefoot in the Park, revived at the Egyptian Theater.

Do I sound excited? I am. Watch the AFI trailer below:

This year the focus is on equality in film and television as festivalgoers are encouraged to experience Audi’s (now sponsoring in their 14th year) installation in the lobby of The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

The installation incorporates an AFI-produced PSA featuring women in film that spotlights the Audi Fellowship for Women, which was created earlier this year to support one female director and her entire two-year AFI Conservatory enrollment. Audi and their support of the festival reflect a continuing commitment to “Drive Progress” by fostering opportunities for equality in film and television.

Dave and James Franco, "The Disaster Artist"
Dave and James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Thursday night, the festival got off to a powerful start with a film I was looking forward to seeing since I heard about it. Dee Rees’ Mudbound, is a powerfully acted epic about racial discord set in the WWII-era American South. Two families are pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

The film features an insanely talented cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, who kills it. The film comes to Netflix and select theaters Nov. 17 (for all of you looking for a Justice League alternative).

Other high-profile gala screenings include Luca Guadagnino’s passionate Call Me by Your Name, with Armie Hammer and the sensational newcomer Timothée Chalamet, and Scott Cooper’s brutal frontier western Hostiles, starring Christian Bale.

I won’t miss Craig Gillespie’s snarkily entertaining Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya, which may earn Margot Robbie (as Tonya Harding) and Oscar nom and Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fantasy, The Shape of Water.

There will also be a veritable smorgasbord of foreign films such as Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s bleak, brilliant look into the dark heart of contemporary Russia, or A Man of Integrity, a gripping moral tale from Iran’s Mohammad Rasoulof.

Until just a few days ago, the festival was expected to close with the Nov. 16 world premiere of Ridley Scott’s hotly anticipated All the Money in the World, but the film was yanked by from the program by its distributor, Sony Pictures, in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey, one of its stars.

The last-minute change of plans cost AFI Fest one of its highest-profile attractions, but also spared it some potentially awkward headlines at a time when charges of rape and sexual harassment have engulfed the industry.

The richness of this event’s international scope is a testament to festival’s director, Jacqueline Lyanga, and her team of programmers. Because the fest receives huge sponsorships from premium sponsors such as AT&T, Audi and Vizio among others free tickets are able to be offered to all screenings.

Yes, free.

Jacqueline Lyanga
Jacqueline Lyanga

In an article in Variety, Lyanga, says, “In a city where you have a lot of film people who are striving to work in the industry, writing in coffee shops, or still in school, it’s really tough when you look at the cost of going to a festival, buying a $600 pass or spending $25 on a [film from a] filmmaker that maybe you only vaguely know of. So, the festival being free gives people to take a chance on a film or a filmmaker and maybe discover someone they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.”

This thinking makes it possible for someone to see two of the year’s strongest imports – Loveless, Zvyagintsev’s follow-up to 2014’s Leviathan, is a studiously grim but intensely compelling drama that hinges on an unhappy marriage and a missing child and director Qiu Yang’s emotional drama A Gentle Night which won the coveted Palme d’Or. In the next two months, A Gentle Night will be in contention at the Toronto International Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival and The New York Film Festival.

And it seems like it is becoming a festival law that one must have superb work from Isabelle Huppert. And she is in three films – Happy End, Mrs. Hyde and Claire’s Camera.

If you can’t tell I’m stoked to share these stories and more. And no more shaking, Los Angeles.

Contact Colin Costello at or follow him on Twitter @colincostello10.