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Interview: Jacqueline Lyanga on AFI Fest 2013

Photo of Carlos Aguilar By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz November 8, 2013 at 8:30AM

Once again this Fall AFI Fest will take place in the heart of Hollywood on November 7-14, 2013. Presented by the American Film Institute and Audi, the 27th edition of the festival encompasses the year's best in cinema from around the world's most important festivals
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AFI Fest Director Jacqueline Lyanga
AFI Fest Director Jacqueline Lyanga

Once again this Fall AFI Fest will take place in the heart of Hollywood on November 7-14, 2013. Presented by the American Film Institute and Audi, the 27th edition of the festival encompasses the year's best in cinema from around the world's most important festivals. The program includes some of the most anticipated films that will surely be in the running this Award Season, as well as several Foreign Language Oscar Submissions, films from new voices in cinema, as well as classic films restored for the delight of new audiences. AFI Fest is a World Class film festival that is also, surprisingly, free for the public, which really assures people in Los Angeles, and those who visit for the festival, that they can enjoy great films without any burden.

The festival's director Jacqueline Lyanga talked to us about the specifics of each section in the festival, the arduous selection that begins early every year, and how AFI Fest represents the new, broader way Hollywood operates today.

Carlos Aguilar: Could you briefly discuss the selections process for the festival, given that it is a very eclectic and varied program?

Jacqueline Lyanga: Our festival has evolved over the past few years; we are not a festival that focuses on World Premieres. What we do is, we start looking for films in January at Sundance, and then we go to Rotterdam, Berlin, Tribeca and South By Southwest, Cannes, Locarno, Telluride, and lastly Toronto is the last festival that we attend. We look to bring, as best as we can, a program that serves as a kind of almanac of the year. We look to bring the best films of the year and try to inspire in the local audience, and in those who come to Los Angeles for the festival, dialogues around cinema that we have experience over the course of the year as we go from festival to festival, to showcase the ideas that filmmakers are exploring around the world.

Aguilar: In regards to each section, what is new this year? Could you give us an overview of the distinct sections of the festival?

AFI Fest 2013

Lyanga: We have one competitive section for feature films, that’s our New Auteurs section. New Auteurs is a section that highlights first and second time international filmmakers. We look to have it be very international, there is one American filmmaker in it, and we look to showcase films of young filmmakers with a bold new creative vision. That’s a really exciting program, many of these films have won awards at other festivals, and then they play together in the same section at AFI Fest.

World Cinema encompasses a number of kinds of filmmakers, emerging filmmakers, master filmmakers, The Lunchbox is by a first time director, then we have filmmakers like Kim Ki-duk with Moebius, or Sebastian Lelio, who has made a few films, with Gloria starring Paulina Garcia. It showcases a lot of great international performances as well.

The Special Screenings are highly anticipated films often from the Fall Festival Circuit, and of course our Galas, our big nightly red carpets. That section is also very much a combination of studio films, independent films, auteur films, and foreign films. We have The Last Emperor in 3D, we have Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, Out of the Furnace, so a lot of different kinds of filmmaking, which really showcases what Hollywood is now, which is really a big part of our message this year.

We want people to see the festival as the way in which Hollywood encompasses icons, masters, and emerging filmmakers, American filmmakers and foreign filmmakers. Our guest Artistic Director is Agnes Varda, as I’m sure you know, she selected a program of films. That program will showcase two of her films Cleo from 5 to 7 and Documenteur, as well as a film that she restored with her children, her daughter Rosalie and her son Mathieu, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, her late husband Jacques Demy’s film.

So we have a really great cross-section of filmmaking in the program. We also have a new section this year called Cinema’s Legacy in which we highlight restoration and film anniversaries, all of the films in that section have a connection to our program the one I just mentioned, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, that Agnes Varda restored. The other two are The Court Jester, which stars Danny Kaye, who also starred in the original The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It is Danny Kaye’s centennial this year, which we are celebrating. The third film Mary Poppins, which is the film that inspired our Opening Night film Saving Mr. Banks that tells the story of the making of Mary Poppins.

Guest Artistic Director Agnes Varda
Guest Artistic Director Agnes Varda

Aguilar: What drew you to select Agnes Varda to be this year’s Guest Artistic Director?

Lyanga: It is really exciting for us that she is our first female Guest Artistic director, and a director that has been so influential to the French New Wave. The French New Wave was extremely influential to American filmmakers especially in the 70’s, so that influence and us seeking for masters in that role like David Lynch, and as you know Pedro Almodovar or Bernardo Bertolucci, and it just seemed perfect to follow those three with Agnes Varda.

Aguilar: Given that you have attended all the major film festivals in the world what makes AFI Fest different or special?

Lyanga: One of the great things about the festival is that it’s free. I think it’s amazing, because of great partners, great sponsors like Audi, American Airlines who helps us bring in the filmmakers, or Motorola who is a big sponsor this year, or Coca-Cola, they enable us to really put on a World Class film festival for free. The audience doesn’t have to worry about the cost of the ticket; the cost of the ticket doesn’t have to be a barrier to experience the best of contemporary World Cinema. I think that’s what makes me really excited every year about programming this festival and then ultimately about Opening Night.

Aguilar: What is the relationship between AFI Fest and the AFI Conservatory Alummi?

Lyanga: The festival offices are on the Institute’s campus, which is where the conservatory is housed. Every year, including this year, we definitely have some AFI Alumni’s films playing at the festival. Drake Doremus, who was a Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner with Like Crazy a few years ago, has a film called Breath In at the festival this year. Producer Brian Udovich is present with a film called We Gotta Get Out Of This Place in our American Independent section, which was at Toronto earlier this year. We have alumni as a screenwriter and another as a cinematographer on Out of the Furnace. Also La Jaula de Oro a Spanish/Mexican Co-Production directed by an AFI cinematography alumni. We have some in the shorts program as well; a short called Whale Valley, another short called Machsom, also Wild Horses by Stephanie Martin. So we have several AFI Alumni with films in the program.

Călin Peter Netzer's 'Child's Pose'
Călin Peter Netzer's 'Child's Pose'

Aguilar: The program includes several Submissions to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award; do you think AFI serves as a platform to increase the chances of these films at getting a nomination?

Lyanga: Often times when we invite a film it hasn’t even been selected yet, so we don’t know, we find out afterwards. It’s always exciting to find that out because it means more opportunities and more attention for the filmmakers. Festivals certainly do have a role to help promote cinema, and to build audiences for the filmmakers, and to help build the filmmakers’ careers. The fact that the festival takes place in Los Angeles provides a great opportunity for those films and those filmmakers to get the attention from both the public audience and the industry audience that might have been difficult for them to attain otherwise.

Aguilar: Lastly, why should people come to AFI Fest 2013, and what are you most excited about this year?

Inside

Lyanga: I think a lot of people came to festival over the past two or three years and had a great experience, and discovered new films and new filmmakers, and fell in love with films that they were looking forward to seeing. We will definitely have that again this year. There are some films that people have been hearing about, films like Her, Philomena, Mandela, August Osage County, or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, that people can’t wait to see and they are going to come see them at the festival. There is the return of some great filmmakers like the Cohen Brothers, that’s really exciting, is something great to look forward to. They return to their partnership with T-Bone Burnett. Of course, I think in our New Auteurs section specially, there are some great new directors to discover. Across the World Cinema program, fantastic performances in Child’s Pose, in Gloria, Omar, Bethlehem, Gabrielle, there is a global experience and what filmmakers are exploring and the issues that people are tackling around the word. It’s a great place to escape, to be entertained, and in many way to educate both in documentaries and in narrative films.

For tickets, schedules, and more information on AFI Fest visit HERE

This article is related to: Jacqueline Lyanga, AFI Fest, Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Pedro Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sebastián Lelio , August: Osage County, Saving Mr. Banks, Child's Pose, Bethlehem, Gabrielle , The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, OMAR, International Film Business, International Film Festival, International Film Market, International Sales Agent, Inside Llewyn Davis

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