AFI FEST 2020: Programmer Picks – American Film Institute


AFI FEST 2020: Programmer Picks

This week’s announcement of the full lineup for the AFI FEST 2020 presented by Audi virtual film festival marks the culmination of many months of screening, reviewing and whittling down thousands of film entries by our dedicated team of festival programmers. We asked the programmers to highlight a few of the films that captivated them in an incredible year of diverse and inspiring cinema and here are their picks.


Sarah Harris – Director of Programming, AFI Festivals


I love everything about this beautiful, mystical, moody film from Mexican filmmaker Yulene Olaizola. I was completely immersed in this jungle from the comfort of my home. Plus, what a powerful breakout performance by Indira Andrewin. No spoilers here: the less you know going in, the better. Buy Tickets

We don’t always get to include animation in the festival, so I was thrilled when I had a chance to see this. With a story rich in folklore and art history with layered commentary about nature and ignorance, this film is a stunning watch. Variety’s review says it best: “Kids need movies like this that respect their intelligence, center strong female characters and question policies of blind obedience, while making an effort to integrate the rich cultural influences of a past that’s rapidly being bulldozed out of memory.” Buy Ticket


Ken Jacobson – Senior Documentary Film and Special Content Programmer, AFI Festivals

Dieudo Hamadi is, perhaps, documentary’s best kept secret. Hopefully, DOWNSTREAM TO KINSHASA will end that once and for all. His work is incredible, and this film, about a group of survivors of a forgotten war traveling down the Congo River on a harrowing journey to confront the politicians who have long neglected their righteous cause, stands out as his masterpiece. After 10 minutes, I was completely hooked. Scene-by-scene, the film is highly dramatic, emotionally charged and thoroughly original. Buy Ticket

Filmmakers Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan blow the lid on the role corporations have played in enabling, if not virtually guaranteeing, the growing inequality that is the cause of so much that is wrong with the world. But the filmmakers are far too savvy to simply lay the blame at the foot of corporations or tell a doom-and-gloom story that perpetuates a sense of hopelessness. What’s so refreshing and energizing about THE NEW CORPORATION is that through the interviews and clips and the fast-paced but thoughtful narrative, the film presents a prescriptive path forward through powerful stories of grassroots activism. Buy Ticket


Claudia Puig – AFI FEST Senior Programmer

Revenge is taken on the one-percenters by the systemically oppressed in this essential story of the repercussions of class divisions, colonialism, racism and massive income inequality in Mexico. This film couldn’t be timelier. Director Michel Franco has made a powerful thriller about society at a combustible point. It’s an unflinching and riveting account of an uprising which the director has said was influenced by recent world events, including the United States’ racial reckoning protests of this summer. It leaves an indelible and haunting impression on the viewer. Buy Ticket

Documentarian Heidi Ewing turns her focus to transcendent love with her first narrative feature. She deftly blends the two forms of filmmaking for this tender story of a decades-spanning romance that also shines a light on homophobia, the perils of immigration and the complexity of finding one’s place in the world. Lead actors Armando Espitia and Christian Vasquez are terrific in their portrayals of real-life partners Ivan and Gerardo in this poignant, clear-eyed and poetic bilingual tale that takes place in both Puebla, Mexico and New York City. Be prepared to be swept away. Buy Ticket


Malin Kan – Programmer, AFI Festivals

I found myself incredibly charmed by this breezy, unpretentious, thought-provoking and even humorous look at the American fixation on the Berlin Wall. In speaking to those observing its scattered segments, we begin to see it as symbolic of displaced interpretations of our own history. Particularly slavery resounds as “the” American story of a people struggling for freedom, but this projected onto the history of Germany then points to an inability to accept our own role in oppression. And there are so many other wonderful insights scattered throughout this brilliant documentary from Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez (MANAKAMANA)! Buy Ticket

THE END OF SUFFERING (Shorts Program 1)
Wouldn’t it be a tremendous relief to have the universe validate and explain your own personal, looming sense of terror and dread? This existential journey takes us through all of the emotions of being alive. I cried. Buy Ticket


Eric Moore – Manager, Programming Operations, AFI Festivals

Fresh voices are always, well… refreshing, and director Maya Cozier fits the bill. Before becoming a director, Maya worked as a dancer and choreographer for tv and music videos, and it shows here in SHE PARADISE with the infectious dance scenes and the personal touches that show she knows this world through experience. The film is filled with an electric Soca soundtrack that had me scribbling down artists during the credits. I adore the energy of the film. It is also a joy to get a peek into Trinidadian life which it’s clear Maya is passionate to share. Buy Ticket

SHOULD THE WIND DROP is one of those films that masterfully straddles the line between quirky and serious. The cast of characters help paint a picture of charming humanity in this troubled region (unfortunately back in the news in conflict in the last few weeks). I had never heard of the small breakaway country of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, but this film takes you on a journey, along with Alain, a French airport auditor, to the real-life backdrop of this land in conflict. The real airport at the center of the film stands almost as a symbol of the potential that these people are so close to achieving. Their heart and fortitude tie this piece together and made me fall in love with Nagorno-Karabakh. Buy Ticket


Join us for this year’s virtual festival, Oct. 15-22. Get your festival pass or tickets now at


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