AFI FEST 2021: Music Films – American Film Institute


AFI FEST 2021: Music Films

What do The Buzzcocks, Bob Dylan, and Bernstein have in common? What about rappers from Morocco and rappers from Chicago? And what connects the next great American musical and a classic Chinese love song? The answer is easy: you will find all of this great music in films at this year’s AFI FEST! These toe tappers are sure to strike a chord with you. We’ve got something for everyone’s audible enjoyment, and plenty of new tunes to discover.


Ali and Ava each live lonely lives in North Britain. Ali, a British Pakistani, is a former DJ turned compassionate landlord who meets Ava, an Irish-born schoolteacher and single mother of five, while picking up one of his tenant’s children from school. Despite their differences, sparks start to fly. As Ali and Ava’s relationship grows deeper, the shadows of their emotional turmoil and society’s expectations of them build as well. Can they find a way to keep their love alive?

This contemporary working-class romance – filled with rich and tender performances from Claire Rushbrook and Adeel Akhtar – is a charming and heartwarming portrait of love, beauty and acceptance. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person | November 12, 7:00 p.m.  | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


For the better part of the 20th century, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was a household name due to his music in WEST SIDE STORY (for which he won an Academy Award®), his role as Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic and his work on television making classical music accessible to the general public. This documentary follows the life of this extraordinary first-generation son of Ukrainian-Jewish parents, from his early life in New England, to the many “firsts” he claimed during his early orchestral career and his constant advocacy of worthy causes. The narration uses Bernstein’s own words, harvested from his many recorded appearances on the radio, television and in-person interviews, which offers a strikingly intimate perspective. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 12, 3:15 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


Morocco Official International Feature Film Oscar® Submission

North American Premiere

Based on director Nabil Ayouch’s own experiences opening a cultural center for young people in Casablanca, his new film depicts a group of Moroccan students trying their hand at rap with the guidance of a former rapper and navigating their way through differences in identity, religion and politics. As students and teacher find themselves in direct conflict with the social issues they explore through music, each of them must reckon with the decision to continue rapping or return to the silence of their previous lives. With a dynamic ensemble of first-time actors, Ayouch’s film brings a passionate perspective on a cathartic story with sincerity and depth for an audience of all ages. CASABLANCA BEATS encompasses the heart of youthful inspiration in this lyrical slice of life, as well as the discovery that self-expression cannot be curbed or controlled. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 11, 8:00 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


World Premiere

The SoundCloud rap generation, known for music that explores emotional vulnerabilities, prescription drug use and mental health, has greatly impacted American music and culture in the last decade. After posting songs from his home in Chicago, Juice WRLD catapulted to stardom and quickly connected with fans for his profound lyrics and impressively long freestyles. But just three years after his career started, Juice WRLD succumbed to an oxycodone and codeine overdose as he celebrated his 21st birthday.

Filmmaker Tommy Oliver explores the life and final days of this talented, young rapper with footage from studio sessions of unreleased songs, behind-the-scenes moments on tour and emotional interviews with the friends he left behind. Almost two years after his death, the impact of Juice WRLD’s music lives on. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 12, 6:30 p.m.   | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)


One night, Seolgi is lying on a grass field with friends. A shooting star falls, and dark and intrusive thoughts hits her and her melancholy blooms into “flower people.” Screens as part of Shorts Program 1. Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person | November 12, 3:00 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)

Virtual screening available beginning November 11, 12:00 p.m. PST | Buy Virtual Ticket(s)


Three generations of Chinese women say goodbye to their family ballroom dance studio. Executive produced by Lena Waithe, starring Shirley Chen and Mardy Ma. Screens as part of Shorts Program 3. Learn more about the film. 

Screening in-person as part of Shorts Program 3 |  November 12, 9:00 p.m. | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)

Virtual screening available beginning November 11, 12:00 p.m. PST | Buy Virtual Ticket(s)

tick, tick…BOOM!

Opening Night / World Premiere 

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature directorial debut with tick, tick…BOOM!, an adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, who revolutionized theater as the creator of “Rent.”

Jon is a young theater composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have? Learn more about the film.

Screening in-person |  November 10, 7:30 p.m.  | Buy In-Person Ticket(s)

With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated.  Learn more about AFI’s annual film festival celebrating the best in global cinema at

Individual tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 are currently available on AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit


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