Wondering What to See at AFI Fest 2019? Here are Some Programmer Highlights – American Film Institute


Wondering What to See at AFI Fest 2019? Here are Some Programmer Highlights

This week’s announcement of the full AFI FEST 2019 presented by Audi lineup marks the culmination of many months of screening, reviewing and whittling down thousands of film entries by our dedicated team of festival programmers. In the end emerges a dynamic showcase that includes world premiere Galas, rising new auteurs, a brand-new documentary section and boundary-pushing narratives from the U.S. and around the globe.

We asked our dedicated programmers to highlight a few of the films that captivated them in an incredible year of diverse and inspiring cinema.

Lane Kneedler

Eliza Scanlen in Shannon Murphy’s BABYTEETH

There are so many amazing female filmmakers this year, but insanely this was the only female director in competition at the Venice Film Festival. What’s not insane is how good this movie is. Eliza Scanlen (SHARP OBJECTS, the upcoming LITTLE WOMEN) is so talented in this movie and executes such a weird high wire balancing act, straddling adolescence. The entire cast is really stellar to be honest, especially the actors who play her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn). BABYTEETH is a beautifully simple chamber piece centered on addiction and love and so many tears.  This film ripped my heart out of my chest, and I can’t wait to see it again and again.

We love having filmmakers return to AFI FEST and, even though Alice Winocour has only made five feature-length films, she’s already a legend at AFI FEST. Of course, everyone loved her film MUSTANG here a couple years ago, but DISORDER was also one that just snuck up on audiences and knocked everyone’s socks off.  PROXIMA was a film I could not get out of my head, and I doggedly went after it for weeks for the festival. The general plot is simple and sparse: a female astronaut prepares to leave her family behind for a dangerous trip.” But this wonderful film sets a basic workplace stressor against a huge backdrop. Using real locations, the film becomes a hybrid fiction/nonfiction piece that’s so incredibly well-executed it feels like you are watching real life.

Sarah Harris

Klaudia Reynicke’s LOVE ME TENDER

The lead in this film, Barbara Giordano, immediately drew me in with her strong and physical performance as Seconda. This was a strange, yet enchanting film that felt so fresh in my large queue of films and showed a unique new cinematic voice that I’m excited to follow. Now I just need to find one of those blue jumpsuits to wear for my Q&A.

I was on my first trip to Cannes, which also happened to be the farthest trip away since having a baby in 2017. I had a gap in my schedule and decided at the last minute to see ADAM, and I’m so glad I did. The experience of watching this strong female-centric story from a rising woman filmmaker, combined with the rush of emotions from reflecting on my own recent pregnancy and postpartum, was one of the most memorable screenings I’ve been to at a festival in years.

Ken Jacobson

Barbara Kopple’s DESERT ONE

Barbara Kopple is quite simply one of the all-time great documentary filmmakers. She never ceases to amaze. When I saw DESERT ONE at TIFF, I wasn’t sure what to expect since I normally associate her with terrific observational work or really engaging portraits rather than with historical docs. But the film blew me away; it is a fascinating, emotionally harrowing account of the 1980 rescue attempt by an elite U.S. Army unit to free the American hostages being held captive in Tehran.

Darius Clark Monroe made a big splash a few years ago with EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL, which was a creative breakthrough that heralded a powerful new voice in documentary. Every bit as impressive but totally different in approach, this loose collection of sports-related shorts is thoroughly inventive and refreshing. Clark Monroe masterfully interweaves archival and observational footage to tell four disparate character studies and meditations on place, that somehow, magically, flow effortlessly together. The viewing experience is pure bliss.

Malin Kan

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

No film surprised me more this year than Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. I had long ago pigeonholed Kurosawa as a genre filmmaker with his early films CURE (1997) and PULSE (2001) now considered horror classics. While this one could be described as a ghost story without ghosts, it’s not a genre film by any means but, instead, a sensitive depiction of what it is to encounter unknown people and cultures and to recognize and confront one’s own preconceptions through a kind of poetic acceptance that we are all truly alone in this world. And all of this done with such sweetness!

We have seen countless male-centered comedies, reenacting personal experiences, flailing into adulthood, overwhelmed by the future and retreating into the past. In IVANA THE TERRIBLE, filmmaker Ivana Mladenović is an absolute force, casting her entire family and multiple real-life lovers and then subjecting them to abuse at the hands of her “character.” But there is so much love here, too! I need more people to see this film and fall for this tremendously complicated, impossibly difficult and thoroughly charming woman, just as I did.

Eric Moore


“Do you feel safe in your body. Do you feel safe in the world?” are the questions filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary tackles in THE GIVERNY DOCUMENT (SINGLE CHANNEL), a poetic collage piece dripping with gorgeous, yet heavy juxtaposition of black female experience. Told through fractures of performances by Nina Simone, police shooting audio, woman-on-the street interviews and movement through the Monet water lily gardens, this film is political art at its finest.

For anyone moving to a different country or even another city, there is a weird period of limbo, a time between living where you are and leaving for your new life. WELCOME TO THE USA perfectly captures this, while we follow Aliya telling the people in her life that she won the U.S. green card lottery and plans to leave her family and her queer friend circle in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I am so excited to share the world premiere of this film with our audience!

Explore all of the programming at this year’s festival, and buy tickets and passes here.

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