The AFI Fest opened Friday with the world premiere of Hitchcock, a likable yarn focusing on the iconic filmmaker and his wife at the time of his filming Psycho. In retrospect it seemed an almost anachronistic choice in light of the recent broadcast of The Girl, a more Machiavellian portrait of the man and his mentor/Svengali relationship with his Birds discovery Tippi Hedren.
The event runs through November 8 when Steven Spielberg’s portrait of Lincoln and the passage of Amendment 13 giving blacks equal rights following emancipation rings down the curtain.
So, a brief word about opening and closing nights. These bookends exist irrespective of what one might term the filling of any cinematic sandwich. They are designed for festival patrons and sponsors that might otherwise never set foot on this or other celluloid territory. As such they demand films that entertain and provide a sense of worthwhile but not oppressive art. And such a sleight-of-hand requires a stern application of Hippocrates dicta: First, do no harm. It might also be argued that this is also the last word and to that end AFI has fulfilled its initial task.
The evolution of AFI Fest has been peripatetic. Its roots can be traced back to the 1970s and Los Angeles first major movie smorgasbord FilmEx which its current proprietor acquired in receivership. Essentially it’s survived by adapting and adapting again and again and today is a first tier Festival of Festivals bolstered to some extent by its position on the calendar.
Situated between early autumn discovery events including Toronto and Venice and the awards season that culminates with the Oscar telecast, AFI Fest is an opportunity to put the spotlight on American and international films hoping to translate critical acclaim into box office rewards. It coincides with the annual American Film Market, one of the premier sales and acquisition events for the global movie industry.
Many major film festivals embrace film markets for myriad reasons including political considerations (securing anticipated movies) and commercial affiliation (generating revenue). But the AFMA is independent of the AFI Fest and despite such reciprocal nods as shuttles between events and mutual accreditation there remains a major hurdle that cannot be cleared. The festival unspools in Hollywood and the market is firmly planted in Santa Monica. In a city as crippled by traffic strategies the roughly seven miles that separates the two can account for a commute of more than an hour during high congestion periods.
All that (and more) aside the lineup of AFI Fest 2012 is across the board impressive. There’s a smart balance of the accessible and the arcane, lauded filmmakers and nascent talent, narrative and non-fiction and nods to archival as well as family offerings. In the coming days I’ll endeavor to make some sense of the selections but for the nonce I have to get to my next screening.