What to Look Forward to At This Year’s AFI Fest

For the first time, I will be attending my first film festival. AFI Fest is an annual film festival that’s been around since 1971 and takes place over a week in October. As this is my first film festival, I honestly don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of films that I’m excited to see and a lot I’m excited to share with you as the film festival progresses. So, without further ado, here are all the films I think are worth a look at this year’s AFI Fest, running from October 15th to the 22nd.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, you will be able to see all of these films and shorts through Eventive. It’s relativity cheap with films and events running $8 per, $15 for each special presentation (The Father, Fireball, I’m Your Woman, My Psychedelic Love Story), free access to Cinema’s Legacy titles Dead Presidents, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Posse, and The Watermelon Woman,  the HBO documentary On the Record, and the AFI Conservatory Showcase. Finally, if you live in California, you can purchase tickets to a Rose Bowl drive-in showing of Amazon Studios’ One Night in Miami…, that will be screening on Monday, October 19th for $40 per car. There is also the Meet the Press Film Festival, which will cover the topics of MeToo, being Black in America, injustice, cultures clashing, local politics, indigenous tribes, and the Capital Gazette shooting. If you don’t want to pay individually for each film and short, AFI offers two types of passes – a film pass that unlocks every film and short, but does not unlock the special presentations or the AFI Summit panels that costs $100 and a Film & Summit Pass that unlocks everything but the Special Presentations. 

As a result of the entirely virtual festival, there won’t be opportunities to sit around after a screening and talk with the filmmakers or cast members. Instead, there will be AFI Summit talks, post-film Q&As with the filmmakers and Tributes to Kirby Dick, Rita Moreno, Sophia Coppola, and Mira Nair will be accessible digitally. So, while the physical experience isn’t there this year, you can still recreate that experience from the couch.

So, what can you see at AFI Fest? This year’s festival opens with Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman, starring Rachel Brosnahan, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arinzé Kene, James McMenamin, Marceline Hugot, Frankie Faison, and Bill Heck. The film depicts the life of suburban housewife Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), who is supported by her husband Eddie’s (Bill Heck) career as a thief. After Eddie betrays his partners, Jean and her baby are forced to go on the run, with Eddie’s old friend Cal (Arinzé Kene) given the job of keeping them safe. When Cal vanishes into thin air, Jean befriends Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and the women set out on a perilous journey into the heart of Eddie’s criminal underworld. I’m Your Woman will be available to screen on October 15th at 8 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The film will have a 4-hour window to start watching. Once you start, you have 24 hours to finish watching.

Closing the festival is My Psychedelic Love Story on October 22nd at 8 PM PDT. A psychedelic head trip crossed with a possible CIA conspiracy and wrapped in a fascinating love story, Errol Morris’ latest documentary takes us on an Alice in Wonderland adventure deep inside a largely forgotten episode of the early ‘70s. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the film is sold out.

The festival is divided into five feature film lineups, with categories like “World Cinema”, “New Auteurs”, and “Documentary.” I’d honestly suggest watching at least one film from these categories. There are certifiable bangers all around. A few of them are documentaries. We’ve got Belushi from Showtime, which takes previously unheard audiotapes from the man himself, friends and family, like Dan Aykroyd, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman, and his wife Judy, directed by R.J. Cutler (Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry). That’ll be premiering October 17th.

Magnolia Pictures’ Collective is a fast-paced, detective story that plays out in real-time and centers around truth, accountability, and the value of an independent press in partisan times. Collective will begin screening on the 17th.

Radiant Film’s No Ordinary Man depicts the life of Billy Tipton, a jazz musician that was revealed to be transgender after his death, which is premiering for the first time in the United States on October 18th.

In the AFI Fest’s New Auteurs lineup, which aims to highlight new voices and new stories that push the boundaries, you can catch the debut of Christos Nikou’s Apples. If you don’t know the name, he served as Second Assistant Director and Script Supervisor on the 2009 Yorgos Lanthimos film Dogtooth, as well as Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. He has also directed a short film called KM. His first feature film, Christos tells the story of a pandemic overtaking Greece (no, not the one you’re thinking of) that causes amnesia. To piece together their lives before they forgot their identity, Taciturn Aris (Aris Servetalis) and Anna (Sofia Georgovassili) travel the world searching for answers. Apples premieres in the USA on October 20th. 

Trailer courtesy of Alpha Violet

GDN Studios’ Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) is a story of a tragic fate that two Nigerians use to better their families’ lives. Ultimately, the film is about two people and their quest for a better life on foreign shores. The story comes from Arie and Chuko Esiri, who grew up only 30 minutes away from each other in Warri, Nigeria. After leaving Lagos for America, they directed a pair of shorts; Besida, which premiered at the 68th Berlinale, and Goose, at the LA Film Festival. This is the first feature film and the premiere of the film in the United States. Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) will be available starting on October 20th.

Image courtesy of GDN Studios
Trailer courtesy of GDN Studios

If you are looking for awards contenders and nothing else, I highly recommend you check out the World Cinema portion of the festival. One of the obvious picks here is Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, and Mathieu Amalric. This film is about Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict who’s finally achieved balance and knows his place. He spends the nights drumming in a heavy-metal band with his girlfriend (Olivia Cooke), traveling in a dilapidated RV. When his ear pops during a performance, he shrugs it off. However, his hearing quickly deteriorates. When your life is tied up in making music, what happens when it suddenly changes? Riz Ahmed is likely one of the most underrated performers out there, and I can’t wait to see it. Sound of Metal will be available on October 17th. There will also be a live AFI Summit entitled Finding Your Voice: Sound of Metal Strikes A Chord with the Deaf Community on October 18th at 11 AM PDT.

Riz Ahmed as Ruben in Sound of Metal. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Trailer courtesy of Amazon Studios.

A film that might give PIXAR a run for its money this year is Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers, starring Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, and Maria Doyle Kennedy. This animated beauty is set in 17th-century Ireland, where a friendship between Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her wolf-hunter father, Bill after they are sent from England to rid the woodland outside of the local town of wolves. After being told to stay within city limits, Robyn sneaks away to explore the magical forest where she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a girl raised by wolves. The film comes as the conclusion to Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s “Irish folklore trilogy” that started with The Secret of Kells, continued with Song of the Sea. This is Wolfwalkers’ USA premiere and will be available beginning October 17th. 

Trailer courtesy of Apple.

A beautiful story about three immigrants bound together by history and hope, Farewell Amor is a must-see. Written & directed by Ekwa Msangi, the film is about an Angolan immigrant Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) reunites with his wife (Zainab Jah) and teen daughter (Jayme Lawson). After 17 years apart, the emotional distance takes its toll on the family. Walter is trying to let go of a previous relationship, and his wife Esther struggles with adapting to a new country, culture, and husband that she no longer knows. Their daughter Sylvia is a dancer like her father, and she deals with the same challenges of immigrating to a new country but starts to express herself through the art of dance. Farewell Amor will be available beginning October 21st.

There are also wonderful shorts this year. I don’t have the time to go throughout all the ones I’m excited about, but here are a few. There’s David from Silicon Valley alum Zach Woods, which is about a “severely depressed man (William Jackson Harper) reaching out for an emergency therapy session.” Suppose you want to get a little more existential. In that case, there’s The End of Suffering (A Proposal), directed by Jacqueline Lentzou, which is about a woman named Sofia being contacted by The Universe and having a friendly chat about suffering. Finally, there’s A 1984 Period Piece in Modern Day by Sean Glass. The short is about a couple who encounter an unreliable memory that calls to question whether our identities are relevant and a source of significant harm.

With this being my first film festival, I honestly don’t know what to expect. All I know is that good films are waiting to be seen, and I can’t wait to check out as much as I can before the festival ends. If any of these sound interesting to you, check them out at AFI Fest. Make sure to return to Austin B Media throughout AFI Fest to check out what I’ve seen and let me know if there are any films you’re going to see that I’ve missed here. If websites aren’t your thing, I’ll be posting some AFI Fest content there as well.