UPDATE: Both the Opening Night and Closing Night films, which are tick…tick, BOOM! and King Richard, will not be available to virtual attendees. Anyone who wants to see these films at AFI Fest 2021 will need to be at the TCL Theatre screenings of the aforementioned films. That, or maybe make arrangements with Netflix and WB if you can’t make it in-person.
Yesterday, the American Film Institute (also known as simply AFI) announced that the 35th edition of AFI Fest will close with Warner Bros. Pictures‘ King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green with cinematography by Robert Elswit (who was part of the AFI class of 1977), written by Zach Baylin and starring two-time Academy Award® nominee Will Smith.
Based on a true story that will inspire the world, the film follows Richard Williams, an undeterred father who, with the support of his family, is instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, Venus and Serena Williams. The Closing Night screening will take place on Sunday, November 14 at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre.
AFI’s mission includes inspiring audiences, and King Richard sets the bar for this year. Movies often deliver when we need them most, and now is the perfect time for this film to remind young people that nothing is out of reach, and that with perseverance and determination they can influence future generations.
Sarah Harris, Director of Programming at AFI Festivals
AFI Fest 2021 will take place from November 10 – 14 as a hybrid festival, with the in-person portion taking place in Los Angeles. As previously announced, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut tick…tick, BOOM! will open AFI Fest 2021.
This year’s Fest will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists, and a gala event celebrating AFI Life Achievement Honoree Julie Andrews.
For those attending in-person events and/or screenings, AFI will require all festival-goers to be fully vaccinated.
The Top Sponsors for AFI Fest 2021 include AT&T, Apple Original Films, National Geographic Documentary Films, and Dell.
Personally, what interests me most about this choice is that it’s a vast change in programming. Last year’s Opening Night film was the wonderful I’m Your Woman and closed with My Psychedelic Love Story. These were two distinctly indie films that, yes, got picked up by big studios, but they weren’t boisterous or showy in any measure. These are small, contained films about unique experiences. This year, I don’t think I can say that. Lin-Manuel Miranda has long been established in the filmmaking community. He’s already appeared in two films this year and will release two more by the time the year is done, including tick, tick…BOOM!. Will Smith has been in films since 1992.
I’m not mad that these films are getting AFI Fest slots, but it feels odd to have well-established directors and actors in these slots. Additionally, these films will be released less than five days after their screenings at AFI Fest 2021. I’d rather see something that’s a month or more away like The Power of the Dog, The Hand of God, Wolf, Benedetta, Encounter, The Novice, Licorice Pizza, Cyrano, Memoria, Parallel Mothers, or A Hero.
I could be entirely overreacting here, as AFI Fest is one of the last film festivals before awards season starts, and it seems clear Netflix is teeing up Lin-Manuel Miranda for tick, tick…BOOM! and that WB wants to see Will Smith get a Best Actor nomination for King Richard. I think the reason why I’m even spending the time to discuss the shift is that it felt nice to discover new filmmakers through AFI Fest’s Special Presentations section, most of which I loved, and I’m not too fond of the shift towards more conventional films.
Until next time!