Film lovers unite! The American Film Institute Festival is under way with must-see films and performances in Breakthrough, World Cinema, New Auteurs, and Short Film categories, just to name a few. With a program of 133 selections and 11 sections, this year’s festival, which opens today, has something for everyone. Tickets are free and available here from now till the last day of the festival, November 8.
Jacqueline Lyanga directs the festival for her third year and delivers the cream of the crop yet again. Lyanga’s genuine love of film shines through in her work and gives the festival a fresh perspective that sets it apart from other big-name film festivals driven by premiere status. The AFI Fest welcomes films that have gained critical acclaim as well as others with mixed reviews that Lyanga considers equally relevant to film history. She took a break from planning the last-minute touches to the fest to talk with The Advocate about the films she’s most excited for audiences to see, this year’s LGBT selections, and her favorite part of the festival.
The Advocate: Out of 3,400 considerations, 133 films were selected for this year’s program. How do you begin your screening process of narrowing it down to the best selections?
Jacqueline Lyanga: There’s sort of a two-fold process. There’s the process of where we start at Sundance, myself and Lane Kneedler, who’s the director of programming, will start looking at films in January and go to Rotterdam, Berlin, South by Southwest, Tribeca, Cannes, Locarno, Telluride, and Toronto. We’ll be at those festivals screening all day long. We’re in the process of watching anywhere from five to seven films a day, and then we also take submissions, so we’ll have submissions sent in from filmmakers, producers, alumni, sales agents. We have a screening committee, we have associate programmers, we have two other programmers who work with us as well who intersect from the festival side and looking at submissions. We start by going through that process and then have a lot of meetings and talk about the films that we love. We bring in our programmers and talk about the films that really stood out for us, and going through all of those films really enables us to contextualize the year, which is ultimately our goal. So you know we’ve shifted, we’re not a festival that focuses on premiere status. We do have North American premieres and we have U.S. premieres, primarily from films that we caught toward the end of the year — from festivals like Locarno or Toronto. If a film has already played at South by Southwest, that doesn’t disqualify it. We’re looking for the best films of the year as much as we can. So really, it opens up the possibilities. It makes the competition really tough and tight, considering the number of films we show, but it also means that it’s a really great place for the audience to come and see.