Jenny Lund, Nash Edgerton, Lauren Greenfield, Jeffrey Schwarz, Andreas Mol Dalsgaard, Michael Addis
Lee Isaac Chung's Munyurangabo (right), about how outside forces pull apart two Rwandan teenagers – one Hutu; one Tutsi – was the international feature film jury's top choice at this year's AFI FEST presented by Audi, which came to a close last night, Nov. 11, with a screening of Mike Newell's Love in the Time of Cholera.
Though at times poignant, I found Munyurangabo a good 15-20 minutes too long. Indeed, a tighter running time would increase the film's not inconsiderable emotional power. Chung was around for a q&a session after the Thursday night screening, but co-producer Jenny Lund was the one on hand to accept the award given by directors Agnieszka Holland and Isabel Coixet, among others.
The jury for best documentary – composed of Nancy Schreiber, Kirby Dick, and Doug Pray – picked two films: Andreas Mol Dalsgaard's Afghan Muscles, which portrays bodybuilding competitions in Afghanistan, and Nina Davenport's Operation Filmmaker, about the clash of cultures and egos during the making of Liev Schreiber's Everything Is Illuminated, which had an Iraqi assistant (and temporary refugee) among the film's crew.
Nash Edgerton's Spider and Josh Raskin's I Met the Walrus (above) were the short film jury's two picks; the former as best short, the latter as best animated short.
Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was the audience award winner for best narrative feature. As so often happens, my tastes and those of most audience members couldn't be more at odds.
Festivalgoers also chose Jeffrey Schwarz's Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story (right) as best documentary feature and Lauren Greenfield's Kids + Money as best short.
The three jury award winners each received a $5,000 prize of Eastman Kodak Motion Picture Film stock and a Entertainment Partners Budgeting and Scheduling software package.
The three audience award winners received an AVID Technology Suite and a Entertainment Partners Budgeting and Scheduling software package.
Additionally, feature documentary director Michael Addis, whose Heckler was screened at the AFI FEST, won the Audi "Truth in Art" prize – a free one-year lease of an Audi S5 automobile – for his short film about the safety of driving an Audi.
This year, for a variety of reasons I ended up missing nearly all of the films I most wanted to see: Persepolis, The Band's Visit, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Duchess of Langeais, Silent Light, Voyage of the Red Balloon, The Counterfeiters, The Last Mistress, Alexandra, The Aerial, Clouds Over Conakry. Unfortunately, the films I did get to watch were, for the most part, not nearly as good as the ones I caught at previous AFI FESTs.
Nadine Labaki's slight but charming Caramel, about several women (Labaki among them) having romantic problems in Beirut's Christian district, was my favorite. Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's Jellyfish and Santi Amodeo's Doghead had much going for them – e.g., first-rate acting, solid directorial touches – though ultimately neither was as satisfying as it could have been.
Arthur Dong's documentary Hollywood Chinese offered some interesting insights into the portrayal of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Hollywood films, but I felt that an off-the-beaten-track approach to the matters of ethnic stereotyping / Caucasians cast as Chinese / ethnic pride would have served the material better. In fact, the politically incorrect – and two-time Academy Award winner – Luise Rainer was my favorite talking head, arguing that an actor can be right for a role without necessarily looking "exactly right." (I should add that one of Rainer's Oscars was for her performance as a Chinese peasant in The Good Earth.)
Catherine Deneuve. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
I opted not to go to the Laura Linney tribute, but I was fuming – at myself – for having missed the Catherine Deneuve evening. I was there, saw Deneuve walk in, but since I didn't get myself a "hard ticket," that was that. I'll be more on top of things next year, while pursuing Mme. Deneuve (for an interview) under the roofs of Paris.
In addition to drooling over Catherine Deneuve for a few minutes, my two AFI FEST 07 highlights took place on the night of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly screening. First, it was a thrill to see Max von Sydow in person. Then, it was equally thrilling to get a chance to speak with Marie-Josée Croze, who plays one of the nurses in the film.
Ironically, due to a misunderstanding, Croze felt it necessary to explain to me that she'd made other movies both before and after Diving Bell. I retorted that I knew some of her work, adding that I felt her performances were the best things about The Barbarian Invasions, Munich, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (Even jaded bloggers can turn into gushing starstruck fans every now and then.)
Here's looking forward to watching Marie-Josée Croze next year in Thomas Vincent's Le Nouveau protocole / The New Protocol, playing opposite Clovis Cornillac, and in veteran Jean Becker's Deux jours à tuer, opposite Albert Dupontel. (Jean Becker, by the way, is the son of Jacques Becker, whose Casque d'or is one of my favorite films of the 1950s.)
Among other AFI FEST 2007 attendees were Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (right), David Beckham, and Will Smith for the Lions for Lambs premiere; Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric, Ronald Harwood, Janusz Kaminski, and Julian Schnabel for the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly screening; Ellen Page and Jason Bateman for the Juno premiere; Jennifer Jason Leigh, Noah Baumbach, Flora Cross, and Jack Black for the Margot at the Wedding screening; plus John Sayles, Alex Cox, Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Malcolm McDowell, Don Rickles, Roger Corman, Carl Reiner, and Orlando Bloom. (And, in the audience, I spotted Julie Delpy, Matt Groening, John C. Reilly, Ian Whitcomb, and Chris Leavins.)
Additionally, various film panels were composed of people like Nancy Kwan, Werner Herzog, Vilmos Zsigmond, Paprika Steen, Lisa Lu, Arthur Dong, Amy Tan, Randy Haberkamp, Tsai Chin, John Landis, Kevin Wall, Nigel Lythgoe, Steve Golin, Hector Elizondo, James Ellroy, and Bruce Wagner.
Overall, AFI FEST 2007 screened 97 features (69 narrative, 28 documentary) and 51 shorts (43 narrative, 8 documentary), in addition to 8 video art works for a total of 148 films representing 37 countries.
Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
AFI FEST 2007 Awards
AFI FEST 2007: ArcLight theater complex in Hollywood, Nov. 1-11, 2007
Stephen Berkov (Director, Brand Marketing & Innovation, Audi of America), Jenny Lund (MUNYURANGABO), Nash Edgerton (SPIDER), Lauren Greenfield (KIDS + MONEY), Jeffrey Schwarz (SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY), Andreas Mol Dalsgaard (AFGHAN MUSCLES), Micheal Addis (HECKLER), Mike Cagle (Region Director, Western Region, Audi of America)
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE: MUNYURANGABO by Lee Isaac Chung, Rwanda/USA
INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE (tie): AFGHAN MUSCLES by Andreas Mol Dalsgaard, Denmark, & OPERATION FILMMAKER by Nina Davenport, USA
INTERNATIONAL SHORTS COMPETITION GRAND JURY PRIZE: SPIDER by Nash Edgerton, Australia
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: I MET THE WALRUS by Josh Raskin, Canada
FEATURE: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON) by Julian Schnabel, France
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY by Jeffrey Schwarz, USA
SHORT: KIDS + MONEY by Lauren Greenfield, USA
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE COMPETITION JURY: Agnieszka Holland, John Ridley, Joan Chen, Isabel Coixet, Henry Bean
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION DOCUMENTARY JURY: Nancy Schreiber, Kirby Dick, Doug Pray
INTERNATIONAL SHORTS COMPETITION JURY: Tate Donovan, Maggie Biggar, Ioan Grufford