Interview: Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga Takes S&A Inside AFI FEST
Photo Credit: S & A

Interview: Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga Takes S&A Inside AFI FEST

Jacqueline Lyanga

AFI FEST, a "celebration of global cinema in today’s

Hollywood," is currently in full swing in Los Angeles. A program of the American

Film Institute, it is the only major festival that is free and open to the

public. S&A recently spoke with AFI Fest director Jacqueline Lyanga about

what to look forward to during this year’s festival.  


been running AFI Fest since 2010. What were your goals for the festival this



My goal from year-to-year is always to build our audience in Los Angeles and to

provide an environment in which there is an experience for the audience and for

the filmmakers that’s beyond what they would find at a regular screening during

a theatrical run or if they’re watching a film at home, an environment in which

movie lovers can congregate, that is a catalyst for conversation about new

ideas in film, that really gets people talking about film as an art form.

Can you tell me about

the curatorial style of the festival and generally the kinds of films that you look

to showcase?

Identity-wise, we look to, as best we can, create an almanac

of the year in film. So we start looking for films at Sundance and then we’re

in Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Toronto, and we’re even looking for

films at Venice and Telluride at the end of the year, looking to see what are

the most significant films and trends and ideas that have emerged over the past

year, and then curating them into a program that really reflects the ideas that

artists around the world have been working on.

And the fact that the festival is free also gives us a

chance to take some risks in the programming and showcase some films that

perhaps otherwise might be difficult to encourage an audience to see, and help those

films to really find audiences. Again, the goal is to build audiences and to

really build filmmakers’ reputations so that they can make their next film. Sometimes

it becomes a platform for them to find distribution and gain wider recognition.

This is really the

only major festival that offers free ticketing, which opens it up to some

audiences who may not typically see these films otherwise. Tell me about the

decision to make it a free festival.

It’s about opening up the festival-going experience to all

of the Los Angeles community. Festivals can be expensive – the passes, the

tickets – and that can be a barrier to people experiencing new and challenging

works of art. And so we view the festival setting as a kind of gallery setting,

where the films have been curated, and we want as many people as possible to

have access to be influenced and inspired by the films.

We’re also able to work with a number of cultural partners

and have them invite their constituents to the festival and really break down

those barriers that sometimes exist and prevent people from being able to see

these great films from France and from Asia and from Africa.

How does that usually

affect the audience? Are you seeing much different attendees than you would see

for example, at Sundance or Venice or Telluride?

Because we’re in Los Angeles, we have a really great mix of

industry audience that comes out to see our films, and a public audience. The

public audience is definitely diverse and oftentimes it reflects the

communities that the filmmakers come from. But there’s also cross pollination,

which I think is really exciting, especially once buzz has built for films and

people are on site and start to go on that discovery, because they don’t have

to worry about purchasing a ticket. So we’ve definitely seen the diversity in

our audiences grow since we’ve been a free festival.

Can you tell me about

this year’s lineup and some of the highlights?

We had a great opening night with the world premiere of J.C.

Chandor’s "A Most Violent Year." We’ll be closing with "Foxcatcher."

In our Special Screenings section we have some really great documentaries, "Merchants

of Doubt" and "Tales of the Grim Sleeper," a very LA story. The

Dardenne Brothers’ "Two Days, One Night" and Olivier Assayas’

"Clouds of Sils Maria." Xavier Dolan’s latest, "Mommy,"

which is Canada’s Foreign Language Oscar submission. We’re very excited because

he’ll be coming to the festival, as well as the Dardennes to present their

film.  On Tuesday, we’ll be

presenting a first look at "Selma," with the director Ava DuVernay,

producer Oprah Winfrey, and the star, David Oyelowo, in attendance. So we’re

very excited about that.

We’re also presenting a number of international films that have

already garnered some acclaim, and we really hope the audiences embrace here. "Black

Coal, Thin Ice," which was a prizewinner at the Berlinale. We’ll be

showcasing a French film that we really love, "Girlhood," which takes

a look at a group of young women in Paris. We also have another French story in

our Breakthrough Section, "May Allah Bless France" by Abd Al Malik,

who is a rapper and wrote a book about his life, which the film is based on,

and then directed the film. Abderrahmane Sissako is coming to present

"Timbuktu," and Philippe Lacôte, who has been a documentary producer,

is coming from Paris to present his first narrative feature, "Run" in

our New Auteurs competition section.

With the films from

the African Diaspora, it’s a very international lineup. Are you seeing any

specific trends or themes among those films and filmmakers?

I think if anything, we’re seeing coming-of-age stories. I

mentioned "Girlhood," and "May Allah Bless France," also

very much a coming-of-age story. And then there are some political stories, both

"Run" and "Timbuktu" are political in nature and dealing

with contemporary Africa, which is very relevant. I also see a lot of stories

about artists exploring the mediums. Some of our Mexican films, for example

"The Absent" from Nicolás Pereda, really challenges contemporary

narrative form, as does an Argentinian film, "Jauja" from director

Lisandra Alonso.

How did the first

look event for "Selma" come about?

It’s actually going to be exclusive footage and a

conversation. We love Ava DuVernay. We actually showcased her first narrative

feature, "I Will Follow," at AFI fest, so it’s really exciting to

have her back with a larger film and film that’s on such an important subject.

What else should

attendees look forward to during the festival?

We just announced that we’re going to have a Secret

Screening [Clint Eastwood’s "American Sniper"] on Tuesday evening,

and tickets for that are available on our website right now. And that’s always

really fun.

Again, the festival is about creating an environment in

which audiences can experience film in new and exciting ways, and engage and

find themselves in conversations that they might not otherwise have. So I’m

most excited for the audience to come and discover films that perhaps have not

been on anyone’s radar.

AFI Fest runs through November 13 in Los Angeles. Find the screening

schedule and tickets at the festival website here

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