This Year’s AFI Fest: The Auteurs Came, Saw, Conquered

Kirsten and Clint and Leo walked the red carpets, but the real VIPs at the AFI Fest were Bela Tarr, the Dardennes, Wim Wenders

Last Updated: November 11, 2011 @ 11:53 AM

The AFI Fest 2011 wrapped up eight days of programming in Hollywood on Thursday night, after a couple hundred screenings, a lot of visits from movie stars and a week's worth of major showcases for some of the year's big awards contenders.

Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio walked the red carpet for "J. Edgar," ditto Michelle Williams for "My Week With Marilyn," Michael Fassbender for "Shame," Kirsten Dunst for "Melancholia," Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and many more.

The Turin HorseBut those high-profile events – the campaign-stop side of AFI Fest, if you will – only make up a minority of the screenings at the festival (which, to be accurate, is officially called AFI Fest Presented by Audi, as every press release takes pains to point out).

Also read: 'Tintin' Closes AFI Fest With a Little Charm, a Lot of Action

The real heart of this year's festival was the truly remarkable lineup of films from auteurs around the world – and the surprising number who actually came to Los Angeles for the festival.

Bela Tarr, the legendary Hungarian director who has been making acclaimed but little-seen (in the U.S.) films for more than 30 years, came with what he says is his final film, "The Turin Horse" (photo above), a stark and stunning black-and-white examination of hard scrabble daily life marked by extraordinarily long takes and a glacial pace that ends up mesmerizing rather than confounding.

Also read: 'Shame' Shocks AFI Audience; Theater Leader Calls for More NC-17 Films

"A press person yesterday told me that my films require effort from the audience," Tarr told the audience before one screening of his film. "I would say to you, 'Don't make any effort. Just watch the film.'"

And Tarr wasn't alone in making the trip. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgian directors whose film "The Kid With a Bike" shared this year's Cannes Grand Prize with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (which also screened at the festival), made their first trip ever to Los Angeles for the fest.

German director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire," "Paris, Texas") came to town with his wonderful dance documentary "Pina." Mexico's Gerardo Naranjo brought the bracing, grim action film "Miss Bala." Yorgos Lanthimos, whose "Dogtooth" was a surprise Oscar nominee last year, came with his equally bizarre new film, "Alps," and with the deadpan comic absurdity of Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Attenberg," this year's Greek Oscar entry, which he produced and in which he stars.

"The international selection at this festival is just great," said "Girlfriend" director Justin Lerner, who came to see "The Turin Horse" the afternoon his film was nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Audience Award.

"They aren't concerned with getting premieres at AFI," added Lerner. "They just make really strong and tough selections from the films that are out there."

In fact, AFI Fest drew liberally from previous festivals: nine films that showed at Cannes (including five prize winners), others from Venice and Toronto and New York.

"It makes sense to show the film here," said Naranjo, who showed "Miss Bala" at Cannes and Toronto and New York and other festivals, but who told TheWrap that he looks at the AFI Fest screenings as the official start of his campaign to get his film noticed by the Academy, where it’s Mexico's official entry in the foreign-language race.

"I feel taken care of at AFI," said the director, who is himself an alumnus of the AFI's school. "I know the process after this won't be as easy, but I feel embraced here."

Naranjo's is one of seven foreign-language entries that screened at the festival; the others were "Pina," "The Turin Horse," "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," "A Separation," "Attenberg" and "Bullhead."

And while the last of those films may have stirred up some controversy when it was chosen over the Dardennes' "The Kid With a Bike" as Belgium's official entry, it acquitted itself quite well, winning the audience award in the New Auteurs section.

Those winners:

AUDIENCE AWARDS

Breakthrough Section: "With Every Heartbeat," Alexandra-Therese Keining
New Auteurs Section: "Bullhead," Michael R. Roskam
World Cinema Section: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," David Gelb, and "Kinyarwanda," Alrick Brown (tie)
Young Americans Section: "Wuss," Clay Liford

JURY AWARDS

Live Action Short Film Section:
     Grand Prize: "Frozen Stories," Grzegorz Jaroszuk
     Honorable Mention: "Babyland," Marc Fratello
Animated Short Film Section:
     Grand Jury Prize: "The Eagleman Stag," Michael Please
     Honorable Mention: "The Voyagers," Penny Lane
New Auteurs Section Critics' Prize: "The Loneliest Planet," Julia Loktev

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