AFI FEST 2017 opens Nov. 9 with Mudbound. Here are my Top Picks!

by Tom Nguyen

AFI FEST 2017 is one of the largest annual film festivals in Los Angeles and the only one of its stature that is free to the public. This year’s festival opens on Thursday, November 9, with the film MUDBOUND, about two families, one black, one white, in post-World War II Jim Crow South. With the rise of white nationalism and supremacy emboldened by Trump’s presidency, I think it’s an important and timely statement to open the festival with a film directed by a woman of color, Dee Rees, and set during one of the most disgraceful chapters in this country’s history. Read the insightful Variety interview with Rees about the challenges she faced as a black filmmaker in finding a distributor and support the film when it’s released by Netflix on November 17.

The festival features upcoming filmmakers from all over the world with 11 films in its New Auteurs section, 9 of which are made by women directors, and 11 films by independent filmmakers in its American Independents section. The World Cinema section features 30 films from 39 countries, 13 of which are official Best Foreign Language Film Oscar entries.

AFI FEST 2017 will also screen 2 animated films for public middle and high school students as part of their Youth and Family Programming. The program expands this year with AFI FEST Storytelling Bootcamp to guide underserved high school students in screenwriting and storytelling.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings and Short Films too! The festival closes on Thursday, November 16, with the world premiere of ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, directed by Ridley Scott. There is something for everyone in this immense festival of films, and it can be pretty overwhelming deciding what to see — Here are my top picks for AFI FEST 2017 with trailers. Be sure to secure your FREE tickets online starting on Wednesday, November 1! Tickets go FAST!


MUDBOUND – Directed by Dee Rees and co-written by Virgil Williams and Rees, the historical period drama features cinematography by AFI Conservatory alumna Rachel Morrison (Class of 2006). The film stars Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan.


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – Director: Luca Guadagnino, Writers: James Ivory (screenplay by), Andre Aciman (based on the novel by) (as André Aciman). Stars: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg


HAVE A NICE DAY (HAO JI LE) – This morbid, hilarious animated noir cuts deep into the greed fueling the Chinese economic miracle. DIR/SCR Liu Jian. CAST Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai, Liu Jian, Yang Siming, Shi Haitao, Ma Xiaofeng, Xue Feng, Zheng Yi. China

I AM NOT A WITCH – A nine-year-old girl ignites a rebellion in the witch camp where she’s been imprisoned, in this bold debut that beautifully mixes satire, superstition and ambiguity. DIR/SCR Rungano Nyoni. CAST Margaret Mulubwa, Henry B.J. Phiri, Nancy Mulilo. France, UK, Germany

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (HVA VIL FOLK SI) – A Norwegian-Pakistani teenage girl must bear the consequences of her rebellious actions in this powerful sophomore feature. DIR/SCR Iram Haq. CAST Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ekavali Khanna, Ali Arfan, Sheeba Chaddha, Lalit Parimoo, Jannat Zubair Rahmani, Nokokure Dahl, Trine Wiggen, Maria Bock, Sara Khorami. Norway, Germany, Sweden


BODIED – A meek white-boy rapper wants to spit fire, but does cultural appropriation outweigh his desire? DIR Joseph Kahn. SCR Alex Larsen. CAST Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Charlamagne Tha God, Anthony Michael Hall, Rory Uphold, Dumbfoundead, Walter Perez, Shoniqua Shandai, Dizaster, Debra Wilson, Loaded Lux. USA

EL MAR LA MAR – A stunning new film from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, EL MAR LA MAR dives into matters of life and death at the U.S.-Mexico border in the Sonoran Desert, where legions of immigrants are dying to cross. DIR/SCR Joshua Bonnetta & J.P. Sniadecki. USA

THE ENDLESS – Filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return with another fiercely original sci-fi horror film, this time set in a UFO death cult. DIR Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. SCR Justin Benson. CAST Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington. USA


A CIAMBRA – Jonas Carpignano’s sophomore feature follows Pio, a streetwise teen in Calabria who must step up when his older brother lands in trouble with the police. DIR Jonas Carpignano. SCR Jonas Carpignano. CAST Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato, Francesco Pio Amato, Patrizia Amato, Rocco Amato, Susanna Amato. Italy, USA, France, Sweden

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (UNA MUJER FANTASTICA) – In Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to GLORIA, trans actress Daniela Vega gives an astonishing debut performance as a woman who must navigate a hostile society after the death of her lover. DIR Sebastián Lelio. SCR Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza. CAST Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Néstor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Sergio Hernández. Chile, USA, Germany, Spain

FOXTROT – An Israeli couple mourns the death of their soldier son in this audacious depiction of war and loss. DIR Samuel Maoz. SCR Samuel Maoz. CAST Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray, Gefen Barkai, Dekel Adin, Shaul Amir, Itay Exlroad. Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland

IN THE FADE (AUS DEM NICHTS) – Diane Kruger gives a career-topping performance in Fatih Akin’s complex thriller that follows a woman’s search for justice after an act of terrorism shatters her life. DIR Fatih Akin. SCR Fatih Akin, Hark Bohm. CAST Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur, Rafael Santana, Hanna Hilsdorf. Germany, France

THE INSULT (L’INSULTE) – When a Palestinian refugee and a Christian nationalist have a fateful crossing of paths, long-simmering tensions in modern-day Lebanon rise to the surface — and spiral out of control. DIR Ziad Doueiri. SCR Ziad Doueiri, Joëlle Touma. CAST Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Talal El Jurdi, Christine Choueiri, Julia Kassar, Rifaat Torbey, Carlos Chahine. Lebanon, France

NEWTON – An idealistic election monitor is determined to make the voices of 76 villagers heard in this humorous and humanistic portrait of Indian democracy. DIR Amit V Masurkar. SCR Mayank Tewari, Amit V Masurkar. CAST Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil, Raghubir Yadav. India

SPOOR (POKOT) – Polish master Agnieszka Holland delivers an animal rights murder mystery for the ages in this genre-bending, gloriously twisted thriller. DIR Agnieszka Holland. SCR Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland. CAST Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Gierszał, Patricia Volny, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Andrzej Grabowski. Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovak Republic

THELMA – A young Norwegian woman from a devoutly Christian background begins
experiencing fantastic powers in the latest work from Joachim Trier. DIR Joachim Trier. SCR Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier. CAST Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Grethe Eltervåg, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Anders Mossling, Vanessa Borgli, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Ingrid Giæver, Oskar Pask, Gorm Grømer, Camilla Belsvik, Martha Kjørven. Norway, Sweden, France, Denmark


BEAUTY AND THE DOGS – Following a sexual assault, a young Tunisian woman must descend into a bureaucratic hell to report the incident and find justice. DIR Kaouther Ben Hania. SCR Kaouther Ben Hania. CAST Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli, Noomane Hamda, Mohamed Akkari, Chedly Arfaoui, Anissa Daoud, Mourad Gharsalli. Tunisia, France, Sweden, Norway, Lebanon, Qatar, Switzerland

A MAN OF INTEGRITY – When an Iranian farmer refuses to play ball with corrupt local thugs, he soon learns the steep price for holding onto his principles. DIR Mohammad Rasoulof. SCR Mohammad Rasoulof. CAST Reza Akhlaghirad, Soudabeh Beizaee, Nasim Adabi, Missagh Zareh, Zeinab Shabani, Zhila Shahi, Majib Potki. Iran

EMPAT BABAK) – A humble Indonesian woman becomes a stealthy master of revenge in this modern feminist Western. DIR Mouly Surya. SCR Mouly Surya, Rama Adi. CAST Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Yoga Pratama, Egi Fedly. Indonesia, France, Malaysia, Thailand

MR. LONG – In this deft, soulful work of genre filmmaking, a notorious hitman trying to allude gangsters finds refuge in a dilapidated part of Tokyo, where he befriends a troubled mother and her child. DIR SABU. SCR SABU. CAST Chang Chen, Sho Aoyagi, Yiti Yao, Runyin Bai. Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Germany

Kaurismäki turns his sights on a Syrian refugee in Helsinki in this moving, hopeful and hilariously deadpan masterwork. DIR Aki Kaurismäki. SCR Aki Kaurismäki. CAST Sherwan Haji, Sakari Kuosmanen, Ilkka Koivula, Janne Hyytiäinen, Nuppu Koivu, Kaija Pakarinen, Niroz Haji, Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon. Finland, Germany

A SEASON IN FRANCE (UNE SAISON EN FRANCE) – A migrant from the Central African Republic struggles to gain asylum in France and raise his two children in this urgently empathetic new work from Chadian auteur Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. DIR Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. SCR Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. CAST Eriq Ebouaney, Sandrine Bonnaire, Aalayna Lys, Ibrahim Burama Darboe, Bibi Tanga, Léonie Simaga, Régine Conas, Khampha Thammavongsa. France

SWEET COUNTRY – An Aboriginal man and his wife are forced to go on the run into the Outback in this brilliant, heart-rending revisionist Western set in 1929 Australia. DIR Warwick Thornton. SCR David Tranter, Steven McGregor. CAST Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Ewen Leslie, Hamilton Morris, Thomas M. Wright, Matt Day, Natassia Gorey-Furber. Australia

WESTERN – Masculine hostility and violence simmer to the surface in this slow-burn masterstroke from new German auteur Valeska Grisebach. DIR Valeska Grisebach. SCR Valeska Grisebach. CAST Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov, Veneta Frangova, Vyara Borisova, Kevin Bashev. Germany, Bulgaria, Austria


THE BREADWINNER – This timely, inspiring and beautifully animated tale follows an 11-year old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan, who must disguise herself as a boy to support her family. DIR Nora Twomey. SCR Anita Doron. CAST Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah, Kawa Ada, Noorin Gulamgaus. Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg

Stewart’s 1971 children’s book “The Little Broomstick,” this film tells the story of a young girl who discovers a flower that grants magical powers, but only for one night. DIR Hiromasa Yonebayashi. SCR Riko Sakaguchi, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. CAST Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner, Lynda Baron. Japan


I, TONYA – Margot Robbie stars as tabloid-bait figure skater Tonya Harding in this unforgettable film that is nothing less than a Shakespearean tale of love, loss and the crushing force of poverty in America. DIR Craig Gillespie. SCR Steven Rogers. CAST Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace. USA

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME – Longtime Spike Lee collaborator Sam Pollard directs this accomplished documentary on the ups and downs of the life and career of trailblazing multi-hyphenate Sammy Davis, Jr. DIR Sam Pollard. SCR Laurence Maslon. FEATURING Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, Jerry Lewis, Kim Novak, Nancy Sinatra, Norman Lear. USA

THE SHAPE OF WATER – Set at the height of the Cold War, Guillermo del Toro’s latest stars Sally Hawkins in an otherworldly love tale between a mute cleaning lady and an Amphibian Man. DIR Guillermo del Toro. SCR Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor. CAST Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer. USA


ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD – Directed by Ridley Scott, TriStar Pictures’ and Imperative Entertainment’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is written by David Scarpa, based on the book by John Pearson. Produced by Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Quentin Curtis, Chris Clark, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam and Kevin Walsh, the film stars Michelle Williams, Kevin Spacey, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer and Timothy Hutton.

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