Film and TV

For a New Fest, AFI Has Plenty of Old-School Charm

Lauren Bacall will be among those attending the AFI fest. Yeah, I could stare at this photo all day. Just might, in fact.

Late last night, AFI Dallas International Film Festival Artistic Director Michael Cain sent over the final "quick guide" for the inaugural fest, which kicks off March 22 and runs till the end of the month. It's far more complete than yesterday's press release, with bios of attending celebs and a complete schedule for every single screening (including exact start time and place) and a list of theaters, which range from the obvious (Magnolia, Inwood) to the less so (Nasher Sculpture Center and TCU). So, this morning we thought we'd share it with you; it's a tremendously helpful sneak peek at what turned out to be a pretty impressive schedule.

Initially, AFI organizers weren't sure they could pull off their ambitious goal of getting 150 films into their inaugural festival, which has squeezed into the regional fest calendar between South by Southwest, which kicks off next week in Austin, and the long-running USA Film Festival in April. But they exceeded their initial goal: The fest has 191 features and shorts, among them Sundance faves (the quirky coming-of-age dramedy Rocket Science and Sarah Polley's wrenching family drama Away From Her); the supposed-to-be-brilliant Edith Piaf biopic La M�me; David Lynch's polarizing Inland Empire, which never played Dallas last year; the sweet, Breaking Away-style Diggers starring Paul Rudd; and, well, many, many others.

"We started out with a basic guideline of how many films wanted to program into each category and worked our way backward," Cain says. "Those categories were expanded and contracted as we proceeded, and we figured out how many venues and screens we had. It was mathematical equation with some emotional stuff thrown in, because there were movies we just couldn't live without."

But where, precisely, will an audience come from to watch so many films in so many venues over so many days? After all, most of the audiences are Sundance or Toronto or even SXSW are imported -- film fetishists who plan their winter trips and spring breaks around fests.

"As we've said all along, it has to happen within the city," Cain says. "We've got to count on 80 percent of the audience coming from right here and that depends on us getting the message out to the different communities, and that's a lot of it. Most of the people who will come to AFI have never been to a film festival. That's as big a task as anything: Helping people not look at this as huge, but to show them, 'Oh, look, there's a movie I want to see, and, oh, look there's another one I want to see.' They become repeat customers who love the film festival experience. I love Toronto and AFI and Telluride and Sundance, being part of a festival once you understand it. But the first fest I went to, I saw two films in four days because I was so baffled by it."

Former ad man Liener Temerlin, the AFI Trustee emeritus who convinced AFI to come to Dallas in the first place, tells Unfair Park that AFI execs in Los Angeles told him 150 films was "too ambitious." He told them it wasn't enough -- even though the more established Tribeca fest in Manhattan had 175 films last year, its fourth in existence. Temerlin, who got his friend Veronique Passani (wife of Gregory Peck) to help bring Lynch and Lauren Bacall and other old-school Hollywood folk to town for the fest, says he's rather fond of "overkill."

"I don't think there's any such thing," he says, laughing. "Dallas is the kind of city that can handle a major film festival. The good news is we'll have 193 films, which is pretty significant and very ambitious. I don't think festivals are generic. To me, the general public has never put films on the kind of pedestal where they belong. It is the American art form, and one way to do that was not only in the films but in the place the films would be shown. I thought we should put them in the Meyerson, which we are doing with silent movies, and with getting the young people involved at the sculpture museum, which Ray Nasher loved. This fest will also pay great respect to the films past and to film people who are still very much involved, because there's so much to learn from them." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky