The AFI Fest returns this year to its full glory as an in-person event, Nov. 2-6. 

“You know, we asked ourselves really early on — because the world is still weary from pandemics and politics and the rest — what is a film festival in 2022? And the answer was really clear, which is that the AFI festival is going to be a place for people to come together,” says Bob Gazzale, AFI president and CEO. 

No hybrid screenings in sight. “While watching a film alone on your computer is great, it does not put the word festive in festival. This is the year to be together and to be present,” he says. 

The festival kicks off with the world premiere of doc “Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me” (pictured), from director Alex Keshishian, and closes with Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” In between AFI Fest unspools 125 works, including Special Screening “Bones and All,” from Luca Guadagnino, “La Pupille,” from Alice Rohrwacher, “Nanny” from Nikyatu Jusu, “SR.” from Chris Smith and “Women Talking” from Sarah Polley. 

It’s a remarkably balanced mix, with the official selection featuring 53% films that are directed by women, while 32% are directed by BIPOC filmmakers and 11% are directed by LGBTQIA+ filmmakers. The lineup also includes a healthy selection of foreign-language features, including six that had been submitted for the international Oscar race: “Alcarràs” (Spain), “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” (Mexico), “Close” (Belgium), “Eo” (Poland), “Joyland” (Pakistan) and “Saint Omer” (France). 

Gazzale notes the sales for festival passes is very strong this year. “So there is a demand for both a highly curated theatrical experience and I think a demand to be together. That’s what I’m excited about, to be there with people who love the movies as much as I do.” 

A full slate of documentaries has been programmed as well, since the AFI Docs event was paused this summer. Gazzale notes that the AFI’s commitment to nonfiction fare is underscored by “Selena Gomez” opening the festival. 

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay serves as the festival’s guest artistic director. Her film choices amplify voices of female filmmakers: 2014’s “Hellion,” starring Juliette Lewis and Aaron Paul, and directed by Kat Candler; 2012’s “Mosquita y Mari,” starring Aura Patalano, Venecia Troncoso and Fenessa Pineda, directed by Aurora Guerrero; and 2011’s “Yelling to the Sky,” starring Gabourey Sibide and Zoë Kravitz, directed by Victoria Mahoney. DuVernay will also moderate a panel with the helmers, who are part of the all-women directorial roster for her drama series “Queen Sugar.” 

“Ava is a force of nature. We’re proud to have her as an AFI trustee. And we’re proud to have her this year as guest artistic director,” Gazzale says, noting that DuVernay’s imprimatur goes a long way. “This was something she thought deeply about. This is a moment to make a difference. Just like she continues to do.” 

While the festival screens a strong selection of shorts, a unique aspect of the AFI Fest is its Conservatory Showcase, which unspools short films from recent AFI graduates, who not only get a diploma, but an opportunity to showcase their talent to an industry-connected audience. “And for audiences, this is the place to see the next great talent,” says Gazzale. 

He adds: “Having the opportunity to see a lot of these films in advance, I would say there’s a common theme. And that common theme is the joy of being alive. And that may sound grand, or over the top but given the dark times that we’ve experienced the last few years, I think it’s completely illustrative of the power of this art form.”  

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