The Source Magazine had the opportunity to exclusively interview the festival’s director and AFI alum Jacqueline Lyanga. Check out what she had to say below:
Q: Well, first of all, what can we expect at the AFI FEST this year?
Well, at the AFI FEST this year, you can expect a red carpet gala every night. We’re going to have some amazing, highly anticipated films from the fall festival circuit, films from Telluride and Toronto and Venice, as well as in World Cinema, New Auteur, a number of prize winners from festivals like Berlin and Cannes and Rotterdam and Locarno. So, some great films that are both international films, American independent films, experimental films, narrative films, and big Hollywood studio pictures as well. So, our opening night film is—you probably know—is Saving Mr. Banks, which we’re really excited about. And we’ll have the director, Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson here tonight to open the festival, as well as our guest artistic director, Agnès Varda. And we’ll be showcasing a program of films that she selected that have inspired her as an artist. So, that’s in the tradition that we started back in 2010 when we had David Lynch as our first guest artistic director, and then we followed that with Pedro Almodóvar, and then Bernardo Bertolucci last year. And this year, the mother of the French New Wave, Agnès. So, we’re truly thrilled to have such an incredible artist with us at the festival.
Q: That sounds amazing. AFI brings top talent stars and directors to attendees. Can you speak a bit about that?
Well, you know, one of the things about our program in terms of the way in which we like to showcase these films is that we really work hard to bring as many of the directors to the festival as possible to present their film. So, for example, you know, we’re showcasing from Nigeria Half of a Yellow Sun and the director, Biyi Bandele, will be at the festival as well as the film’s star, Chiwetel Ejiofor. And we have another young filmmaker breakthrough coming from Nigeria who—the filmmaker, the woman who directed B for Boy. We have filmmakers coming from Romania—from 23 countries: from Romania, from the U.K., from Kazakhstan, from Georgia—from all over the world—from Québec, from Chile, from México—a really diverse group of filmmakers across the various programs too, from shorts, and again, from new auteur, from the midnight section, with filmmakers coming from Israel and from Palestine. It’s a really great group of filmmakers that will be here to talk about their films and engage with the audience. We also will be doing conversations, so we’ll actually have Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, in conversation on directing on Sunday evening at the festival. And we’re showcasing the new film by Justin Chadwick based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. So, Idris Elba and Naomie Harris will be here to present that film as well on Sunday evening.
Q: What did the AFI review team love about Mandela?
Mandela is a story about a legendary and such an influential political figure, someone who fought for human rights. And so in terms of both celebrating human rights and artistic freedom, there’s no better person to look to than Nelson Mandela. And it’s a really inspiring story. And one of the things I think a film festival can do is—and should do is to show—to be a window to the world for people. And there may be some who don’t know the story in depth and there may be some who were, you know, very young at this point when Nelson Mandela was in prison, and this is a great way for us to share those stories with an audience. And with a new younger audience, and then also for us to look at the scope of filmmaking. It’s a really strong drama.
Q: Can you speak a bit more about Half of a Yellow Sun?
Half of a Yellow Sun I think is really a unique film. It showcases a unique period in African history, a story that we don’t often see of a generation for those who are perhaps first or second-generation African immigrants to the United States, for those families or for those who follow that history, people who have parents who knew of that history. It’s an opportunity to see that—those stories told as this, like, young, educated class of Nigerians struggling for self-determination and caught between traditional society and modern society. It was really exciting to see a film like that told by a Nigerian filmmaker, and of course based on a very well-known and prize-winning novel of the same name.
Q: What is so special about B for Boy?
This is really exciting ’cause this is a film that we found through the submissions process. It’s in our breakthrough section. So, the filmmaker just took a chance and submitted the film to us and it made its way up through the screening process. Everyone loved it. And it’s a film where the filmmaker—she’s also Nigerian—who’s clearly influenced as well by the Dogma filmmaking style in terms of some of her camera movements and the dialogue and the narrative. And then you have a story, again, that I think is really unique about a modern African woman torn between traditional society and her mother-in-law’s and family’s desire for her to have a son and her life as a contemporary working woman in Nigeria. It’s a wonderful modern story, a great actress, Uche Nwadili, who plays the lead role, just in terms of—and you see her go through this desperation and struggling to keep her family as she tries to bring a son into the family. So, really an incredible—and this is a first film from her, an incredible new voice, who’s someone to really watch in filmmaking.
Q: AFI is also screening Datamosh?
What’s exciting about our program this year, there’s a real diversity to the stories from a Pan-African perspective. And here is someone who’s working at the cusp of technology, incorporating technology and art making and rap, and he’s really contemporary and young and he’s had work and installations at Sundance. And it’s great to showcase his film as part of our festival, which really looks back at the year in cinema and says, “Here are films that you need to see to be a part of that dialogue and conversation that’s happening around cinema this year,” and Yung Jake is another bright, new talent who people need to pay attention to. And we hope that, you know, as we put together the program that we give people some highlights and give them some films and filmmakers to discover in the program. So, yes, he’s in the shorts program. Chika and her film, B for Boy, is in the breakthrough section. Mandela is in our special screening section. So, there’s a lot of diversity to each of the sections.
Q: They’re saying that this is the year for African-American films with The Butler, Mandela, 12 Years a Slave, and just so many more. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that what is great this year is just that there’s been an opportunity and that the filmmakers as well have taken advantage of all of these opportunities to tell great stories. As I said, with B for Boy, that’s a film that just rose through the ranks of our screening process and people fell in love with it. And so, it’s exciting to me. I think that’s really also the role of festivals, to educate audiences on the kinds of films and to share with audiences international cinema and voices. And that just makes for more intelligent audiences and cinephiles. And so, I think, again, there’s been a, I think, growth in the overall cultural cinema and people are just open and ready to accept more diverse voices and visions in film and they’re excited about seeing—about gaining this window into new worlds and new stories. And so, I think that this year is just a part of that and it really signals, I think, a very exciting future for cinema overall.