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Matt Thrift

@Matt_Cinephile

Things to look forward to at the American Film Festival 2016

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and a Wim Wenders retrospective are among the highlights of this year’s AFF.

October is always a great month for UK festivalgoers. The fact that the BFI London Film Festival has rolled up its red carpets, isn’t going to stop us from seeking out our five-a-day fest diet elsewhere. A return flight to Wrocław, Poland works out cheaper than a train to Manchester and back, and next week sees this year’s European City of Culture play host to its second major film festival of 2016.

The American Film Festival may be the younger sibling to the city’s enormous New Horizons Festival that takes place over the summer, but its programming proves just as exciting. Hosting key awards contenders and independent discoveries alike, it’s a measure of the AFF’s eclectic programming that selecting what to see across the six days proves a challenge and a half. As ever, this year’s series of retrospectives are impossible to ignore; one could spend the entire trip just watching old movies and leave suitably nourished. We’ll be in Wrocław for the duration, reporting back on some highlights as we find them, but in the meantime, here’s a few bits and pieces we’re especially looking forward to.

The heavy-hitters

A chance to get ahead of the crowd with a series of films likely to prove key players in the upcoming awards season. The AFF opens this year with Jim Jarmusch’s reportedly magnificent, Paterson (his Stooges doc, Gimme Danger also plays), and closes six days later with Tom Ford’s follow-up to A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals. Two of the year’s very best films receive their Polish premieres in the form of Kelly Reichardt’s swoon-worthy Certain Women and Kenneth Lonergan’s heart-wrenching Manchester by the Sea, while Clint Eastwood makes a smooth landing with the Tom Hanks-starring Sully. Still unseen in the UK, we’re especially looking forward to Jeff Nichols’ period drama, Loving, along with the chance to catch up with Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper – the latest in Kristen Stewart’s sensational run of films – not due to hit UK screens until February 2017.

Europeans in America

A stellar retrospective that charts the American films made by a series of European auteurs. If you know how big the screens were at the festival hub, you’ll not want to miss an opportunity to catch Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West (fingers crossed for the 70mm roadshow print!) A Wednesday morning double-bill of desert-based nihilism has us first in line, as Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point plays after Bruno Dumont’s vastly underrated Twentynine Palms; here’s hoping we’ll be sat next to a first time viewer for the latter. Bertrand Tavernier’s Mississippi Blues sees the French filmmaker survey the music of the eponymous delta, while Emir Kusturica’s Arizona Dream reminds us of the days when Johnny Depp pictures could still be enjoyed – watch out for Vincent Gallo’s hilarious reimagining of the crop-duster sequence from North by Northwest. Top of our list though is the haunting double from Chantal Akerman in News From Home and Monterey Hotel, as well as a first time viewing of Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg’s Joe Hill.

Wim Wenders

The centrepiece of the Europeans in America strand is a series of screenings from Wim Wenders. With his focus on documentary filmmaking in recent years, and 2015’s disastrous Every Thing Will Be Fine, it’s easy to forget how great the German filmmaker could be in the earlier stages of his career. His obsession with the cultural accoutrements of Americana stretch all the way back to his 1974 film Alice in the Cities, peaking with his 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas. The AFF will be playing the latter on one of their biggest screens, along with a selection of American pictures culled from the cinema’s complete, ongoing retrospective.

Orson Welles

Now this is exciting. A generous selection of the films Hollywood’s original enfant terrible made while in effective exile in Europe, any opportunity to catch these on the big screen simply has to be taken up. Not only are the magnificent likes of The Trial, Othello and F for Fake included in the programme, but also the film now considered by many to be Welles’ masterpiece, Chimes at Midnight. Alongside the features, AFF offers a rare selection of the filmmaker’s work for television, as well as an enticing glimpse of fragments from unfinished projects.

Agnès Varda

Continuing the theme of screening the Stateside work of European filmmakers, the great Agnès Varda has all five of her Californian films screening at the festival. Recently collected together by the Criterion collection’s Eclipse imprint, this offers a very rare opportunity to see them on the big screen. By turns charming, eccentric and endlessly reflexive, the films range from short documentary portrait in Uncle Yanco, via observational political activism (Black Panthers), through to her rich, unclassifiable “emotion picture” she made on returning to the US in the early ’80s, Documenteur. The grand-dame of French filmmaking will be on hand for an in-depth conversation on her time in the States following a screening of her eye-popping 1969 collaboration with Shirley Clarke, Lions Love (…and Lies).

The 7th American Film Festival runs from 25-30 October in Wrocław, Poland. The full programme can be explored at www.americanfilmfestival.pl

Published 21 Oct 2016

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