The fall festival season continues with a flood of announcements. Just days after the Telluride Film Festival concluded, with Venice still ongoing and Toronto about to start, the AFI Film Festival, one of the few major festivals located right in the heart of Hollywood, is starting to make news of its own. We already reported that Inside Llewyn Davis – the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, which won the Grand Prix (second place prize) at Cannes this past May – has been selected to close the film festival, and now comes the announcement that Saving Mr. Banks and Foxcatcher will open AFI Film Fest, which is celebrating its 27th year.
The selection of Saving Mr. Banks is a fitting opener to the Hollywood-based film festival. The film, directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson is itself a Hollywood story – the behind the scenes story of the making of the Disney classic Mary Poppins. In similar fashion, last year AFI Fest kicked off with the world premiere of Hitchcock. The awards hopeful stars Hanks as Walt Disney and Thompson as Mary Poppins scribe P.L. Travers, and chronicles the arduous journey that took the beloved children’s novel onto the big screen (Travers was famously unhappy with the screen treatment). Saving Mr. Banks completes a full circle set of happenstance with its premiere at AFI, since the film festival’s main stage is the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which nearly fifty years ago hosted the premiere of Mary Poppins, an event depicted in the upcoming film. Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak co-star. The film was written by Kelly Marcel, whose well-respected screenplay was mentioned on the annual Black List of the best un-produced scripts a few years back; curiously her next project is the decidedly non-Disney film Fifty Shades of Grey. The film is set to open December 20th and will close out the BFI London Film Festival on October 20th, shortly before opening AFI.
To coincide with the North American premiere of Saving Mr. Banks, AFI will also present a special screening of Mary Poppins, which next year will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Curiously, Mary Poppins serves as the first and so far only live action film produced by Walt Disney Pictures to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, the film won five Oscars, including one for Julie Andrews’ iconic performance. Wouldn’t it be something if Saving Mr. Banks manages to become the second?
AFI scored another major coup in presenting the world premiere of the anticipated title Foxcatcher, auspiciously being unveiled at its “Opening Weekend Gala.” The film recently announced its bid in the awards race with its December 20th launch. Bennett Miller, whose past two outings (Capote and Moneyball) were both nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, directs. The films centers around the bizarre real-life story of a relationship between a gold-medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and eccentric billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell.) Mark Ruffalo stars as Dave Shultz, Mark’s brother, an Olympic champion wrestler who was killed by du Pont. Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall and Vanessa Redgrave co-star in the film which was written by Capote scribe Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye.
Due to the late arrival of AFI in the calendar year, the festival typically tends to settle for the leftovers of the season, either films that aren’t quite ready for the earlier festivals or second chances for films to build buzz before they are set to arrive in theaters after they premiered elsewhere. Last year, the film boasted just one world premiere (the aforementioned Hitchcock), but also highlighted varied films of the season like Life of Pi, The Impossible, Amour, On the Road; it closed with Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln.
AFI Fest starts on November 7th and concludes on the 14th.