Glitz, glamour and a little piece of Hollywood came to Dallas on March 22 with the opening night of the first annual AFI Dallas International Film Festival. The American Film Institute is a national institute which provides screen education, recognition and celebration of excellence in film, television and digital media. Future filmmakers attend the AFI Conservatory to hone their craft and display their products.
The festival ran for 11 days, with more than 190 screenings at The Magnolia, Inwood Theatre, Majestic Theatre, Angelika Film Center and AMC Northpark 15 Theater.
Dispersed throughout the screenings were hundreds of question and answer sessions with producers and directors, red carpet events and the awarding of Star Awards throughout the week.
Screen legend Lauren Bacall came to town to receive her Star Award. Other Hollywood notables that were seen cruising around the festival included Bill Paxton, Patrick Fugit, Chris Klein, Alisa Reyes, Morgan Freeman, Nick Stahl, Amy Talkington, Lou Diamond Phillips, Joe Pantoliano and Jane Seymour.
“Canvas,” a movie which Joe Pantoliano produced and starred in alongside Marcia Gay Harden, had its opening night at AFI. The film centers around a family dealing with a schizophrenic mother, a father who doesn’t know how to cope and a little boy who has to grow up. It is a moving film, showing the harsh realities of mental disease and how it affects everyone.
“I think that this movie hits a chord because so many of us relate to this movie,” Pantoliano said. “After doing the movie, I realized that my mom probably went her whole life never being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My grandfather, who I never met, I heard horror stories about him and how crazy he was. His nickname was ‘Dopey Gus.'”
The sprinklings of international and local films provided endless subject matter for the film festival.
Dave Boyle, director of his first feature film, “Big Dreams, Little Tokyo,” used his own experiences while doing mission work in Australia to create the cross-cultural world in which the main character, Boyd, lived. Socheata Poeuv told the story of her parents fleeing the genocide of Cambodia in the documentary “New Year Baby,” which was one of the two winners of a $25,000 prize.
Many other films represented were by native Texans. “The Lycanthrope,” a “funny horror movie” (described by actress Summer Selby), directed by Dallas native Tony Quinn was shown at the festival.
“Night of the White Pants,” directed by Amy Talkington, a Dallas native, is a charming representation of dysfunctional families at their worst, and then at their best. It stars Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl (a native of the Dallas area) and Selma Blair. The film was shot on location in the Dallas area with some scenes filmed at the Adolphus Hotel.
Also filmed in the DFW area was “Beings,” a sci-fi horror directed by Fredrick Wolcott. Unlike most alien movies, this movie was told from the alien’s point of view. At the midnight screening, “Men in Black” or CIA agent-like characters stood at the doorway.
But AFI Dallas wasn’t just about the films. It was also a way for the average person to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the hub of the entertainment industry. There were red carpet events where directors, producers, actors and actresses strutted their stuff.
There were also panel discussions with people from the film industry discussing the art of the short film, female perspectives within the film industry and much more. There were screenings and parties and after-parties.
In the words of Candy Smith, producer of “Anatomy of a Canvas,” “I think for students, especially in the universities … I think it’s fascinating, hopefully, this type of level of film festival inspires a new generation of filmmakers.