Coming Soon: The 2011 AFI Fest presented by Audi at Mann’s Chinese

While only one film has been announced (see below), there is still much to say about this year’s upcoming AFI Fest presented by Audi. For starters, 2011 marks the third year that the American Film Institute is offering FREE TICKETS to the public, no strings attached. Well, you might have to cast a vote for the Audience Award,  however, in years past, just meant that you we handed a piece of paper with the movie’s name on it, and ripped one of the four corners to indicate what, on a scale of 1 to 4, you rated the film you just saw.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush at the 2010 screening of 'The King's Speech'

It was announced this week that Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, will kick things off with a gala screening at the historic Chinese Theatre (the other two venues for the festival are Mann’s Chinese 6 Theatres and The Egyptian) on November 3rd. AFI Fest is one of two local late-fall/early-winter film festivals – the other being the Hollywood Film Festival – which, more or less, fire the “starting pistol” for Awards Season. When it comes to what people will be watching in the months leading up to the Academy Awards™ (like this year’s Best Picture™ winner, The King’s Speech), as well as the next big things in foreign language, cult and independent cinema, AFI’s always eclectic roster has something for everyone.

The star of this year's cult hit, Quentin Depieux's 'Rubber,' Robert, last year's AFI Fest

This year's guest artistic director, internationally acclaimed director, Pedro Almodóvar, will host a 25th anniversary screening of his 1986 feature, Law of Desire – among other works both from his personal repertoire, and a selection of movies that influence(d) him as a director [TBA]. It’s hard to say whether or not his upcoming film, The Skin I Live In, starring Antonio Banderas, will be on the schedule. However, its American release date is October 14th – a couple weeks prior to the beginning of the festival – so the odds are pretty slim.

Robert DeNiro and Kate Beckinsale at the premiere of 'Everybody's Fine' at the 2009 Fest

Like most film festivals, AFI Fest is an excellent opportunity to stargaze. While Eastwood and DiCaprio are not confirmed, chances are pretty high that one, if not both, will attend. Speaking from two years’ AFI Fest experience, I can tell you that screenings without at least somebody involved in the making of the film in attendance are more the exception than the rule. Check the festival homepage regularly for announcements, but in the meantime, just know that celebrity appearances will be posted along with the official festival schedule. All celeb appearances are subject to scheduling changes.

Handy Hint: If you don't have a festival badge, there are still plenty of stargazing opportunities in the Hollywood Roosevelt

An inside tip: If gawking celebs is your thing, your chances of seeing a famous personage at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel are always pretty high. The Roosevelt is also a festival co-sponsor, and the site of many events, including the AFI Cinema Lounge. While those without badges do not have access to most of the festival areas, the hotel’s bars and restaurants are still open to paying customers. Hang out. Have a martini and see what happens.

Tickets to individual screenings will be available for the general public via the AFI Fest ticket site beginning October 27th. Naturally, tickets to the higher profile films with A-listers scheduled to attend go fast. Similarly, movies by filmmakers with a large cult following, or films with a lot of buzz tend to go fast, too. For example, I have yet to get into a Werner Herzog film (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in 2009; and Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year) at AFI Fest.

If you can't get tickets online, arrive an hour or more before your movie, and look for this sign

If a film you want to see “sells” out, don’t despair! From people who end up with last minute plans to people who reserve many, many tickets in order to have a wide selection from which to choose, having a free ticket to a screening doesn’t always mean that a person will use it. Thus, in years past, AFI has been able to offer a number of last minute, “Rush,” tickets to hopeful last minute attendees, who arrive an hour (or more) before a screening.

Left to Right: 'Easier with Practice' director, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, and stars Eugene Byrd and Brian Geraghty in 2009

Of course, the best way to ensure that you’ll see what you want, get access to the Cinema Lounge at the Roosevelt, and make a tax-deductible contribution to a worthwhile cause, is to purchase a Patron package – available on the AFI Festival site RIGHT NOW. Those with the money to spend on the premium passes should consider investing in an AFI membership. Benefits include a day’s jump on the general public for tickets to festival screenings, and a 10% discount on Patron packages, in addition to a year-round bevvy of perks – as the old slogan goes, membership has its privileges. With memberships starting at $60, and Patron packages starting at $550, it’s no exaggeration to say that an AFI membership practically pays for itself.

Terry Gilliam at the premiere of "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" at the 2009 Fest

See the AFI homepage for more information on AFI Fest presented by Audi, and membership in the American Film Institute.

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