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A new AFI festival entry: Oscar buzz

September 19, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

With studios jockeying to position their prestige movies for strategic advantage, the shortened Oscar season this fall may have benefited the 17th annual AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, which is boasting more prominent movies than in years past.

This year the festival, which runs Nov. 6-16 at Pacific's ArcLight theater in Hollywood, will open with "Calendar Girls," a British film starring Helen Mirren that is inspired by the true story of a group of women over 40 who pose naked for charity projects and become international celebrities as a result.

In addition, "The House of Sand and Fog," DreamWorks' Oscar hopeful, will screen Nov. 9. Set for a December theatrical release, the darkly moody film, which stars Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly, is based on the bestselling novel by Andre Dubus III and directed by newcomer Vadim Perelman.

On Nov. 12, it's Norman Jewison's latest film, "The Statement," starring Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates. That film, written by Academy Award winner Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") will be released by Sony Pictures Classics Dec. 12.

Charlize Theron's unglamorous turn as a prostitute serial killer in "Monster" will screen Nov. 16. The film, which Newmarket Films will release in late December, also stars Christina Ricci as Theron's girlfriend. The film is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, a highway prostitute who was executed in Florida for killing seven men during the 1980s.

"Monster," which was written and directed by Patty Jenkins, is Newmarket's Oscar hopeful.

Because the Oscars have been moved up one month, from late March to February, studios will have less time to promote their films in the fall and holiday season. The American Film Institute's festival, which has always scheduled interesting movies, now holds a timely place in the season to serve as a platform for creating Oscar buzz on certain movies, said Tom Bernard, Sony Pictures Classics co-president.

"If you were an entrepreneur and invented a festival for November and Christmastime, you could get any movie you want," Bernard said. "The lack of time to spend [campaigning for an Oscar nomination] has cut short the ability to persuade through the media. [AFI] is now certainly an Oscar forecaster."

Said Bob Berney of Newmarket: "This year is the first year people are [seeing AFI] and saying, 'Whoa, this really fits.'

"I thought AFI was perfect to really kick off a [Oscar] showcase for the film and for Charlize and Christina."

Other Oscar-buzzworthy movies at the festival, which will feature more than 140 new titles, include Errol Morris' documentary on former defense secretary Robert McNamara, "The Fog of War"; Jim Sheridan's immigrant saga "In America"; and Robert Altman's latest picture, "The Company."

There will also be a series of international features, documentaries and shorts in competition and in global cinema showcases, including Asian New Classics, European Film Showcase, Latin Cinema Series and American Directions.

Also returning are the Made in Germany series and the Filmmaker Tribute and Retrospective.

New this year is a special sidebar entitled Beyond Conflict: Focus on the Middle East.

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