AFI Fest has been underway for nearly a week with a mixture of Galas, free screenings and other events, but last night it slowed its heavy rotation of movies and activities to watch returns in what can be best described as a mostly liberal party at the festival's Cinema Lounge at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
Shouts, applause and flailing victory high-fives mounted as returns came in on a big screen first tuned to CNN, but then changed to NBC when the news network seemed to be behind in their projections. Outside the hotel, a lone anti-Obama protestor made his passions against gay marriage, "that Muslim Obama" and liberals in general as festival-goers headed in for the mostly open party. Inside, the political equation, perhaps not surprisingly, leaned left though there were noticeably mostly quiet individuals politely sitting with long faces as Obama's victory seemed assured. Instead of trying to compete with what was a big night in the making, the festival decided to capitalize on it and turn it into a big event, complete with mostly open bar, sliders, pigs in a blanket, desserts and other treats.
"When we set our dates last year, we knew the election would fall during the festival and we're not going to try and compete with the election," AFI Fest Director Jacqueline Lyanga told ML Tuesday night at the Roosevelt. "We're all movie lovers, but at the same time, we're all passionate citizens and so we wanted to find a way that people can come to the festival and see movies, but still be a part of the process. So we wanted to encourage people to get out to vote, so we didn't have as packed of a film schedule today - we screened far fewer films today."
In keeping with the festival's mostly egalitarian approach - for the fourth year running, all festival screenings are free - anyone including patrons on down to free ticket holders were invited into the evening to watch the returns and enjoying sponsored free of charge food and drink. The event last night appeared to be a hit and the final victory sent most people into a group cheer. A group of filmmakers and festival organizers from Ohio, which gave Obama the final win, were especially elated.
"We invited in pass holders but also anyone who has a ticket from a movie from this week," said Lyanga. "It's great because it brings together filmmakers, pass holders, our patrons and the free ticket holders and celebrate the electoral process together. But while we're here talking about politics, I'm also getting into conversations about cinema and getting to know our audience in a way that I wouldn't be able to do otherwise."
Lyanga plugged this year's event saying attendance has been strong across the board. The event opened last week with Hitchcock and the festival has played host to a wide-range of Galas including On the Road from Walter Salles, Olivier Assayas' Something in the Air, Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone and more. It will close out Thursday night with the premiere of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. And while the big Grauman's Chinese premieres have, as might be expected, drawn crowds and gawkers, smaller more challenging content have also been well attended, no doubt encouraged by the free ticketing.
"For Kim Ki-duk's Pieta we had to turn people away," noted Lyanga "As a programmer, that's extraordinary to see people be as excited as you've been about them for the past eight or nine months. We're really building an audience of cinephiles. It's a blending of older fans and newer younger fans."
Continuing, Lyanga added: "I think New York has always been a city that has had a vibrant art house audience and it's great to now see that L.A. also has that. It encourages more filmmakers and distributors to take a chance on LA. It's still a tough market, but this festival has given encouragement to the art house in Los Angeles."