film festival tourism


Why Go: Top-notch festival fare showcased in an unparalleled setting. Your best North American option for recent international fare.

Begun in 1971, AFIFest takes place in the epicenter of Hollywood and is in a position to cherry-pick some of the best titles from the festival circuit. The event attracts important guests from both the international film community and the Hollywood glitterati. In 2009 the festival, like many other cultural events, was radically scaled back to 57 films from 100 screened in 2008. By 2013, however, the number of features had bounced back up to just under 100.

Festival Website:

Timing: Eight Days in mid-November

Programming: A conservative selection of highlights from the film festival circuit interlarded with  high-profile galas featuring Oscar hopefuls and a smattering of revival fare.

Special Guests

Many international filmmakers are drawn to the festival by its Hollywood location as well as by the opportunities for distribution deals offered by the concurrent American Film Market event in Santa Monica. Such visitors often conduct Q and A sessions after screenings. In addition, if you like glitzy premieres, the glam quotient of Hollywood royalty here is high.

Audience: Mostly locals. Many have a high degree of movie literacy, which makes for provocative Q and A sessions with filmmakers.

Screening Venues: The 2009 festival was moved from the Hollywood Arclight to the  nearby Grauman’s Chinese Theater and its attendant Mann 6 multiplex. The Grauman’s complex boasts superb screening facilities, comfortable seating and excellent sightlines. Some screenings are also held at the nearby Egyptian Theater.

The Interior of Grauman's Chinese Theater

The Interior of Grauman’s Chinese Theater

Screening Schedule:

Movies begin in late morning on multiple screens. As many as seven films can be screened at one time.


In 2009 the festival initiated a policy of free tickets. In 2015 AFI members got passes that allowed them to skip the step of ordering tickets on the jammed website–but passholders still had to get in line. Best strategy is to get in line one hour ahead, get a number, then go for coffee. Return 30 minutes before the screening and resume your place in line. It also helps if you can attend weekday matinees, which tend to be less crowded.


Hollywood is undergoing a Renaissance of sorts with new buildings and restorations in progress all around. A grungy honky-tonk factor persists, however, especially along Hollywood Boulevard, where tour hawkers compete for space with faux Chewbaccas and Snow Whites who will take photos with tourists for a fee.

Getting There

You can avoid renting a car by flying into LAX and taking the SuperShuttle to your hotel. From Hollywood, you can use the subway  (yes, LA has a subway) to get downtown or to Universal City.

Getting Around

The Roosevelt, the fest’s host hotel, is right across the street from the Grauman’s Chinese multiplex which, in turn, is next door to the Hollywood and Highland shopping mall with its multitude of cafes and fast-food joints.


Hollywood is home to a burgeoning cadre of hotels in all price categories. A few options I have tried and liked:

  • The Roosevelt. Newly restored and notable for its old Hollywood feel. 7000 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA. (323) 466-700
Lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt

Lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt

  • Hollywood Celebrity Hotel. A good budget option, located on a quiet street just behind the Hollywood and Highland Center.1775 Orchid Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 850-6464.
Hollywood Celebrity Hotel

Hollywood Celebrity Hotel


Many, many choices. For special meals I like:

  • Yamashiro. Very expensive, but fabulous ambiance and views. To hold down your budget while enjoying the setting and views, go for drinks. 1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Hollywood, CA 323-466-5125
The Pagoda at Yamashiro Restaurant

The Pagoda at Yamashiro Restaurant

Budget Option: The Deck, a multi-ethnic food court on the third level of the Hollywood-Highland Center, just outside of the entrance to the Chinese Multiplex.

The Deck

For more restaurant choices, see the CineCon and TCM fest pages.


Paramount Studios Tour: A pretty good studio tour, close by. Guides have a tendency to go off on tangents about haunted sets and other unenlightening trivia. 323-956-1777.

Mood Movies:

Films set in Hollywood you might want to watch before you go.

  • Mulholland Drive. David Lynch’s postmodern visit to old-style Hollywood. Not all locations are in Hollywood, but the film evokes the Hollywood spirit.
Poster for Mulholland Drive

Poster for Mulholland Drive



Best Film I Saw: Tsotsi. Gavin Hood’s slam-bang study of violent youth in the new South Africa.




2006 Program Book

2006 Program Book

Best Film I Saw: Time. Another disturbing, enigmatic work from Korea’s Kim Ki-Duk (The Isle, 3-Iron).




Best Films I Saw

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Cristian Mungiu’s relentless portrait of a back-street abortion in 1980’s Romania, told largely in sequence shots and squeezed into a tightly compressed time period to generate maximum tension.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

Silent Light. Perhaps the most personal and uncompromising filmmaker of the Mexican New Wave, Carlos Reygadas has produced a haunting Dreyer-esque study of life among Mexico’s Mennonite community.

Silent Light

Silent Light

Secret Sunshine. Another astonishing work from Korea by filmmaker Chang-dong Lee. Do-yeon Jeon won a well-deserved acting prize at Cannes for her portrayal of a young mother beset by pain and loss.

Secret Sunshine

Secret Sunshine


2008 Program Book

2008 Program Book

Best Film I Saw: Lake Tahoe. A droll, formalistic piece of cinematic minimalism by the young Mexican auteur Fernando Eimbcke. Entirely original and endlessly engaging.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Unexpected Pleasures

  • Berenice Reynaud’s knowledgable, provocative introduction to the screening of Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City.
  • The intelligent, informed Q and A session after the screening of The Headless Woman.


2009 Program book

2009 Program book

Best film I saw: About Elly. With its kinetic energy and over-privileged characters, Asgar Farhadi’s portrait of Tehran’s  idle rich feels like the Iranian New Wave turned on its head. Were these people were the kind of  Iranians  who recently concluded that a sybaritic lifestyle was no longer sustainable in view of the situation in the country at large and decided to turn their energies to political protest rather than petty pleasures? The film does not try to answer this question but clearly raises it by focusing on the disastrous consequences and moral quagmires that follow from irresponsible behavior.

About Elly

About Elly

Unexpected Pleasures

  • Robert Koehler’s  helpful on-stage introductions to some of the films.
Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

  • The festival promo reel, shown before each films. Legendary movie stars as audience members looking at the big screen–enchanting!

Link to my essay on AFI FEST movies:


Best Film I Saw: Oki’s Movie. More navel gazing from Hong Sang-Soo, Korea’s answer to Eric Rohmer, but more cleverly constructed than some of his other efforts.

Oki’s Movie


2011 festival poster

Best Films I Saw

  • Le Cercle Rouge. One of the best of Jean-Pierre Melville’s existentialist police thrillers highlighted by a truly scary rendering of delirium tremens by  Yves Montand. Originally released in 1970.

Le Cercle Rouge

  • Pina. Wim Wenders’ documentary  tribute to choreographer Pina Bauche takes dance films to a whole new level with its dramatic settings and bravura camerawork. The best argument to date for the validity of 3-D.


Unexpected Pleasures

  • Guest curator Pedro Almadovar’s thoughtful, detailed introduction to Le Cercle Rouge.

Almadovar with Fest program director Jacqueline Lyanga

  • Wim Wenders’ droll comments before and after the screening of his film Pina.

Wenders at the Pina screening


Best Films I Saw

  • The Past (Le Passe). Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) scores again with a wrenching study of the tangled lives of immigrants in Paris.

The Past

  • Bethlehem. First time director-writer team Yuval Adler and Ali Wakad have crafted a gripping, even-handed thriller about the Mossad’s relations with Palestinian informants.


Unexpected Pleasure: The poignant portraits of children deeply affected by the messy lives of the adults around them in The Past.


The child actors in The Past

Shock and Awe: The ticket debacle. See above.


2014 Festival Poster

Best Films I Saw

  • Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit). The Dardenne Brothers score again with a heartbreaking tale of an emotionally fragile  woman whose co-workers are maneuvered into voting her out of her job. French actress-of-the-moment Marion Cotillard stars.

Two Days, One Night

  • Timbuktu. Mauritanian auteur  Abderrahmane Sissako ‘s poetic vision of a remote African village taken over by a ragtag jihadist group.


Unexpected Pleasure: An ear-opening presentation on the new Dolby Atmos sound system by industry pros Erik Aadahl, Will Files, and Skip Lievsay.


Best Films I Saw

  • No Home Movie. Chantal Akerman’s posthumous documentary is ostensibly about her relationship with her dying mother, but it comes across as a rationale for her subsequent suicide. A most disturbing experience.


No Home Movie

  • Dheepan. Jacques Audiard’s dark study of immigrants’ experiences in the outskirts of Paris crescendos into a bravura sequence of fantastical violence that reveals an irradicably sinister strain in the male psyche.


Unexpected Pleasures

  • Finely calibrated performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney in 45 Years, directed by Andrew Haigh.

45 Years

  • Yi Zhang’s hilarious rant against gun control in Jia Zhang-ke’s Mountains May Depart (Shan he gu ren).

Mountains May Depart


Best Films I Saw

  • Divines. Houda Benyamina’s riveting debut chronicles the adventures of rebellious teens from marginalized groups in Nice. Bursting with energy, it features captivating turns from its two young leads.


  • Graduation (Bacalaureat). A subtle, intricate tale of social aspiration and moral compromise from Romania’s Cristian Mungiu.


Unexpected Pleasures

  • DJ Z-Trip’s imaginative, witty mash-up score for Harold Lloyd’s 1928 gem Speedy.


Z-Trip and Speedy

  • A close-up view of two industry veterans, Robert De Niro and Warren Beatty, as they earnestly plugged new passion projects, The Comedian and Rules Don’t Apply.


Warren Beatty at AFI Fest

  • The unpretentious charm of Annette Bening, honored with a career tribute.

Annette Bening


2017 AFIFest Poster

2017 Poster

Best Film I Saw: Loveless: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s devastating portrait of Bourgeois culture in modern-day Russia concerns a neglected child who takes his fate into his own hands.


Unexpected Pleasures:

  • Annette Bening flaunting her wrinkles in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

  • Tony Zierra’s affectionate portrait Leon Vitali, of one of the unsung support staff that make movies possible, in Filmworker. Next time, Zierra should take one of the thousands of women who fulfill this function as his subject.

Leon Vitali and director Stanley Kubrick in Filmworker.


Festival Poster

Best Film I Saw: Roma. Alfonso Cuaron’s affectionate portrait of the woman who cared for him as a child growing up in Mexico city is unobtrusively attentive to all manner of gender, ethnic, and class issues.



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