AFI FEST: Must-Sees, Maybes and More

For the Pasadena crowd, that lives in anticipation of every space program moment, there are two movies of interest: “Aeronauts” and “Proxima.” Only one is a must-see. If you’re looking for a thoughtful documentary about thinking, “Oliver Sacks,”  looks at not only what one man achieved, but also how much society has changed. The 2-hour plus biopic of two popes offers great acting and a look at how peaceful change was patiently achieved.

Two looks at China under Communism are both striking for different reasons. “Balloon” is at times humorous, but also tragic. The importance of faith is referenced in “Balloon” as with the Polish film “Corpus Christi,” but “Balloon” is less violent and more lyrically shot. The other Chinese film, “Past.Perfect,” is found footage that gives us a glimpse of the marginalized people in China.


A scientist (Eddie Redmayne) and a female balloonist (Felicity Jones) take a balloon higher than ever before, but face dangers and bad memories as they struggle to return to earth alive after some equipment malfunctions. Based on a true story of two men, this tale replaces one with a fictional woman. That’s a shame because there were women involved in ballooning, and even in one horrendous tragedy (alluded to here). Still this is an entertaining look at the beginnings of meteorology as a science.

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 19, 7:30 p.m. (TCL Chinese Gala)

Balloon (Qi Qiu)

A Tibetan Shepard, Dargye, and  his wife, Drolkar,  attempt to support a grandfather and three sons in rural Tibet. The two younger sons innocently cause turmoil when they take two condoms and use them as balloons. The third son is much older and the family struggles to pay tuition for his education. One of his teachers had a romance with the wife’s sister and accidentally meets her again.  The Buddhist belief system permeates the lives of these people despite the Communist rule and one has to draw comparisons with our own lives where contraceptive devices are easily obtained and with a China where they are not, even during the one-child policy era.   With English subtitles.

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 19, 7:15 p.m. (Chinese 5)
  • November 20, 12:00 p.m. (Chinese 5)

Corpus Christi (BOŻE CIAŁO)

A young man finds is given a job in a mill after living in a brutally violent juvenile detention center. On his way, he comes to understand that he won’t be able to escape his criminal past, but circumstances allow him a chance to change a small town disguised as a priest. The townspeople grieve bitterly over the deaths of a group of youths, focusing their hate on one person. There won’t be a happy Hollywood ending but the strength of faith is unquestionable. Poland. With English subtitles.

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 20, 6:45 p.m. (Chinese 4)
  • November 21, 2:45 p.m. (Chinese 3)

The Two Popes

Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) takes over what will be a disastrous period for the Catholic Church. Also-ran, but with much few votes, the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) brings modern music and simpler ways to practice in Buenos Aires. He wants to step down, but Pope Benedict won’t allow it. They discuss the direction of the church and the future as we delve into Pope Francis’ past. While a little long and sometimes the camera work is subpar, this provides an intelligent discussion about change, confrontation and faith. The soundtrack is beautiful.

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 18, 6 p.m. (TCL Chinese, Gala)
  • Limited release Nov. 27.
  • Streaming Dec. 20


Sarah, a French astronaut,  gets: a spot on a year-long mission to Mars. She faces the unconscious male chauvinism of the American astronaut in charge of her mission (Matt Dillon) and the sadness of separation from her daughter. Shot on location in real training facilities, “Proxima” is a poignant, thoughtful but also paints the problems of women in the space program has different from men, just as “Lucy in the Sky” did earlier this year.  You might want to watch the 2013 “Gravity” instead.  France, Germany. With English subtitles.

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 20, 5:45 p.m. (Chinese 6)
  • November 21, 4:00 p.m. (Chinese 1)


 “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”

The charismatic Bikram Choudhury founded Bikram Yoga, and built an empire of yoga studios and teaching programs, but Eva Orner’s documentary exposes Choudhury’s dark secret. He was preying on women and had created a cult-like atmosphere to insulate himself. USA

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 15, 4:00 p.m. (Chinese 5)
  • November 21, 6:00 p.m. (Chinese 4)

I Am Not Alone

Garin Hovannisian’s first feature-length  documentary is a fascinating look at the grassroots movement begun by a man who walked across Armenia to protest governmental corruption in 2018. He found like-minded souls who founded a movement and even had a mascot–Chalo the Dog. This surely will become the inspiration for a Hollywood movie, but it should inspire audiences to think about peaceful revolutions and how one person can change things. Armenia

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 20, 4:00 p.m. (Chinese 1)
  • November 21, 7:30 p.m. (Chinese 6)

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

Famed neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (“The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”), was painfully shy. Sacks, who died in 2015, hid a part of himself from the world–his homosexuality. Master filmmaker Ric Burns, has made an intimate portrait of  Sacks’ final months and reflects on how Sacks changed our understanding of each other and how a changed society allowed Sacks greater freedom later in his life. USA

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 20, 6:30 p.m. (Chinese 2) 
  • November 21, 12:00 p.m.(Chinese 2)

Present.Perfect. (Wan Mei Xian Zai Shi) USA, Hong Kong

Live streaming was a craze in mainland China before the crackdown of state control. Winner of the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, Zhu Shengze’s found-footage documentary compiles live streaming footage–none of it gory.  We do see a China often hidden with hosts who live with disabilities or are members of the struggling working class, or who are marginalized for other reasons and the working-class.  USA, Hong Kong

AFI Fest Screenings

  • November 20, 3:30 p.m. (Chinese 2)
  • November 21, 5:30 p.m. (Chinese 2)

For more information, visit AFI FEST 2019.  AFI FEST runs from Nov. 14-21 in Hollywood, centered at the TCL Chinese but with activities and screenings in other nearby venues.

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