AFM vs AFI: Two dueling film events

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The American Film Institute kicked off their annual film festival last night with the world premiere of “Hitchcock.” Their annual program of screenings, parties, and Q&A’s is free to the public and takes place in the heart of Hollywood. Across town, in Santa Monica, there’s a different kind of party going on. The American Film Market, or AFM, is a gathering of buyers looking to sign film distribution deals for their home countries.

The film industry is equal parts art and commerce. And every year, during the first week of November, you can see that divide in two separate events, on opposite sides of town. Jonathan Wolf is the managing director of AFM, and says we can think of the AFI Fest like a museum, and the AFM, like a mall. “It’s really no different than if you look at a shopping center, you will see Bloomingdale’s with high-end leather, and you’ll see a sunglass cart out in front selling ten-dollar sunglasses,” Wolf said. “We have every film at every budget and every range, and just like that mall operator, they’re not asking their retailers, the people who are in their space, ‘what are you bringing?’ they’re just saying it’s your space, bring what you want.”

Starlet director Sean Baker said he’s optimistic about the films’ international plans. “So far we have Germany sold and we have a few other territories sold but… we still have most of the world to go,” Baker said.

Being an official AFI Fest selection will distinguish Starlet from other independent films at the AFM, and their special screening will hopefully generate buzz for the film among foreign buyers in attendance. But with an impending November 9th release date here in the U.S., Baker is turning his focus to getting the word out at home first. “Best-case scenario is that it does very well in the American box office, and that translates into attention from overseas, and then foreign buyers saying ‘we need this for our country.’ That’s the best cased scenario,” Baker said.

One things for sure – when you’re an independent filmmaker, every little bit helps.