festivals can be a welcome departure from the formula driven blockbusters that dominate the movie industry. This year’s 30th annual American Film Institute Festival, held Nov. 10-17, offers up a platform for emerging talents to showcase their wares, along with tributes to established stars and the festival’s yearly Legacy lineup of cinema classics. This year’s Legacy highlights include “Carmen Jones” (1954) featuring Dorothy Dandridge, and director Julie Dash’s 1991 ode to South Carolina’s Gullah culture, “Daughter’s of the Dust.” Screenings and events will be held at the Egyptian Theatre, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and the TCL Chinese Theatres.
Among the titles provided for advance review are Josh Locy’s “Hunter, Gather,” starting Andre Royo, best know for his depiction of the heroin addict “Bubbles” on the HBO crime drama “The Wire.” His latest portrayal as Ashley, a newly released convict, is no less challenged as he makes those first tentative steps towards rejoining society.
The plot does not reveal the nature of the crime for which he was incarcerated, but by his demeanor we may assume he is not the violent sort as he engages with the inhabitants of his South Central stomping ground. Alas, Ashley is prompted by unrealistic expectations, including reconciliation with his old fame, whom has moved on to another.
His manipulative traits (which may have been cultivated as a survival mechanism in prison) turn out to be a stumbling block as well, as his ill-conceived scams backfire. Those he encounters on his road to rehabilitation are saddled with their own issues as well, including his running buddy Jeremy (George Sample III), whom he enlists in his venture to salvage old refrigerators.
The other side of the Western Hemisphere provides the backdrop for Logan Sandler’s “Live Cargo.” The sun-kissed shores of the Bahamian Commonwealth may be a pleasant alternative from inner city Los Angeles, but peril lurks within this tropical refuge, awaiting a grieving couple seeking solace after a miscarriage.
Nadine (Dree Hemingway, great-grand daughter of Ernest) and Lewis (the Inland Empire’s own Keith Stanfield) flock to her ancestral home in an effort to heal after their unbearable loss. Awaiting them is Roy (veteran actor Robert Wisdom), her surrogate father figure and island patriarch. Challenging Roy for the welfare, morally and physically, of this balmy haven is local knucklehead Doughboy (L.A. native Leonard Earl Howze) who has crafted a lucrative income using the place as a way station for the human trafficking of Haitian immigrants (the “Live Cargo” of the title).
Complicating this potent milieu is homeless, impressionable Myron (Sam Dillon). Myron is a rudderless vessel ripe for the undermining influence of crime lord Doughboy, who manipulates Myron’s frailty and unrequited passion for Nadine for his malevolence purposes.
Sandler chose to shoot this project in black and white, obscuring the beautiful Caribbean sand, sky and water, but underscoring the menace beneath the rolling waves and the bloated bodies that occasionally wash up on the shore.
Also on the dais but not reviewed at press time is the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck. An exploration of the book James Baldwin was working on when he died, it utilizes the talents of Samuel L. Jackson in this time capsule of the Civil Rights Era.
Schedules and other information on the American Film Institute Festival may be found at http://www.afi.com/afifest/.