AFI Fest starts Thursday November 1st at everyone’s favorite LA confluence of tourism and indigence: Hollywood and Highland. And for the next week, at the Chinese Theater and the Egyptian, you can see a round-up of the best films 2012 has to offer—big and small, foreign and domestic—entirely for free thanks to Audi (the Germans are subsidizing everyone these days).

From Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln; to Jacques Audiard’s MMA-fighter-meets-killer-whale-victim love story, Rust and Bone; to Sean Baker’s pornstar-with-a-heart-and-a-penchant-for-bingo mini-masterpiece, Starlet, the 2012 slate is as diverse and exciting as it was last year (even if you just saw Miss Bala in 2011, you know what we’re talking about). That’s why MovieMaker sat down with AFI Festival Director Jacqueline Lyanga to talk about this season’s program, and why you have to go.

MovieMaker (MM): Amongst many others, The Artist screened to an enormous AFI audience last November before going on to ruin the Oscars for the talkies. But AFI also prides itself on being a showcase for small, cutting-edge independent films. On the world cinema side, Yorgos Lanthamos’ startling follow-up to Dogtooth, ALPS, played to a sold-out crowd in 2011. What international films fall into the must-see category at this year’s festival?

Jacqueline Lyanga (AFI): I’m excited about a number of films. AFI Fest is screening a really wide range this year. We have the Swedish film Eat, Sleep Die, an audience award winner at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. There’s also After Lucia, Mexico’s foreign language Oscar entry, and Abbas Kiaostami’s new film, Like Someone in Love, which is a really great companion piece to 2010’s Certified Copy.

MM: Certified Copy is a tremendous film, so we’re excited to hear that you guys have his follow up.

AFI: It’s one of those things where it’s kind of a great double bill for anyone who missed Certified Copy to catch it on DVD or Netflix before they come out to the festival and see Like Someone In Love.

MM: AFI also works hard to spotlight American independent filmmakers with its Young Americans series. What’s on the docket this year?

AFI: There are some great emerging filmmakers. It’s an extraordinary section with very high quality films. Last year in that section there was Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, which was released last week in theatres. Also screening this year are Brandon Cronenberg’s first film, Antiviral.

MM: How do you go about selecting the Young American and New Auteurs slates?

AFI: Our goal is to contextualize the best of the year, so we see a lot of films. We personally received about 3,000 submissions, but we also look to films that have been making a name for themselves on the festival circuit, and to filmmakers we think people should be watching. Eventually we bring all that programming and screening knowledge we’ve accumulated over the year and pull together the AFI Fest.

MM: What exciting trends do you see surfacing in the micro-budget American independent film world?

AFI: There are some lingering mumblecore elements, but recently there’s been a melding of narrative cinema and documentary cinema. With this year’s films—for example, Tchoupitoulas or Leviathan—at first glance you think you’re watching a narrative film, but it’s a documentary. It’s an experiment between genres and definitely an emerging trend. The most mumblecore in feel of all the films in the program, though, is The International Sign for Choking, which seems like an American independent, but it hails from Argentina. It’s interesting because many European films are showing influences of American independents.

MM: And when you say an American independent influence on European cinema, what specifically are you referring to?

AFI: I would say that there’s kind of a looseness in narrative, a 90’s style—think Jim Jarmusch, or even back to the 60s and 70s with John Cassavetes—especially when we see black and white photography and jazz scores popping up. There are two or three black and white films in this year’s program.

MM: What are the primary differences between the American and international slates? Are Americans pushing the same limits as their European, Middle Eastern, African, Central and South American, and Asian counterparts? If not, what would you like to see more of?

AFI: Something that AFI Fest really prides itself on is bringing many of the featured filmmakers from around the world to the festival. We help ensure that directors from around the globe meet each other and see one another’s films. There’s kind of a cross-pollination of ideas that occurs organically between the American and International filmmakers during the AFI week.

MM: For those intrepid filmmakers longing for a Young Americans slot in the 2013 program, what advice can you give?

AFI: Our “Breakthrough” section is in its third year, and slots in that slate are reserved exclusively for films we’ve found solely through the submission process. Since we’re now leafing through 3,000 films or so every fall, you need a really ambitious, distinctive, original voice to stand out from the crowd. The Iranian film, The Last Step, starring Leila Hatami in the follow-up to her utterly incredible turn in last year’s A Separation, is a wonderful example of what as-yet-unknown filmmakers are doing around the world.

For ticket information (specifically, how to get free ones), go to

MovieMaker recommends: Like Someone in Love, The Last Step, Starlet, Rust and Bone, Amour, Beyond the Hills, and Caesar Must Die. Also, Lincoln. But guess what? Everyone else in town wants a ticket, too. So you might have to wait until Christmas.