This year's AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, commonly known as AFI Fest, kicks off Thursday with the North American premiere of "Calendar Girls," starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Running through Nov. 16, the festival will show more than 140 films culled from some 2,500 submissions representing 42 countries.
This year's festival will again take place at Pacific Theatres' Arclight Hollywood, with four gala screenings scheduled at the Cinerama Dome. Besides "Calendar Girls," they are "House of Sand and Fog," with Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley; "The Statement" from director Norman Jewison and starring Michael Caine; and "Monster," the debut feature from director Patty Jenkins, starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci.
"Monster" is a fictionalized take on the story of Aileen Wuornos, the Florida prostitute convicted of killing seven men in the 1980s. Also showing in the festival is Nick Broomfield's documentary "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer," a follow-up to his previous film on Wuornos, and which features her final interview before her execution.
Other films at the festival include such dramas as Robert Altman's "The Company," Denis Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions" and Jim Sheridan's "In America," and international standouts "Osama," "The Green Butchers," "Rosenstrasse" and "The Triplets of Belleville."
The festival's director of programming, Nancy Collet, hopes festival-goers will be willing to branch out into fare that might seem unfamiliar.
"One of the things we're proudest of is our international competition," she says. "It's all first- and second-time filmmakers, and all U.S. premieres at a minimum, with some North American premieres or even world premieres. That's really exciting for us, but it means these films are less on people's radar. We like to think of it as a section of discovery."
(Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Blvd. Info: 1-866-AFI-FEST or www.AFI.com)
-- Mark Olsen