Catching Films at the 2018 American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland
by Alex Billington
October 22, 2018
There's a film festival kicking off this week in Poland called the American Film Festival. The AFF is the fall version of the New Horizons Film Festival (which screens mostly international films in July every year), organized by the New Horizons Association located at the Nowe Horyzonty cinema in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. This rather vibrant, distinct, energetic city is located inbetween Warsaw and Krakow, but much closer to Prague and Dresden. There's a number of big universities in Wroclaw, making it a lively university city with a student population of over 150,000. It's also the perfect place to host these film festivals, because many students love cinema and love to catch all these films from all around the world. I'm happy to be here.
This is my second time back to the American Film Festival in Wroclaw, and while it's not exactly easy to get to (only via train/bus/car from Krakow or Warsaw) it's an invigorating and dynamic place. And even though it's a small film festival, it packs a punch. Poland and many Polish people are big fans of movies, much more than I expected before I came here for my first time last year. Poland has a strong cinema history, bringing us iconic filmmakers like Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski, Marcel Lozinski, Agnieszka Holland, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Andrzej Munk. The film festival brings out all the local cinephiles, and it's easy to sense the love for filmmaking and cinematic storytelling everywhere around the country. I've spent time in the two big cities - Krakow and Warsaw - and it's a wonderful, welcoming country to spend time in.
The American Film Festival (or AFF) has taken place every year since 2010 in Wroclaw, and it's the first film event in Central Europe solely devoted to the works of contemporary and classic American cinema. Their line-up each year is actually quite impressive - some of the best (American) films of the year show up here. Even though a few of them have already opened in America (and other countries) they get the extra special film festival treatment at AFF, which makes them feel even more meaningful and moving. And some of these films haven't opened in Poland yet, so the locals get a chance to catch up with them and celebrate them along with the rest of the world. They screen an extensive mix of documentaries and features at the festival.
Highlights at this year's AFF: two great opening night films to kick off the fest on Tuesday evening - Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born, plus Cameron Yates' documentary Chef Flynn. Other key films in the stacked 2018 line-up include: Debra Granik's Leave No Trace, Yann Demange's White Boy Rick, Bart Layton's American Animals, Ethan Hawke's Blaze, Carlos López Estrada's Blindspotting, Hannah Fidell's The Long Dumb Road, Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell, Paul Schrader's First Reformed, Claire Denis' High Life, Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria, Sam Levinson's Assassination Nation, Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, and Damien Chazelle's First Man. There's also a series of retrospective screenings for Hal Ashby, in addition to the Polish premiere of the documentary Hal about the filmmaker.
Tickets are also available to the public (for 23 PLN - about $5 in USD), and they're easy to book online or at the cinema if anyone is considering attending. On my own list of films to see while I'm here: Amy Adrion's documentary Half the Picture, George Tillman Jr.'s The Hate U Give, Amy Scott's documentary Hal, Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased, and Sara Driver's documentary Boom for Real, subtitled The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I've already seen many of the films they're showing, and I would love to go see many of them again, but I'm limited on time here at the festival and I'm always trying to see new films that I haven't had the chance to watch yet. But really, this is a hell of a line-up of films to see at the festival.
As usual, you can follow my updates from film festivals on Twitter @firstshowing. I will be posting a few reviews on the site once I begin watching. You can also find my photos on Instagram @abillington. I also now list all the films I've seen on my Letterboxd @firstshowing, if you want more thoughts on what I am seeing day to day. I'm just excited to be back at another film festival, especially one as enjoyable as this one. I'm very lucky to be able to travel the world, going from film festival to film festival, exploring new countries and new cities. And meeting all kinds of different people who love cinema. It's inspiring to see that films can connect with audiences no matter where they're from or what language(s) they speak. See you at the movies.