Shirley, dir. Josephine Decker

AFF 2020: from Sundance, through the Berlinale, to Wrocław

A symbol of hope, the swallow. Details about the combined festivals The submissions deadline for 11th edition of US in Progress extended

Four outstanding independent American films screened at the Berlinale will be part of the program at the 11th American Film Festival (AFF). This year, the AFF will be combined, on an exceptional basis, with the 20th New Horizons International Film Festival. Ula Śniegowska, the artistic director of the festival, talks about the new films from Berlin in the AFF program.

The Berlinale is traditionally the first event in the European festival schedule, during which American films come up against the tastes of audiences from the Old Continent. Many of the films presented in Berlin premiered earlier at the most important festival for independent cinema in the United States, Sundance, but it is in the German capital where they are shown for the first time in our part of the world. The four filmmakers whose films made it to the Berlinale and whose work we will also see in Wrocław are well known to Polish audiences.

The winner of the 2018 Indie Star Award at the AFF, Alexandre Rockwell, will present his latest work, the intimate film Sweet Thing, which stars his own children, Lana and Nico, in the role of refugees from the world of adults who want to remain innocent in the face of their grim surroundings. As a kind of sequel to Rockwell’s film Little Feet, which was shown at the AFF in 2010, the film is a rare example of a story told from the perspective of children and an excellent example of do-it-yourself cinema, which Rockwell has mastered—the whole film was shot in black-and-white on 16 mm film.

Josephine Decker (Madeline and Madeline) returns to Wrocław with the psychological thriller Shirley, based on an episode in the life of the popular writer Shirley Jackson. The director managed to assemble an excellent cast, led by Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’sTale, Mad Men, The Square) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me by Your Name, A Serious Man). Decker masterfully blurs the lines between fiction and biography: set in the world of intellectuals in the 1950s, the plot is intertwined with chilling stories from Jackson’s books.

First Cow, a new film by Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy)—a director adored by the viewers of both of our festivals—also had its European premiere at the Berlinale, and it will be shown for the first time in Poland during the American Film Festival. Just like Reichardt’s 2010 film Meek’s Cutoff, this one is set in the Wild West; it shows lesser-known aspects of the life of settlers, often outsiders, this time from the perspective of a cook and a Chinese immigrant.

Probably the most important title to come from Sundance, via the Berlinale, to Wrocław is Eliza Hittman’s (known to our audience from Beach Rats in 2018) shocking, though extremely subtly told, drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. The film shows a few days in the life of a teenager living in a small town who is on the verge of an important life decision. The work is seductive in terms of its realism as well as the universal experience—still a taboo subject—of the main character. In treating the protagonist with great sensitivity, the director creates a perfect example of truly independent American cinema—the sort we value most highly at the American Film Festival.

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