- - Thursday, November 17, 2016

AFI Fest — the American Film Institute’s annual film festival — screened over 100 motion pictures from 46 countries, ranging from Hollywood studio big-budget productions to indies and vintage films, and featuring star-studded galas along Hollywood Blvd.’s fabled Walk of Fame at the Chinese and Egyptian movie palaces, built before the movies even learned how to talk.

Disney’s “Moana,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the demigod Maui and featuring songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame, also had its world premiere at AFI Fest. The stunning state-of-the-art animated feature follows a Polynesian chief’s daughter named Moana (Hawaiian newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) who with Maui (Mr. Johnson) embarks on a mission to save her Pacific island from ecological disaster by defeating a fiery goddess symbolizing global warming.

In independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s low-budget “Paterson,” Adam Driver of HBO’s “Girls” and Kylo Ren in last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” plays a poetry-writing bus driver married to a quirky Middle Easterner (Iranian Golshifteh Farahani) who finds rapture in everyday life — even in New Jersey.

AFI Fest’s foreign films included Pedro Almodovar’s Spain-set, Hitchcockian “Julieta,” about a mother mysteriously estranged from her daughter. In a post-screening Q&A with co-stars Adriana Ugarte and Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma, Miss de Palma described the celebrated Spanish director as “millemetric.”

“He knows exactly what he wants,” Miss de Palma said of the director she has worked with six times. “The best moment of his life is when Almodovar is shooting; he is blissful.”

Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s “After Love” is a searing work about divorce, and Quebecois helmer Xavier Dolan’s French-language “It’s Only the End of the World,” which earned Cannes’ Grand Prix this year, co-stars Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard in a Eugene O’Neill-type drama about a noted playwright’s (Gaspard Ulliel) return to a dysfunctional family after 12 years abroad.

British director Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with its story about blue-collar workers’ hardships. And in Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s highly imaginative “Neruda,” Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal plays a secret policeman hot on the trail of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet and Communist Party senator, Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco).

On the nonfiction front, Eritrean-born director Gianfranco Rosi presented the compelling documentary “Fire at Sea” about the refugee crisis at Lampedusa, an Italian island closer to North Africa than Sicily, used as an entryway into Europe by countless migrants.

Haitian helmer Raoul Peck likewise spoke after an Egyptian screening of his biopic about James Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro.” Although it’s a doc, Mr. Peck says that in reading aloud the African-American author’s words, “Samuel L. Jackson did not just narrate the film, he played a part — he became Baldwin.”

Mr. Peck explained that he colorized black-and-white footage shot during the Civil Rights movement and rendered color news clips of contemporary demonstrations at Ferguson, Missouri, in black-and-white to suggest a continuum of America’s racism, which tormented the film’s subject.

“Trump did not just come out of nowhere,” Mr. Peck said to an appreciative L.A. audience.

Another film projected at The Egyptian depicted a megalomaniacal moneybags media personality who runs for governor despite a sex scandal. No, this wasn’t a documentary about President-elect Donald Trump, but rather Orson Welles’ now-75-year-old “Citizen Kane,” which was followed by a “master class” presented by Welles’ daughter Beatrice and Welles’ friend and fellow filmmaker, Peter Bogdanovich.

“The style of the film, the way he made it, the overlapping dialogue, the flashback structure, some surprising camera angles — the whole thing made a tremendous impression if you were sensitive to what he was doing,” Mr. Bogdanovich, director of “The Last Picture Show,” said of “Citizen Kane,” which remains No. 1 atop AFI’s list of America’s 100 best movies.

What may be the most startling thing about Welles’ 1941 tour-de-force about newspaper kingpin Charles Foster Kane — more than loosely based on publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst — is how relevant it remains in 2016. In an email sent to The Washington Times, Mr. Bogdanovich opined: “Well, it’s ironic that Kane, running for governor, was busted because of an extramarital affair, and he lost the race. Trump is accused of a myriad of things, which in aggregate would seem to be much worse, but he won the presidency.

“I don’t know exactly what this says about America, but it seems to be a downward spiral.”

L.A.-based film historian/critic Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”

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