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AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival October 30- November 7, 2009
Check our coverage on fest21.com from Martha and Mark Halperin
And the AFI FEST BLOG


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Girls on the run from AFI FEST

Girls On The Run

by SHANNON DUNN for AFI oline Dailies

When Dorothy admitted to Toto they weren't in Kansas anymore, she knew quite certainly she was in for a bumpy ride.

It may be almost 70 years since audiences embraced the Wizard of Oz and that young girl on the run, but little has changed on the cinematic scene when it comes to women - young and old - who face and embrace turmoil to find an inner strength they didn't know they had.

From female screenwriters who tell a real-life tale through their characters, to male filmmakers who are in touch with the plight of women, AFI FEST is host to an exciting, and sometimes confronting, line-up of movies that portray females who often have no choice but to deal with life's defining moments.

Stripper-cum-scriptwriter Diablo Cody adds humor to an otherwise touchy subject of unplanned teenage pregnancy in the Centerpiece Gala, JUNO. Directed by Jason Reitman, the quick-witted feature follows a confidently frank teenage girl, JUNO (played by Ellen Page) who calls the shots with a nonchalant cool as she journeys through an emotional nine-month adventure into adulthood.

"This was a personal story for her (Cody)," says Reitman of the film that also stars Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Michael Cera.

"It's truly a movie for everyone. Diablo seems to have captured the experience of pregnancy from every perspective - the desperation to be a parent, the fear of growing up too soon, the anxiety of a foreshortened childhood. She took very complicated ideas and addressed them in a sophisticated way that doesn't take sides or get political."

Getting political was never a choice for graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, the writer, inspiration and collaborating artist behind PERSEPOLIS, which features the voice of the Grand Dames of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve, to whom a special tribute will be held on November 10, prior to the PERSEPOLIS screening at 7 p.m.

A poignant story of a young girl coming-ofage in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, the emotional account comes from Marjane's four best-selling French novels.

"When I was writing the books, I had to remember 16 years of my life, including things I definitely wanted to forget. It was a very painful process," Marjane admits. "I dreaded starting the script and couldn't have done it on my own - the hardest part was the beginning and distancing myself from the existing narrative."

Marjane, who lives in Paris, says she cried with the audience at its first screening there.

"This isn't a politically orientated film with a message to sell. It is first and foremost a film about my love for my family. However, if Western audiences end up considering Iranians as human beings just like the rest of us, and not abstract notions like 'Islamic fundamentalists' or 'terrorists' then I'll feel like I've done something."

From Iran to the Brazilian hinterland, writer director Paulo Caldas proves it's not just women who are in touch with female emotions and hardships on the big screen.

In HAPPY DESERT, 16-year-old Jessica finds out how quickly the simple life can diminish when faced with sexual violence.

HAPPY DESERT takes its audience on an emotional ride with young Jessica as she travels the traumatic road of prostitution and drugs, only to find herself believing that fairytales really do exist: in the arms of a German tourist.

While not all women on the run have their feet firmly planted in red slippers with fairytale endings, filmmakers today show that the dark times can lead to life-defining moments that can inspire audiences the world over.

Other must-see films at AFI FEST featuring troubled yet inspiring and resilient female characters include Bruce McDonald's THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, Christian Mungiu's 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, Li Yang's BLIND MOUNTAIN and short films MACHINE, WATCHING IT RAIN and SALIVA. For screening times and ticket information, visit www.AFI.com/AFIFEST.

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AFI FEST presented by Audi is the longest-running film festival in Los Angeles and one of the most influential film festivals in North America. Each year the Festival presents one of the world's most anticipated showcases of international film, demonstrating AFI's commitment to celebrating the art form.


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