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by Susan Royal

Among the many highlights of the recent 2005 AFI FEST presented by Audi was the Johnny Depp career tribute held at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood. Dressed in a caramel- colored suit replete with antique watch fob, Depp was charmingly uncomfortable as moderator/film critic Richard Schickel interviewed him and screened clips from his films. At one point Depp squirmed and proclaimed, “Is this some new form of torture?” Following the 90-minute interview the world premiere of The Libertine – Depp’s latest film – was presented.

AFI FEST has no trouble attracting stars such as Depp and this year they came in droves – George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Malkovich, Tommy Lee Jones (Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Felicity Huffman (Tranamerica), Andy Garcia (The Lost City), Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), etc. And while the star-studded studio films premiering at AFI FEST naturally received a lot of the attention, the smaller-budgeted features, shorts and documentaries were not lost in the hoopla.

AFI FEST’s alliance with AFM (the American Film Market) appears to be a smart move. The AFM badge entitled film buyers and distributors to festival entrance. If the market were geographically closer it would be even more effective. Until such time, a shuttle between Santa Monica’s Loew’s Hotel and the Arclight Hollywood Cinemas has to sufffice.

The Rooftop Village atop the Arclight Hollywood parking structure was a great venue for several parties and events, including the awards ceremony on closing night. Norway’s Kissed By Winter won the Grand Jury Prize for International Feature Competition. The Refugee All Stars received the Aquafina Pure Vision Award International Documentary Grand Jury Prize of $10,000 unrestricted grant for filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White. The Shorts Jury Prize went to Germany’s The Delivery. The Audience Award for Best Feature Film was a tie between Canada’s C.R.A.Z.Y. and South Africa’s Tsotsi. Through the Fire won the Netflix Audience Award for Best Documentary – a $5,000 unrestricted grant for directors Jonathan Hack and Alistair Christopher.

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