Fifty-one percent of the films at AFI Fest 2019 Presented by Audi are directed by women. In the lobby of the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres where most of the screenings take place stands a large installation entitled “Changing the Chairs”, noting that who sits in the director’s chair makes a difference, and celebrating that more women are now getting the opportunity to have their voices heard.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is mostly known for his work in Japanese horror films, but his film To the Ends of the Earth was undertaken to celebrate the friendship between Japan and Uzbekistan. Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) is a Japanese TV reporter doing a bit of a travelogue of Uzbekistan. She and her crew go to various places in the country looking for interesting stories. During the off hours, she wanders through unfamiliar streets where no one speaks her language. Her anxieties and loneliness begin to take a toll. The film serves as a bit of an introduction to Uzbekistan, but as Yoko discovers, getting to know a country isn’t really the same unless you meet the people as well.
Hala from writer/director Minhal Baig, is a coming-of-age story of a young woman from a Pakistani immigrant family. Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a senior in high school, but her parents’ conservative values do not fit with the world she lives in. She begins seeing a non-Muslim boy. She sneaks out. But it becomes more complicated when she discovers a secret about her father, with whom she has been close. Her life seems to be shadowing Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which she is studying in school. It is not just about finding herself, but about her mother also finding herself. And about finding a synthesis between her parents’ world and her own. It’s not the first film I’ve seen about young Muslim women struggling in western culture. But it is a well done film that left me pulling at threads and then noting that perhaps it wasn’t unraveling after all. (For a film to stay with you after you’ve watched it is a good thing, especially if you think better of it as time goes along.) Hala will open in select theaters on Friday and will stream at AppleTV+ in December.