Todd Hitchcock and Abbie Algar get to watch movies as part of their jobs.
In preparation for the annual European Union Film Showcase, to take place next month at the American Film Institute Theatre and Cultural Center, Hitchcock, the AFI director of programming, and Algar, the AFI associate director of programming, attend such prestigious film festivals as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Toronto.
“Each of us sees some 40 to 50 films on each of these trips,” said Hitchcock. “There are screenings all day and into the night.”
That’s because the showcase is a curated event, “not an open-submission process,” Hitchcock explained.
At this time of year, the theater will present many classic holiday films, including such perennial favorites as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Shop around the Corner,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
However, the European Union showcase, now in its 30th year, will also take place from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20.
The showcase offers prestigious films, often for the first time to U.S. viewers. Thirteen of the films in this year’s edition, for example, have been submitted for inclusion in the Best Foreign Language Film category of next year’s Academy Awards.
Ask Hitchcock and Algar about the highlights of this year’s showcase, and they’ll have trouble limiting themselves. One film they point out is the opening event, “Borg vs. McEnroe” (Sweden), the narrative debut of Danish documentarian Janus Metz. Set in 1980, the film chronicles the rivalry of then four-time Swedish tennis champ Bjorn Borg and rising American star John McEnroe, played by American actor Shia LaBeouf.
The movie is half in English and half in Swedish.
It’s a period-piece docudrama that played the opening night of the Toronto Film Festival.
“People remember the match for an epic battle and amazing play,” Hitchcock said. “But it’s not just the finale. The film goes deep into the personalities of the two men and the mental side of competition. It turns out the two men are more alike than they expected.”
While heavily comprised of feature films, the showcase also includes four documentaries. These include what Hitchcock called the “very moving” “SEA Sorrow,” from the United Kingdom, featuring the directorial debut of celebrated actor Vanessa Redgrave, and “Naples ’44,” a memoir of World War II narrated by another British star, Benedict Cumberbatch.
The latter describes the food and other kinds of deprivation in the city late in the war, when the Nazis have left, and the Allies have arrived.
The closing night of the showcase features “Wild Mouse” from Austria.
Hitchcock called it a “quirky, dark comedy” about a music critic in a midlife crisis, seeking revenge on the boss who fired him. At an amusement park, where he goes while pretending to be still employed, the critic meets a long-ago classmate who used to torment him. “The two form a friendship of sorts,” he added.
Both the opening and closing events include receptions following the screenings.
Other highlights of the showcase include “Let the Sunshine IN,” a French romantic comedy (or “anti-romantic,” as Hitchcock prefers to call it) directed by Claire Deny and starring Juliette Binoche, and “In the Fade.” The latter, a German film that won actor Diane Kruger the Best Actress Award at Cannes, is about a family affected by domestic terrorism and their struggle to find justice and peace after the tragedy.
The three-screen AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center builds an appreciation of the art and artists through exploring and celebrating new and classic films and filmmakers from around the globe, said Agar. It also offers a year-round program of the best in American and international cinema, featuring special events, tributes, and on-stage guest appearances, among others.
The American Film Institute, which Lyndon B. Johnson established by Presidential mandate, is celebrating its golden milestone. AFI programs include the Life Achievement Awards and AFI Awards.
The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is at 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. For information, visit: http://www.afi.com/silver. Tickets are $15 a film, but there is also a passport for multiple admissions.