Is AFI Fest 2014 suddenly starting to turn into one very hot film festival? Yes, they had the World Premiere Thursday of J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year and yes, Monday night brings another big World Premiere with the unveiling of Paramount’s The Gambler starring Mark Wahlberg. Now comes word via a Twitter exchange between producer/co-star Oprah Winfrey and director Ava DuVernay that on Tuesday night, instead of just the previously announced 30 minutes of advance footage and a Q&A, the “hot off the presses” complete two hour-plus feature of Selma will be unveiled beginning at 6 PM at the Egyptian Theatre followed by the previously announced Q&A between Winfrey, DuVernay and David Oyelowo.
At Deadline’s Contenders event a week ago Saturday, DuVernay told me in front of a packed house of AMPAS and Guild voters that she had just one week to go before “locking” the film, and in fact was returning to her Avid editing machine right after our interview to complete the task. According to the Twitter conversation Sunday night between DuVernay and Winfrey, it is mission accomplished and the film is ready to be shown in its entirety contrary to what AFI announced last week.
“Yes! Pretty Much Done! We locked picture on Friday night! Just finishing the sound mix tonight! We’re ready!,” said DuVernay. “Looks like you MADE IT! I know you were trying to get ready for AFI this week. I’ll be there with my dancin’ shoes on (Yay!),” replied Winfrey. “So, @Oprah. I think I want to show the whole film. Not just a 30-minute preview. Why wait, right? Let’s DO this! Hot off the presses! Yes?,” DuVernay asks. “I always thought that was why you were working 20hr days to show the WHOLE film,” tweeted Winfrey. “Okay well, that’s that, @Oprah. Meet you on Tuesday at the Egyptian Theater! Thank you for every single thing, every single day! Onward!,” DuVernay said.
They also point out it is open to the public “cause you just told a lot of people”. And the tickets are free because that is what AFI does. So despite the press releases and official word from the fest that this would just be a preview of select scenes, it is now the unofficial World Premiere of the just-finished film. A Paramount source confirmed this Sunday night. It appears the filmmaker had always hoped this could be presented in its entirety at AFI Fest and had likely planned to spring it as a surprise Tuesday night. Cat’s out of the bag, obviously.
An invitational post-dinner (yes, with Oprah in attendance) is now planned to follow the screening and Q&A, which could possibly feature other cast members too. It did seem a bit odd to me when DuVernay said she was just a week away from the lock one week ago. Why not show the whole thing if it’s ready, even though the film itself won’t be released to qualify for Oscars until Christmas Day and won’t go wider until Martin Luther King Day weekend in January – pretty much the 50th anniversary to the day of the Selma March, around which the movie revolves.
This way as well, Paramount is not letting the just-announced “Sneak Preview” of an “unknown” film Tuesday at 9 PM (also at the Egyptian) try and steal the thunder from Selma’s unveiling. Will that mystery film be another unseen Oscar contender, making Tuesday a major potential bellwether day this awards season? AFI says they will announce the title of that film on Tuesday morning at 10 AM PT. Based on my own intel you can rule out titles like Unbroken, Into The Woods, Exodus: Gods And Kings, Big Eyes and the controversial The Interview. For various reasons none of those films are going to show up at AFI Fest this week. Take it to the bank.
But Clint Eastwood did tell me at Saturday night’s Governors Awards that he had completely finished American Sniper over the weekend and that “it is ready to be seen now”. In other words, from his end he wasn’t planning to hold it back. Though Eastwood is a maverick and autonomous filmmaker, Warner Bros certainly had to be aware he was about to lock, ironically about the same time as DuVernay. And according to the studio’s own guild mailings screenings have been long set for AMPAS and Guild members beginning at the end of next week. It could certainly be a bold move to spring it in a surprise AFI Fest debut Tuesday. It appears the studio, having released a brilliant teaser trailer that has been widely well-received, is confident enough that this kind of showcase might be a good idea. And if the film delivers it could instantly leap to the top tier of Oscar contenders. It is scheduled for limited release on December 25 followed by a mid-January wide break, but what better day to launch than Veterans Day at AFI Fest? Kismet. Makes sense to me. We’ll see soon enough.