The 2016 Ashland Independent Film Festival will be celebrating its 15th anniversary this April by paying tribute to the roots of independent film.
AIFF will give special emphasis to the intersection of live performance and film, beginning with the opening night screening, and Pacific Northwest premiere of Honey Buddies. Filmed in Oregon, the Slamdance award-winning comedy stars Flula Borg as the relentlessly upbeat best man who convinces David Giuntoli (Grimm), after his fiancée dumps him at the altar, to take him on his Columbia River Gorge honeymoon, instead. Borg, an online musical sensation thanks to his YouTube music videos and his striking performance in the recent Pitch Perfect 2, will perform a live DJ set in the Ashland Armory following the screening.
The mainstay of the festival continues to be a rich assortment of documentary and narrative feature films and shorts, including many regional and several national premieres. Magali Noel’s Addicted to Sheep, Nick Hartanto and Sam Roden’s Traveler (which will be accompanied to the festival by its subject, photographer Nicholas Syracuse) and AIFF 2015 Audience Choice award winner Alexandria Bombach’s short film How We Choose are U.S. premieres. Ten feature films that opened at Sundance in January are receiving their regional premieres at AIFF, including Werner Herzog’s essay film on the Internet’s effect on society, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World; Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, Uncle Howard, Cameraperson, NUTS!, Hooligan Sparrow, Trapped, and The Fits, along with Sonita and Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.
There are a number of films with regional connections, including two by rising Portland filmmaker Christopher LaMarca, whose films Boone and The Pearl (co-directed by Jessica Dimmock) just premiered at the South by Southwest (SXSW)and True/False Film Festivals. Boone is a sensory and unsentimental meditation on the lives of three young goat farmers living off the land in the Little Applegate Valley near Jacksonville, Ore. The Pearl delves into the experiences of older transgender women in the Pacific Northwest. The film will be accompanied by the filmmakers and two of their most striking subjects from Oregon, Krystal and Jodi, two sisters who were formerly brothers, and unaware of each other’s gender fluidity. Bastards y Diablos, about two half-brothers who go on a journey of self-discovery to Colombia, involved a crew based mostly out of Medford, Ore., including producer and co-star Dillon Porter.
For lovers of the “other” Ashland festival, there are two films that highlight Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a theater performance inventively filmed by Rodrigo Prieto, is being touted as a visually spectacular adaptation, and will be accompanied by a Skype conversation with Taymor. Bill is a Monty Pythonesque tale of William Shakespeare’s “lost years”. In addition, a program of short films will feature current and former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors, including Anthony Heald in The Stairs; and David DeSantos and Stephanie Beatriz in Closure.
“It’s going to be an exciting and stimulating five days and nights,’ said Cathy Dombi, the festival’s executive director. “More than 50 visiting filmmakers and artists will attend the festival to engage in dialogues after screenings, with several artists accompanying their films with live music, art exhibits, and even virtual reality headgear for audiences to sample.”
In his Ashland debut, Richard Herskowitz, the new director of programming, will honor two key indie film institutions by paying tribute to Kartemquin Films and Women Make Movies, organizations that have built an infrastructure for indie filmmakers working outside the mainstream. Kartemquin co-founder and artistic director Gordon Quinn will be joined by filmmakers Joanna Rudnick and Maria Finitzo for three screenings honoring Karteqmquin on its 50th anniversary. Accomplished documentarians Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar of New Day Films will screen three of their latest short films and join Quinn for a TalkBack panel on Activist Film Collectives.
“Independent film’s social and cultural importance has been reaffirmed lately as Hollywood’s neglect of women’s and other minority voices has become painfully apparent,” said Herskowitz.
This year, 24 of the 39 independent feature films are directed or co-directed by women, and the subject of one of the festival’s three “TalkBack” panel discussions will be Women Make Indie Movies, moderated by Women Make Movies’ executive director Debra Zimmerman. Zimmerman will also introduce her company’s acclaimed new release Sonita, winner of the Grand Jury and Audience Prize for international documentaries at Sundance. Sonita is about an Iranian teenager who creates an underground rap song to protest her family’s plan to sell her as a bride.
This year’s Rogue Award will go to the esteemed directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Detropia, Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka), who will screen their latest documentary, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, an homage to the 93-year-old American social activist and creator of the TV shows All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Maude. Barbara Hammer, the pioneering director of queer cinema, will receive the festival’s Pride Award, supported by the Equity Foundation, and will present her latest film, Welcome to this House, on the life and poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.
Herskowitz is introducing a new section titled Beyond, devoted to films that challenge and reinvent storytelling conventions. A highlight of this section will be MA, the debut feature by dance world sensation Celia Rowlson-Hall, a transfixing, artfully wordless narrative in which Rowlson-Hall stars as a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Rowlson-Hall was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine in 2014 and named one of 25 “new faces of independent film” in 2015 by Filmmaker Magazine. She is the winner of the festival’s first-ever Juice Award, given to an emerging female film director, with support from Tangerine Entertainment and the Faerie Godmother Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation. Other Beyond titles include The Fits, collective:unconscious, and He Hated Pigeons.
At the TalkBack panel titled Transmedia & Virtual Reality Platforms for New Documentaries, filmmaker Helen de Michiel will present her latest transmedia projects, Lunch Love Community and Berkeley vs. Big Soda. Brad Lichtenstein will demo his virtual reality project, Across the Line, on the effect of anti-abortion protests on health centers and patients. Google VR headsets will be available for sampling after the panel. Vicki Callahan, a USC professor and an authority on digital culture and media strategies for social change, will moderate the discussion.
2016 AIFF FEATURE FILM SELECTIONS
Addicted to Sheep; Magali Pettier
Bastards y Diablos; A.D. Freese
Bill; Richard Bracewell
Birth of Saké, The; Erik Shirai
Boone; Christopher LaMarca
Cameraperson; Kirsten Johnson
Chicago Maternity Center Story, The; Jerry Blumenthal, Suzanne Davenport, Sharon Karp, Gordon Quinn, Jennifer Rohrer
collective:unconscious; Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein
Embers; Claire Carré
Fits, The; Anna Rose Holmer
Five Nights in Maine; Maris Curran
Gesture and a Word; Dave Davidson
He Hated Pigeons; Ingrid Veninger
Honey Buddies; Alex Simmons
Hooligan Sparrow; Nanfu Wang
Hunky Dory; Michael Curtis Johnson
In Pursuit of Silence; Patrick Shen
In the Game; Maria Finitzo
In Transit; Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker, Ben Wu, David Usui
Light Beneath Their Feet; Valerie Weiss
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World; Werner Herzog
Louder than Bombs; Joachim Trier
MA; Celia Rowlson Hall
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise; Bob Hercules & Rita Coburn Whack
Midsummer Night’s Dream; Julie Taymor
Neptune; Derek Kimball
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You; Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
NUTS!; Penny Lane
Pearl, The; Jessica Dimmock and Christopher LaMarca
Secret Screening from Kartemquin Films; TBA
Seventh Fire, The; Jack Pettibone Riccobono
Sonita; Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Three Hikers, The; Natalie Avital
Trapped; Dawn Porter
Traveler; Nick Hartanto and Sam Roden
Uncle Howard; Aaron Brookner
Voyagers Without Trace; Ian McCluskey
Welcome to This House; Barbara Hammer
Women He’s Undressed; Gillian Armstrong
Short Film Programs
After Hours Shorts
Animated Worlds with Mark Shapiro
Ashland Actors On Screen
Family Shorts: Kid Pix
Family Shorts: TweenScreen
Locals Only 1: Family Friendly
Locals Only 2: Woman to Man
TalkBack Panel Discussions
Activist Film Collectives: Kartemquin and New Day Films
Women Make Indie Movies
Transmedia and Virtual Reality Platforms for New Documentaries