Ashland Independent Film Festival will showcase 13 independent feature films and one short film program from 11 countries, including Bulgaria, Siberia, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Denmark, Kenya, Iceland, Israel, Egypt, and the USA for the 30th annual Varsity World Film Week running Oct. 4 through Oct. 11 at the Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland.
The opening night program on Friday, October 4, will be Identity and Belonging, a program of short films produced by the Guanajuato International Film Festival (GIFF), one of Mexico’s largest festivals and an important platform for young Latin American filmmakers. For a decade, GIFF has offered the Identity and Belonging University Documentary Contest, which aims to strengthen the identity and belonging of young people in a state that is rich with tradition. Each year, six teams are selected to participate in a six-month advisory and training process that culminates in a short film that premieres in the festival.
The closing night feature, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12 , will be the documentary Return to Mt. Kennedy. The film follows Bobby Whittaker, the son of legendary mountain climber and founder of REI Jim Whittaker, as he embarks on a return expedition to the Yukon’s Mt. Kennedy (named after the late President John F. Kennedy). Jim Whittaker led Robert Kennedy on a pioneering expedition 50 years earlier. Bobby Whittaker is a legendary figure in Seattle’s grunge music scene, and the film includes a lively interview and unreleased instrumentals by Bobby Whittaker’s good friend, Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the band Pearl Jam. Bobby Whittaker will join director Eric Becker for a post-film Q&A.
“This year’s World Film Week is a celebration of Ashland and its international ties,” states AIFF Artistic and Executive Director Richard Herskowitz. “On opening night, we will host the executive director of the Guanajuato International Film Festival, based in our sister city in Mexico. And on closing night, we will celebrate Ashland-based Coming Attractions Theatres, which has championed international cinema since it launched Varsity World Film Week 30 years ago. AIFF has been proud to partner with Coming Attractions on this annual event since 2012, helping it become a full-fledged film festival with guest directors and special events.”
Complete Varsity World Film Week 2019 Roster
Bulgaria Narrative Yakut (subtitles) 2017 96 min.
Director: Milko Lazarov
In a yurt on the snow-covered fields of the North, Nanook and Sedna live following the traditions of their ancestors. Their traditional way of life starts changing. Hunting becomes more and more difficult, and the ice has been melting earlier every year. When Sedna’s health deteriorates, Nanook decides to fulfill her wish and embarks on a journey to find their daughter Ága.
Australia, France Narrative French (subtitles) 2019 103 min.
Director: Josephine Mackerras
After discovering that her husband’s addiction to escorts has left their family penniless, Alice finds herself drawn into the world of high-end prostitution as a means of caring for herself and her child. Winner of SXSW 2019 Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature.
Mexico Narrative Spanish (subtitles) 2019 102 min.
Director: Lila Avilés
In her feature debut, theater director Lila Avilés turns the monotonous workday of Eve, a chambermaid at a high-end Mexico City hotel, into a beautifully observed film of rich detail. With extended scenes taking place in the guest rooms, hallways, and cleaning facilities, this minimalist yet sumptuous movie brings to the fore Eve’s hopes, dreams, and desires.
COLD CASE HAMMARSKJOLD
Denmark Documentary French, Bemba, Danish (subtitles) 2019 123 min.
Director: Mads Brügger
In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. With the case still unsolved 50-plus years later, Danish provocateur Mads Brügger, in his signature agitprop style, leads us down an investigative rabbit hole to unearth the truth.
USA Documentary English 2018 96 min.
Director: Julie Simone
Winner of more than 14 awards on the fest circuit, this music documentary celebrates a place, its people, and their music. The film introduces new show-stopping talents alongside bluegrass legends (Wayne Henderson, Martha Spencer, Karen Carr, Presley Barker, and more) at the world’s oldest and largest fiddler’s convention in Galax, VA.
Paraguay Narrative Spanish (subtitles) 2018 97 min.
Director: Marcelo Martinessi
Chela and Chiquita, both descended from wealthy families in Paraguay, have been together for more than 30 years. But when their debts lead to Chiquita being imprisoned on fraud charges, Chela is forced to face a new reality. As Chela settles into her new life, she encounters the much younger Angy, forging an invigorating new connection.
IDENTITY AND BELONGING presented by Guanajuato Film Festival Executive Director Sarah Hoch Mexico
The Guanajuato International Film Festival (GIFF) celebrates a decade offering the Identity and Belonging University Documentary contest. Each year, six teams are selected to participate in a six-month advisory and training process that culminates in a short film that premieres in the festival. GIFF Executive Director Sarah Hoch will present a program of highlights from the contest’s first decade.
IN SAFE HANDS
France Narrative French (subtitles) 2018 107 min.
Director: Jeanne Herry
When baby Theo’s birth mother surrenders him to adoption, child protection services and officers such as Karine are called to action, and the harsh realities of the adoption process are pulled into sharp focus. Karine entrusts Theo to Jean, who takes on the responsibility of the newborn until a suitable home can be found. Meanwhile, Alice has never given up the fight to be a mother and faces the prospect of this dream finally coming true.
Kenya Narrative Swahili (subtitles) 2018 83 min.
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Bursting with the colorful street style and music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, Rafiki (which means “ friends” in Swahili) is a tender love story between two young women in a country that criminalizes homosexuality. Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark Supreme Court case, chipping away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation.
RETURN TO MT. KENNEDY
with guest director Eric Becker and Bobby Whittaker
USA Documentary English 2019 80 min.
Director: Eric Becker
In 1965, Jim Whittaker led Sen. Robert Kennedy to the first ascent of a remote mountain in the Yukon, named after the late president, John F. Kennedy. Fifty years later, the sons of the original climbing team—a Seattle grunge music legend, a candidate for governor, and a young mountaineer—embark on an expedition to the mountain to celebrate the special bond that connects them all.
WHEN LAMBS BECOME LIONS
USA Documentary Swahili (subtitles) 2018 79 min.
Director: Jon Kasbe
Director Jon Kasbe follows the film’s subjects, a small-time elephant poacher and ivory dealer in Kenya and his younger cousin, a conflicted wildlife ranger, over a three-year period, gaining an extraordinary level of access and trust. The result is a rare and visually arresting look through the perspectives and motives of the people at the epicenter of the conservation divide.
WOMAN AT WAR
Iceland/France/Ukraine Narrative Icelandic (subtitles) 2018 100 min.
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Halla is a 50-year-old woman who leads a double life as a passionate environmental activist. As Halla’s actions grow bolder, moving from petty vandalism to outright industrial sabotage, she succeeds in pausing the negotiations between the Icelandic government and the corporation building a new aluminum smelter. But just as she begins planning her boldest operation yet, Halla receives an unexpected letter that changes everything.
Israel Narrative Hebrew (subtitles) 2018 93 min.
Director: Michal Aviad
To help support her family, Orna returns to the workplace, landing a job with a successful real estate developer. While Orna embraces her new position and tries to balance its demands with her home life, she begins to experience escalating sexual harassment from her boss. Her rapid rise through the ranks is accompanied by a pattern of predatory behavior that ultimately brings her career and marital relationship to the brink.
Egypt Narrative Arabic (subtitles) 2018 97 min.
Director: A.B. Shawky
Beshay – a man cured of leprosy – has never left the leper colony in the Egyptian desert where he has lived since childhood. Following the death of his wife, he decides to go in search of his roots. With his meagre possessions strapped to a donkey cart, he sets out. Quickly joined by Obama, the Nubian orphan he has taken under his wing, Beshay will cross Egypt and confront the world with all its sorrows, hardships, and moments of grace.