DESERT ONE directed by Barbara Kopple
DESERT ONE directed by Barbara Kopple

The 19th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival in Southern Oregon released its schedule for an interactive virtual festival showcasing 30 feature films and over 100 short films from May 22 – June 14.

Richard Herskowitz, AIFF Executive and Artistic Director previewed highlights of the films accepted to the annual April festival, which was cancelled by the coronavirus but which quickly moved to an expanded online event.

The Festival launches on Thursday, May 22, with Barbara Kopple’s Desert One, her new documentary about the secret mission to free American hostages captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution. Kopple, winner of AIFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, will discuss the film in a post-film Q&A with film critic Godfrey Cheshire.

Kopple’s opening night film will be followed by a Virtual Opening Night Bash, an online party with live music, dancing, and filmmaker presentations open to viewers with AIFF memberships, available online now. The festival will continue through June 14 and end with an Awards Night event open to AIFF members and hosted by Bruce Campbell, the actor best known as Ash from The Evil Dead. Campbell will present jury award winners with $10,000 in prize money raised during a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The virtual festival breaks ground with more than 30 post-film Q&A’s with filmmakers and other luminaries including New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, playwright Octavio Solis, film scholar B. Ruby Rich, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett, cinematographer Ellen Kuras, and Academy Award winning editor Walter Murch.

“We are devoting individual days of the week to thematic tracks that bring out the current concerns of independent filmmakers,” says Herskowitz. “Our filmmakers address the situations of immigrants and ethnic groups whose voices have been neglected or demonized by mainstream films.”

The Ashland festival is adopting an innovative structure for the presentation of its selections. More than 75 short films have been collected into nine curated programs with themes such as “American Portraits” and “CineSpace” that will be accessible to AIFF2020 subscribers throughout the 24 days of the festival. Feature films will be released as “Features of the Day,” with most films available for 24-hours (and a handful for shorter periods), each introduced by their directors and followed by prerecorded Q&A’s. Among the 30 feature films highlighted are narrative features Murmur by Heather Young and The Twentieth Century by Matthew Rankin and documentaries such as David Garrett Byars’ Public Trust and Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen. Most filmmakers will be available to answer questions from audience members on the festival’s Facebook page on the days of their screenings.

The festival is curated as follows:

Track 1: Awardee Weekends

On Saturdays and Sundays, the festival will focus attention on the winners of its special awards.

May 23-24: Strand Releasing Weekend (Indie Institution Award)

Founded in 1989, Strand Releasing has consistently shone as a leading distributor of foreign language, American independent, and documentary films. Strand Releasing co-founder Marcus Hu will introduce Strand’s upcoming release Adam on May 23, followed the next day by 30/30 Vision: Three Decades of Strand Releasing, a compilation of films made by illustrious international directors on iPhones on the occasion of Strand’s 30th Anniversary.

May 30-31: Tom Kalin Weekend (Pride Award)

Filmmaker, writer, and activist Tom Kalin is a prominent figure in the New Queer Cinema and is the recipient of the AIFF2020 Pride Award, given annually to pioneering figures in LGBTQ independent film. Kalin, joined by cinematographer Ellen Kuras, will present his New Queer Cinema classic Swoon and a selection of his short activist, music video, and fiction films made over the past 30 years.

June 6-7: Renee Tajima-Peña Weekend (Rogue Award)

Renee Tajima-Peña has been deeply involved in the Asian American independent film community as an activist, writer, and filmmaker. She will present My America…or Honk if You Love Buddha(1997), a rollicking ride across the changing terrain of American culture in which she seeks out what it means to be Asian American and No Mas Bébés (2015), which tells the story of a landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors and the state for their forced sterilization.

June 13-14: Garrett Bradley Weekend (James Blue Award)

Garrett Bradleyworks across narrative, documentary, and experimental modes of filmmaking to address such themes as race, class, familial relationships, social justice, southern culture, and the history of film. Bradley has been honored with awards and prizes, including the Sundance jury prizes for her short film Alone in 2017 and 2020 feature film Time. Garrett will present two short films, Alone, which addresses the impact of imprisonment on black families, and America, which offers a unique prism through which to consider the history—and future—of the construction of Blackness in American cinema.

Track 2: Weekend Kid Flicks

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, from May 22 through June 14, AIFF will screen three programs highlighting the best of the 2019 New York Children’s International Film Festival, available to Oregon viewers. Kid Flicks One is recommended for ages 3-7 and em>Kid Flicks 2 and Viva Kid Flicks for ages 8 and up. Viva Kid Flicks celebrates Spanish language and Latinx-themed stories.

Track 3: Activism (Mondays)

AIFF2020 will foreground the voices of activist filmmakers who, through the example of their own commitment and that of their activist subjects, show how power that seems entrenched and overwhelming can be resisted and retaken. Highlights include Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (D: Joshua Bennett) and Surviving the Silence (D: Cindy Abel).

Track 4: Asian Americans (Tuesdays)

AIFF2020 will celebrate the rise of Asian American independent filmmaking, inspired by the launch of a groundbreaking 5-part PBS series in May titled Asian Americans, executive produced by AIFF2020 Rogue Award winner Renée Tajima-Peña. Selections include Take Out Girl (Hisonni Johnson) and Down a Dark Stairwell (Ursula Liang).

Track 5: Arts (Wednesdays)

Each year, AIFF features films about the visual and performing arts, as independent filmmakers are consistently inspired by creative individuals who challenge dominant cultural conventions and ways of seeing. Highlights include Aggie (Catherine Gund) and Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack (Deborah Schaffer).

Track 6: Migrations (Thursdays)

Humans were on the move by the tens of millions in 2018 according to the United Nations—many fleeing for their lives and others willing to endure danger or hardship for a better life. AIFF2020 will feature films and art installations that grapple with Latin American and African migrations. Selections include Identifying Features/Sin Señas Particulares (Fernanda Valadez)

Illegal (Nick Alexander) and Runner (Bill Gallagher).

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