Five films made in Oregon will be among the 53 independent features and documentaries to receive Oregon premieres at the 2018 Ashland Independent Festival.
Look for “The Reluctant Radical,” Lindsey Grayzel’s story of enviornmental activist Ken Ward; Anne Flatte’s documentary “Symphony for Nature,” featuring the Britt Orchestra performing Michael Gordon’s “Natural History” at Crater Lake National Monument; Daniel L. Miller’s “Citizen Blue,” a look at Portland filmmaker James Blue; Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete,” based on Willy Vlautinis’ novel about a 15-year-old boy who cares for an aging racehorse; and “The Last Hot Lick,” written and directed by native Oregonian Mahalia Cohen.
The festival runs Thursday through Monday, April 12-16, with events taking place at the Varsity Theatre, the Historic Ashland Armory, Ashland Springs Hotel and Ashland Street Cinemas, along with a new venue in Medford — Collaborative Theatre Project.
An AIFF schedule, including showtimes, live performances, art exhibits, filmmaker discussion panels, children’s programs and more is available at ashlandfilm.org. Tickets to all shows and events are available at the website and the information kiosk on the Ashland Plaza.
“The Last Hot Lick” is inspired by the life and music of Portland-based musician Jamie Leopold, who, in 1968, joined singer and songwriter Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
Raised in Portland, Leopold headed to San Francisco right after high school. It was the heyday of the Haight ... and hard to avoid getting swept away by it.
Leopold played gigs at venues no longer in existence today, sold newspapers and drugs. Busted, he spent the first half of ’68 jailed. The latter half of ’68 began five years of creative ferment as a Hot Lick.
The original lineup of Hicks’s Hot Licks signed with Epic Records and in 1969 released its album “Original Recordings.” The original group lasted until 1971 when Hicks reformed the band, keeping bassist Leopold and jazz violinist Sid Page.
The new group recorded three albums, culminating in 1973 with “Last Train to Hicksville.” The album peaked at No. 67 for an 18-week stay on Billboard’s album chart, and the band headlined at Carnegie Hall and appeared on “The Flip Wilson Show.”
Nevertheless, Hicks dissolved the group by the end of the year, and poor health drove Leopold back to his family home in Portland where he married and raised two daughters. He recorded three albums of his own music with his band Short Stories.
In “The Last Hot Lick,” Leopold plays Jack Willits, a washed-up musician on a never-ending tour who is desperate to recapture the fleeting fame he experienced in the ’70s. When he meets a mysterious woman, played by Jennifer Smieja, he believes her beautiful voice is the key to his success.
It’s a fictionalized account of Leopold’s own late-in-life quest to rekindle his music career. He and Smiega make their acting debuts in the film, and it features Leopold’s original songs. Filmed entirely in Oregon and southern parts of Washington, the Northwest landscape plays a prominent role in the film.
Cohen, now based in New York City, shot “The Last Hot Lick” on a shoestring budget. Her mother, Deborah Cohen, is a physician and acted as the film’s producer, while other family members and friends made up the crew.
The necessarily inventive and improvisational ways work was done on sets translates to the screen as a surprising and emotionally rich experience for the audience.
“The Last Hot Lick” was filmed in the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016. It was completed in 2017. Leopold died in March, giving the movie additional poignancy.
Other regional films at AIFF include the shorts, features and documentaries in its Locals Only program and Launch student film competition.
See ashlandfil.org for show times, tickets and information.