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Film fest unveils this year's lineup

An overflow crowd Tuesday watched scores of quick clips from a rich spectrum of 100 films to be screened at the 15th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival coming up April 7 to 11. 

The festival has made the list of the Top 25 Coolest Festivals in the World put out by MovieMaker Magazine. Films screen at the Varsity Theatre, Ashland Street Cinema and Historic Armory. AIFF has become noted for “the intimate access it affords to filmmakers, and by filmmakers for the warm and intelligent reception given to the them,” AIFF Communications Manager Candace Turtle said in a statement. 

Already, aficionados are talking up must-see pictures, starting with “Women He’s Undressed,” a documentary on Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, showcasing his amazing creativity, including shots of Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot,” wearing a filmy, busty dress that you can’t take your eyes off and can’t get out of your mind. It details his life growing up in Australia and being gay in Hollywood (including his relationship with Cary Grant) in closeted years. 

“Sonita” promises a hearty reception. Instead of the familiar oppressed and hopeless situation for women in poor, backward countries, we see a 17-year-old Afghan girl about to be sold into marriage in Iran, but she shouts “no!” in the most novel way, composing an exuberant underground rap video telling them to take a hike. 

In “Five Nights in Maine,” we have a young couple in love, but she is killed in a car wreck, so he visits her mom. They are grieving. She’s white. He’s black and she doesn’t like it. Awkward. What’s there to talk about? 

Several feature films take to the time-honored storytelling device of the long journey of discovery for one thing that turns into something entirely else, more surprising and vital. Some have local or regional touches, as Oregon grows more and more into a film spot. 

In “He Hated Pigeons,” we have young Elias, whose lover dies suddenly, now driven to an emotional journey through Chile.

In the opening night feature, “Honey Buddies,” we have a bridegroom dumped at the altar, but his best man insists they hit the road, hilariously replicating the now-cancelled honeymoon (with a little help from Lewis and Clark) through Oregon’s Columbia Gorge. 

In “Bastards y Diablos,” we have two half-brothers, estranged from their late father, taking off to his native Columbia to scatter his ashes. The quixotic ramble brings many discoveries and new bonding for the lads — and uncovers some hidden truths of the man they sprang from. Producer and co-star Dylan Porter has kinship ties to Porter’s Restaurant in Medford and grew up there.

In “MA,” we see a “transfixing, artfully wordless” trek across a desert toward salvation. This is based in modern dance. 

The documentary “Boone,” another local work, takes place in our Applegate Valley, where three young goat farmers seek a bit of the Utopian lifestyle, a theme familiar to many in this corner of paradise. It’s called “haunting and deeply human,” but living close to the land can be nasty, too. 

AIFF is noted for its fun, after-hours social gatherings at assigned downtown watering holes, as well as its programs — after-hours shorts, animation, art docs, short stories — and Filmmaker TalkBack Panels with directors at Ashland Springs Hotel. Subjects include activist docs, women-made indies and virtual reality platforms for new docs. 

Virtual reality, says Programming Director Richard Herskowitz, is “a whole new medium in which to experience film — a series of short films linked to a website, using new virtual reality goggles that let you sit and turn your head or (the spendier version) walk around, changing what you’re seeing by where you choose to go in a 360-degree reality."

Also new this year is the mashing of live performances with film. You’ll see Rozalind McPhail improvising a live score for “Pigeons” on flute. Laura Hit will perform tiny puppet Matchbox Shows which are projected live on screen. She uses lights, mirrors and ever changing animations. 

Of his three-month old job, Herskowitz says, “I’m having a blast. It’s a roller coaster, a total whirlwind. I’ve watched 250 movies and gone to Sundance (Film Festival). I’m the gatekeeper and make ultimate decisions (on which movies are shown), but I have a group of associate programmers consulting every step of the way, especially as I learn the community and what resonates with them.” 

The printed Festival catalog is available starting Thursday, March 17, at the two movie theaters, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and outside the Festival office, 325 A Street. The same information is at ashlandfilm.org.

Tickets go on sale to members March 21 and the public on March 27. Tickets are online from ashlandfilm.org. Film prices are $13 for adults, $12 for seniors and $6 for students.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.