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AIFF goes virtual, extends to three weeks May 22-June 14

You’ll miss all the clubbing and elbow-rubbing, but the one nice thing about this year’s Ashland Independent Film Festival is that you’ll be able to see all the movies — only online, not in theaters.

Richard Herskowitz, AIFF executive and artistic director, has introduced clips from 30 feature films and more than 100 short films that are going to be shown at this year’s virtual festival. The half-hour show that went online May 1 is on the home page of the festival’s website at ashlandfilm.org.

The 19th annual virtual festival, a movie lover’s feast in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, runs for three weeks (instead of four days), from May 22 to June 14. Tickets and memberships, which include access to special events, are on the web page, along with a downloadable list of festival screening dates and times. There also will be tips on how to navigate through the festival’s virtual environment.

Subscriptions for unlimited viewing of the festival’s lineup of short films are free for AIFF members, $19.99 for regular patrons and $9.99 for seniors, students, partner festivals and art houses, and cases of financial hardship.

For feature films, all patrons will pay an additional $7.99 for each screening, like buying a movie ticket at the box office.

Feature-length movies will be shown as “Features of the Day,” viewable for up to 24 hours and including director commentary and Q&A sessions.

“A few of these feature films have been geographically restricted to Oregon, meaning you will need to be within the allowed area in order to view the film,” the festival noted.

All “Locals Only” and “Launch Student Film Competition” programs will be available free to all audiences — subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

The festival kicks off May 22 with “Desert One,” a tension-filled documentary on the secret and disastrous U.S. mission to free American hostages captured in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It’s by Barbara Kopple, winner of AIFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. She does a virtual post-film Q&A with film critic Godfrey Cheshire.

After that, a virtual Opening Night Bash, formerly the social high point of the in-the-flesh-fest, is at 7 p.m. May 22. The event will bring live DJ music, dancing and filmmaker presentations, but only to those with AIFF memberships. You can virtually mingle with filmmakers.

In his online preview, Herskowitz highlighted several features, including “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” where a New York Times journalist goes home to Yamhill, Oregon, to explore why a quarter of his youthful classmates have died of drugs and poverty.

“Surviving the Silence” probes the soul-crushing, one-time ban on being “out” in the military, while “Birddog Nation” looks at the raft of suburban women inspired by the 2016 election to run for office.

The newly emerging challenges of race are explored in Asian American night on Tuesdays, with features including “Happy Cleaners,” about intergenerational conflict in Korean-American families, followed by “Down a Dark Stairwell,” about conflict between blacks and Asians when an Asian cop shoots a black man. Then comes “Take Out Girl,” a drama of an Asian girl saving her family restaurant by learning the drug trade in south-central Los Angeles.

Wednesdays are for creative arts features, with the doc “Aggie,” about a rich patron set on doing good in the world via art support, then “Queen of Hearts,” about a painter shifting from expressionism to the oft-dubious art of photorealism. Then we see the life of an Iranian American sculptor in “My Wild Heart.”

Other features include “Murmur” by Heather Young and “The Twentieth Century” by Matthew Rankin — and documentaries, including David Garrett Byars’ “Public Trust” and Sara Dosa’s “The Seer and the Unseen.”

Short films are grouped into “theme tracks,” such as immigrants, activism, foreign, documentary, LGBTQ, Asian-American, Kid Flicks and arts.

In activist night for shorts, expect a gestalt pizza party where troubled folk get therapy, a Portland neighborhood teaming up to save three sequoias from the chainsaw, local Joan Thorndike’s amazing flowers and tales and the infinite issues of relationships of all sorts.

Facebook Q&A sessions with filmmakers and other luminaries include New York Times 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.

A welcome plus for festival-goers: They still will be able to vote (virtually) for favorite films — and (again, if they’re members) see the Awards Night gala, hosted by Bruce Campbell, actor in “The Evil Dead” movies and a Southern Oregon resident. Winners will get money prizes, raised in a $10,000 campaign on Kickstarter.

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

AIFF plans to hold its 20th anniversary festival April 15-19, 2021, noting that it will be “in person.”

"Vindold," short.