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Virtual AIFF launches April 15, first part of 2021 ’Double Feature’

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Lonnie Chavis (left) as Gunner Boone and Rosario Dawson as Mary Boone are featured in "The Water Man," directed by David Oyelowo and premiering opening night at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard.
David Oyelowo directs "The Water Man," an adventure/drama film that will have its Northwest premiere on opening night of the online Ashland Independent Film Festival. He also stars in the film and will participate in a talk-back after the screening., Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard.
Above is a scene from Nanfu Wang's "In the Same Breath" which recounts the origin and spread of the novel coronavirus. It plays at AIFF on April 16. Photo courtesy of AIFF.
Violinist Alicia Jo Rabins is the writer and star of "A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff," playing at the Ashland Independent Film Festival April 24-25. The festival will have a virtual, online segment in April and outdoor screeings in June. Photo courtesy AIFF.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival is a hybrid “double feature” this year with two weeks of films online April 15-29 and five nights of outdoor, physically distanced events in Ashland and Medford June 24-28.

The 20th anniversary festival will present nearly 100 new independent films, including 35 feature films and a dozen shorts programs. Rounding out the schedule will be Q-and-A sessions with filmmakers, virtual parties, mixers, and panels.

This year’s primary theme is “Rising from the Ashes,” addressing Southern Oregon’s reemergence after the wildfires of 2020.

Programming includes David Oyelowo’s “The Water Man,” filmed in Oregon in 2019 in areas that have since been devastated by fires. There also will be seven short films by regional filmmakers addressing the Almeda fire, premiering in the festival’s locals section.

The ticket price for most films during the virtual festival is $10, with a few select films free to the public. Tickets are $12 per screening for the June outdoor festival. Tickets and more information are available at ashlandfilm.org.

When people buy a ticket for an online film, it’s up to them how many people can join them to watch it.

“Many people, we’ve found, realize that ticket sales are not enough to keep us going and are choosing to add contributions at checkout, for which I’m very grateful,” said Richard Herskowitz, AIFF artistic director.

“There is a lot of excitement among film festival leaders about our hybrid futures — being both virtual and live,” he said. “Being compelled to go online revealed unexpected benefits, such as the quality of virtual Q-and-As and the accessibility of more filmmakers and film subjects to participate in them.”

Festival leadership realized early on that in-theater screenings were probably not in the cards for this spring. However, after being approached by ScienceWorks about the possibility of screening films on the museum’s grounds, the idea of a dual festival was born.

“We had already done a successful screening at Walkabout Brewery in Medford, so now we had two outdoor venues we could use,” Herskowitz said. “Later, we added our AIFF Film Center as a film and performance venue for the June segment.”

While many other hybrid festivals are doing their online and outdoor screenings simultaneously, AIFF decided to separate them, to give each the full attention it deserved.

The traditional Opening Night Bash for the second year in a row will be virtual and live at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15, for members only. Hosts Julie Gillis and Kamilah Long will introduce guest performers, including actor Jonathan Luke Stevens and musicians Jeff Pevar, Inger Jorgensen and Cornflower.

Herskowitz said viewers can roll back the rug and dance to the music at home.

“Many of our filmmakers will be present,” he said. “Each will give a one-minute pitch to see their movies.”

A cheese tasting will be hosted by Rogue Creamery. Cheese samplers will be available to pick up that day for 50 members who register in advance.

The festival’s 100 films represent the best of nearly 1,000 that AIFF screeners and programmers reviewed this year. Consequently, it was difficult for Herskowitz to single out a few for special recommendation.

“It’s hard to choose, but I’ll try,” he said.

“The Water Man” uses Oregon wildfires as the backdrop of its adventure story and has been selected as the opening night headliner. Actor David Oyelowo directs. He will receive the Rogue Award at this year’s festival and will participate in a talk-back.

Oyelowo, who had notable roles in the film “Selma” and the “Les Miserables” miniseries, made “The Water Man” in and around Portland. He also stars in the film, which makes its Pacific Northwest premiere at AIFF.

“In the Same Breath,” a documentary by Nanfu Wang, will stream Friday, April 16.

“I consider Wang the most exciting documentary filmmaker in the country,” Herskowitz said. “She was born and raised in China and lives in the U.S., which gives her the perfect perspective to analyze the two countries’ responses to COVID. She is critical of both, and I found the film illuminating.”

Herskowitz cites two narrative features among his favorites — “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff” (April 25) and “Teddy, Out of Tune” (April 26-27). Both play imaginatively on the border of documentary and fiction, he said.

“’Kaddish’ is a cinematic adaptation of the musical theater piece by Alicia Jo Rabins, and was directed by Alicia J Rose,” he said. “Both women are based in Portland. ‘Teddy’ is about a homeless musician and his encounters on the road. See if you can figure out who’s an actor and who isn’t.”

In the short film category, Herskowitz strongly recommends “Eight Countries” by Autie Carlisle, a filmmaker who grew up in Mount Shasta.

“She recently moved back there,” Herskowitz said, “after launching a successful career as a women’s wear designer in New York.”

In the film, she weaves together footage from eight countries she visited in the past few years. She makes striking visual connections between them, as well as thematic ones, such as the wisdom of grandfathers.

“For people who have been cooped up and unable to travel for a year, this experience will be therapeutic,” Herskowitz said.

In this year’s virtual segment, almost all feature films will play for 48 consecutive hours.

“As long as you start a film within that period, you have 24 hours to finish it,” Herskowitz said.

There are 13 programs of shorts, eight of which are free to watch, and they will be available to view for the full duration of the online festival.

Every film in the virtual festival is accompanied by an introduction and a Q-and-A session. It’s an attempt to “migrate” the sense of community to the online platform.

“Our surveys show it’s what people love the most about our festival,” Herskowitz said. “We won’t have Q-and-As outdoors, although we will have introductions and live music.”

AIFF has booked the summer opening night musical acts for ScienceWorks.

The Rogue Valley Symphony’s brass and percussion sections will play two fanfares at the start of the night, and Brie Darling, of the rock group Fanny, will perform with her partner, Dave Darling, after the screening of “Fanny: The Right to Rock.”

The 15-minute live fanfares program will precede a screening of a film about the symphony’s “on the road” outdoor performances during the pandemic. Titled “Masterworks 2: Concert Detour,” the film was directed by Laney D’Aquino.

“Aquino, a local filmmaker, has had more films in our festival than anyone else during our first 20 years,” Herskowitz said. “We’re giving her a special retrospective program as part of the virtual festival, along with spotlights on two other local directors, Nisha Burton and Autie Carlisle.”

“Fanny” is about three Filipino-American women who founded a garage band in the 1960s and had several Top 40 hits and five critically acclaimed albums between 1970 and 1974. They toured with Chicago and Steely Dan, among other major groups. The film takes viewers on a fast-paced ride following the compelling present-day reunion of bandmates 50 years later to record and release a new rock album.

A large blowup screen will be set up for ScienceWorks screenings this summer.

People will be invited to bring their blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy the programs in physically distanced seating pods on the grounds.

“Sound will come through Bluetooth headsets, courtesy of the Silent Disco team that has been running outdoor films in Lithia Park,” Herskowitz said.

The other major venue for June, Walkabout Brewery in Medford, has a big backyard where AIFF has screened films before.

“At the AIFF Film Center, animator Jeremy Rourke, who accompanies his films with live music, will show animations throughout the day, June 26-27,” Herskowitz said. “People will be able to watch from the sidewalk, at no charge. Seating may be available. We have applied to the city of Ashland for a permit for that.”

He said AIFF is in touch with some food truck vendors and Rogue Creamery to provide food at the outdoor screenings.

Herskowitz is optimistic about the future for AIFF.

“Once we get through the pandemic and can start programming at the Varsity Theatre and at our film center on Main Street, supplemented by the virtual and outdoor programs we are now mastering, we will be stronger than ever,” he said.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.


Feature films

2040 (Damon Gameau, Australia, Documentary)

American Gadfly (Skye Wallin, USA, Documentary)

Anchor Point (Holly Tuckett, USA, Documentary)

Beans (Tracey Deer, Canada, Narrative)

Everything in the End (Mylissa Fitzsimmons, USA, Narrative)

Fanny: The Right to Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, USA, Documentary)

Havana Libre (Corey McLean, Cuba, Peru, USA)

Hedwig & The Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell, USA, Narrative)

Los Hermanos/The Brothers (Marcia Jarmel, Ken Schneider, USA, Documentary)

Homeroom ( Peter Nicks, USA, Documentary)

I Am Cuba (Mikhai Kalatozov, USSR, Cuba, Documentary)

Impact (Jon Lang, USA, Documentary)

In the Same Breath (Nanfu Wang, China, USA, Documentary)

A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff (Alicia J. Rose, USA, Narrative)

Lily Topples the World (Jeremy Workman, USA, Documentary, 90 minutes)

Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over (2019, Beth B, USA, Documentary)

The Mali-Cuba Connection/ Africa Mia (Richard Minier, Edouard Salier, Cuba/France/Mali, Documentary)

Me to Play (Jim Bernfield, USA, Documentary)

Medicine Man: The Stan Brock Story (Paul Michael Angell, United Kingdom, Documentary)

Missing in Brooks County (Lisa Molomot, Jeff Bemiss, USA, Documentary)

Nadie (2017, Michael Coyula, Cuba, Documentary)

Poison (1991, Todd Haynes, USA, Narrative)

The Road Up ( Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, USA, Documentary)

Sin La Habana (Keveh Nabatian, Canada/Cuba, Narrative)

Since August (Diana Zuros, USA, Narrative)

Small Time (Niav Conty, USA, Narrative)

So Late So Soon (Daniel Hymanson, USA, Documentary)

Stalking Chernobyl: Exploration After Apocalypse (Iara Lee, Ukraine/USA/Bulgaria/Slovakia, Documentary)

Summertime (Carlos López Estrada, USA, Narrative)

Teddy, Out of Tune (Daniel Friedman, USA, Narrative)

Things We Dare Not Do (Bruno Cantamaria, Mexico, Documentary)

The Water Man (David Oyelowo, USA, Narrative)

Weed and Wine (Rebecca Richman Cohen, USA, Documentary)

Who is Lun*na Menoh?(Jeff Mizushima, USA, Documentary)

Youth v Gov (Christi Cooper, USA, Documentary)

Shorts programs

Short Stories 1: On Success

Short Stories 2: Foreign Exchange

Short Stories & Docs: Outsiders

Short Docs 1: Now What?

Short Docs 2: Land

Locals Only 1: Launch Student Competition

Locals Only 2

Locals Spotlight: Laney D’Aquino

Locals Spotlight: Autie Carlisle

Locals Spotlight: Rising From the Ashes

Guanajuato: Identity and Belonging


The Batista Syndrome (2019, Steve Fagin, Cuba, 140 minutes)

Kid Flicks One (2020-21)

Kid Flicks Two (2020-21)

Viva Kid Flicks (2020-21)

Talkback panel discussions

A Conversation with David Oyelowo (April 17)

Screening Cuba (April 18)

Poison at 30: Vachon/Haynes/Rich (April 25)

— Courtesy AIFF / ashlandfilm.org