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First 10 AIFF films unveiled

At the Ashland Independent Film Festival this spring, Southern Oregon's most prolific feature movie makers, Gary and Annie Lundgren, will premiere their fourth film, "Phoenix, Oregon" -- a character study of two friends who courageously quit their boring jobs in midlife to reinvent themselves by starting a bowling alley/pizza palace.

It stars James Le Gros and Jesse Borrego, with Lisa Edelstein, Diedrich Bader and Kevin Corrigan.

Clips will be unveiled at AIFF's popular Festival Preview Night, at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall. This is where AIFF unveils its full lineup of films. It announced 10 of its major feature movies Friday.

"Phoenix" has its world premiere in the AIFF festival, April 11 to 15.

AIFF Artistic and Executive Director Richard Herskowitz noted writer-director Gary Lundgren's comedy skills, adding, “All the actors in the film’s wonderful ensemble create idiosyncratic, funny and believable characters the audience will love and not want to let go.”

The films announced Friday include four “stellar” narrative features and six documentaries that hit Sundance and SXSW film festivals, he said.

“Metamorphosis” shows “striking images of the dire straits of the planet, including wildfire, while exploring efforts of engineers, artists and innovators to turn climate change around.”

The Lundgrens are noted masters of suspense and dramedy (drama-comedy) for their earlier works, “Calvin Marshall,” “Black Road” and “Redwood Highway.”

Gary Lundgren said “Phoenix” is character-driven and “the humor and meaning of the movie is really clicking. You believe these people, and you’re tracking with them as human beings. It springs from within the characters and we’re drawn to them, what they’re thinking and how they act and size up the changing situation. They’re going for something. They step up to the plate and try to do something that starts deep inside them. Their choices and emotions drive the plot.”

Producer Annie Lundgren noted the characters are dealing with familiar life situations where they’re stuck in a job they don’t love, and their boss is not too great, “so it’s about having the courage to continue to dream in the middle of your life and how his friendships with Tanya and Carlos get him to try something new.”

She notes the movie is “like life,” as all “serious movies” don’t necessarily have a strong happy or sad ending. “It’s about hope, friendship, community and how you just keep going — and that’s how we run our company.”

Although Annie is from the Scott Valley near Yreka, California, the couple worked in Los Angeles for 15 years, moving to Ashland after shooting “Calvin” and falling in love with the town. She said the team scoured six counties of Southern Oregon, settling on Klamath Falls to shoot “Phoenix,” as it had just the right bowling alley, and much of their crew lived there.

At Preview Night, film fans can pick up the Pocket Guide to the big week and get insider information on special guests and new events. It’s free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30. Suggested donation is $10. The full schedule, including show times, party information, filmmaker discussion panels and children’s programs, will be at ashlandfilm.org starting March 21.

The 10 films announced Friday are an array of live performances, media art installations, and several major upcoming film releases, said Herskowitz.

James Le Gros and Lisa Edelstein in a scene from "Phoenix, Oregon."