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Sneak peak provides window on AIFF 2019

At the popular preview night Wednesday for the upcoming Ashland Independent Film Festival, 500 movie-lovers got a glimpse of epics on climate change, the Church of Satan, enquiring nuns, apocalypse themes and people in gender transition.

In a new twist, AIFF will feature live music around its shows, which happen April 11 to 15, mostly at the Varsity Theater.

Apocalyptically speaking, AIFF will stage a live performance of “The Second Coming of Klaus Kinski,” a one-man show by Andrew Perez, who hails the late Kinski for “the hilarity of his intensity, the beauty and depth of his artistic sensibilities ... the darkness he created in his own life.”

Kinski starred in director Werner Herzog’s cult classics “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu” and “Fitzcarraldo,” with the 1972 “Aguirre” — which will be shown — being a main influence on “Apocalypse Now,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, said AIFF Artistic and Executive Director Richard Herskowitz.

Coppola’s wife, director Eleanor Coppola, will be here to introduce her film “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” an intimate look at the making of the wild hit film in Vietnam, and, says the AIFF program, the blooming “madness and obsession in the jungle,” which begins to “frighteningly resemble its subject” in “Apocalypse Now.”

Showing clips Wednesday from only a handful of AIFF’s 120 films, Herskowitz boosted “Grit,” a documentary on a drilling company that, for a decade, unleashed an apocalypse of toxic mud on 60,000 people in East Java. A 16-year old girl, Dian, morphs out of the stereotype of a voiceless Muslim female into an activist, empowering communities against the corporation and government that brought the mess.

“This should resonate for people who are thinking about the Jordan Cove pipeline here,” said Herskowitz.

He showed moving scenes from “Metamorphosis,” a “poem for the planet ... that captures the true scale of the global environmental crisis” with a vision of hope for transformation of humanity’s wayward path via urban forestation, solarizing of slums and the sheer creativity of conscious art.

In “A Forest on Fire,” two Portland documentary makers capture the heartbreaking 50,000-acre Eagle Creek fire, started by a boy with fireworks, which stranded 150 hikers and destroyed a much-loved scenic trail system in the Columbia Gorge in 2017.

AIFF will have a secret screening of another important environmental film that uses much footage from the Klamath River and is “a call to action” about the plight of fish, says Herskowitz, but it can’t be publicized because it’s being shown at another festival.

Feature documentaries include “Queen of Paradis,” a woman’s risky, surreal art adventure shot in a trip across America, “Making Montgomery Clift,” in which his nephew repairs this 1950s leading man’s tragic image, and “Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You,” in which a mechanic/drag racer, in the midst of transitioning to female, finds himself spurned by both genders.

In “Hail Satan?” director Penny Lane shows the Satanic temple’s fight for equality, its focus on community and its devilish sense of humor as it advocates to save the soul of the nation.

A feast for historic film lovers, “Lost Landscapes of San Francisco” shows 80 minutes of neighborhoods, celebrations, infrastructures from the early 20th century onward, all collected and directed by Rick Prelinger. Many filmmakers remix film from his archive for experimental films, notably Vanessa Renwick of Portland, who will be here to present her works, as will Prelinger.

In “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements,” Portland filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky traces the growing deafness of her young son, his cochlear implant surgery, and his goal to learn to play the “Moonlight Sonata,” which Beethoven composed as he went deaf.

AIFF will premiere the locally produced “Phoenix, Oregon,” a character-driven drama of two guys in mid-life crisis, plagued by dead-end jobs, broken hearts and bad bosses, seeking to reinvent themselves by creating a bowling alley-come-pizza joint. It’s the fourth feature film by Gary and Anne Lundgren.

Herskowitz announced AIFF’s Rogue Award goes to Alex Rivera and Christine Ibarra, who co-direct “The Infiltrators,” a documentary exploring ICE detainees being helped by activist Dreamers. It unveils a “complex, for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, all imprisoned without trial.”

In their director’s statement, they say that when “we freed ourselves from conventional documentary ethics, we entered into a realm of possibility,” including collaboration with protagonists of the story, in service of “telling the story by whatever means necessary.”

Rivera also directs “Sleep Dealer,” a sci-fi thriller in which Memo Cruz is attacked by a drone, tries to get to America over the wall, fails, so he “migrates” digitally, operating a machine that does all his work in the U.S. He notes, it’s a “paradox of the world connected by technology but divided by borders.”

They will host a TalkBack panel “Art Against the Wall: Illuminating the Border.”

AIFF’s Pride Award goes to B. Ruby Rich, a UC Santa Cruz film and digital media professor. She curates four films as “Queer Intersectionality.” She notes, “Today, with genderqueer and pansexual identities on the rise, a #MeToo movement in full swing and with more serious threats to people of color, women and queers than at any time since WWII, queer cinema is reclaiming it legacy of intersectionality. ... We are all mongrels today.”

A documentary in the Queer series is “From Baghdad to the Bay,” about an Iraqi translator for the U.S. military who is wrongly accused of being a spy, then tortured, then ostracized by his country, as he struggles to rebuild his life is San Francisco as he comes out and masters his dream of being a chef.

Tickets cost $14, seniors $13, students $5, Oregon Trail Card holders $5. The Opening Night Bash is $35, Awards Celebration is $85. Locals Only, TalkBack panels and Family Day (at ScienceWorks) are free. Details and tickets are at ashlandfilm.org. Tickets can be downloaded to mobile devices.

A scene from "The Second Coming of Klaus Kinski."