Spring is a wonderful time to be in Ashland. The hills are green, cherry blossoms are in bloom, and the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF) brings five days of world-class film to the Rogue Valley. The 13th annual festival runs April 3-7 at the Varsity Theatre, the Historic Ashland Armory, the Ashland Street Cinemas, and the Ashland Springs Hotel.
The nationally acclaimed celebration of independent film offers film lovers the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and industry guests from around the world at film screenings, parties, filmmaker panels and more.
The AIFF kicks off with the Opening Night Bash, featuring artisan food and wine, on April 3 at 7:30pm at the Ashland Springs Hotel. Festival Juried and Audience Awards will be presented on Sunday evening, April 6, at the Awards Celebration at the Historic Ashland Armory. Many of the award winning films will receive encore presentations on Monday, April 7.
The AIFF will honor two-time Academy Award® winning documentarian Barbara Kopple with its 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. Kopple received an Oscar® in 1976 for Harlan County USA, and again in 1991 for American Dream.
Kopple’s many award-winning films include Shut Up and Sing; Woodstock: Now and Then; and Wild Man Blues, about Woody Allen and his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn.
Kopple’s latest documentary, Running from Crazy, examines the personal journey of writer, model and actress Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, as she strives for a greater understanding of her complex family history. Through stunning archival footage of the three Hemingway sisters and intimate vérité moments with Mariel herself, the film examines the remarkable though often heartbreaking Hemingway legacy. “For me, it’s a moving and powerful story that offers up hope and the sense that none of us are alone in our struggles,” says Kopple. Running from Crazy and Harlan County USA will screen at the 2014 festival. Kopple will be on hand for an audience Q&A after both screenings, and for an on-stage conversation about her life and work.
Each year, the AIFF puts the spotlight on a filmmaker making a unique contribution to independent film. This year, Ashland honors Mark Monroe with the 2014 Rogue Award. Monroe is the writing talent behind the Academy Award winning film The Cove, the eye-opening Chasing Ice (AIFF12), and critically acclaimed The Tillman Story. Recently, Monroe penned Fed Up, an expose of the American food industry narrated by Katie Couric, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Monroe will be featured on a free filmmaker TalkBack panel, Not the Same Old Story, which will examine the critical role of writing for documentary films.
The AIFF line-up includes a selection of Academy Award-nominees, providing a rare opportunity for Southern Oregon audiences to see these works on the big screen.
Four films nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject will be featured. In Facing Fear, Director Jason Cohen follows a former neo-Nazi skinhead and the gay victim of his hate crime who meet by chance 25 years after the incident that dramatically shaped both of their lives. Director Sara Ishaq’s film, Karama Has No Walls, chronicles the 2011 Yemen uprising. A peaceful gathering by students turns deadly when pro-government snipers open fire on the protest.
CaveDigger portrays Ra Paulette, an artist who creates cathedral-like caves in northern New Mexico with nothing but hand tools, grit and passion. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall breaks through the walls of one of Americas oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner.
AIFF will also screen three Best Live Action Short nominated films. In Just Before Losing Everything (Avant Que de Tout Perdre), a getaway becomes essential for the survival of a mother and her children. That Wasn’t Me (Aguel No Era Yo) tells the story of Paula, a social worker, who accompanies her boyfriend to Sierra Leone to aid and rescue child soldiers. The Voorman Problem follows Doctor Williams as he examines the enigmatic Mr. Voorman, a prisoner with a peculiar affliction: he believes he is a god that created the universe nine days ago.
The Festival’s “Animation Shorts” program includes two films nominated for Best Animated Short, along with a selection of animated films from around the world. Mr. Hublot, depicts the strange world of an obsessive-compulsive recluse with characters and objects fashioned from intricately detailed, salvaged materials. In Feral, a young boy is found in the wild and brought back to civilization.
The Case Against 8
The Festival’s Opening Night Film, The Case Against 8, is a behind-the-scenes look inside the historic case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The high-profile trial first makes headlines with the shocking alliance of lead attorneys, Ted Olson and David Boies, political foes who last faced off as opposing attorneys in Bush v. Gore. The plaintiffs are two loving couples who find their families at the center of the same-sex marriage controversy. Five years in the making, this is the story of how they took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz was a computer-programming prodigy with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The Internet’s Own Boy chronicles Swartz’s journey as a pioneer of Internet activism through his indictment on multiple federal charges in 2011 and 2012 that set off a complex chain of events that left the Internet community reeling. Soon after, at the age of 26, Swartz was found dead of an apparent suicide. Director Brian Knappenberger (We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, AIFF12) creates a dynamic portrait of this precocious boy who grew up to lead the way towards a new age of data sharing and free speech.
Venturing into the backwoods of Maine to find the reclusive Burt Shavitz, founder of the all-natural personal care brand Burt’s Bees, Director Jody Shapiro shares this thoughtful and intimate portrait of a highly distinctive pioneer. Beekeeper Shavitz, whose bearded face still graces many of the brand’s labels, is committed to living off the land in Maine, as he has since the 1970s, in a renovated turkey coop with no running water. The film explores how a man who lives without electricity became the face of a huge corporation.
Last Days In Vietnam
Emmy® Award–winning documentary filmmaker and AIFF Alum, Director Rory Kennedy (Ethel, AIFF12) reveals the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War in her most recent film, Last Days In Vietnam. With astonishing footage from April, 1975 combined with recollections from those who were there, the film provides a glimpse into the final tension-filled days when the South Vietnamese resistance crumbled as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon.
Winner of the 2014 U.S. Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Rich Hill examines the challenges, hopes and dreams of three boys who reside in the small town of Rich Hill, Missouri, population 1,396. Directing team Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos provide a rare and intimate look at families struggling to get by in rural America, while longing for a better life and brighter future.
The Lion’s Mouth Opens
2013 AIFF Rogue Award recipient Lucy Walker (Waste Land, AIFF11; The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, AIFF12; The Crash Reel, AIFF13), brings us the heart wrenching story of Marianna Palka. She knows she has a “50-50” chance of getting Huntington’s disease — a rare, but devastating genetic disease that has been described as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS all rolled into one. Walker follows Palka as she prepares to go to the doctor to open the envelope that will seal her fate.
Writer/Director Lance Edmands explores the interconnectedness of a small town in Maine in his moving debut feature Bluebird. When Lesley, the local school bus driver, (Tony® nominee Amy Morton) becomes distracted during her end-of-day inspection, she fails to notice a sleeping boy in the back of the bus. What happens next shatters the tranquility of her small logging town, proving that even the slightest actions have enormous consequences. The film boasts a powerful cast including Emmy nominee John Slattery (Mad Men) and Adam Driver (Girls).
Just A Sigh
Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) is on a train to Paris to audition for an acting job, and while on board she catches the eye of a mysterious English stranger (Gabriel Byrne). They glance nervously, stare longingly, and when it’s time to get off the train, he asks her for directions to a nearby church. They part ways, she goes to the audition, and then in a spur of a moment decision, heads to the church to find him. The couple embark on an unusual day together, leading Alix to face what could be a new life in this romantic adventure directed by Jérôme Bonnell.
The lives of three Navajo weave together in an unflinching and emotional glimpse at life in Gallup, New Mexico, nicknamed Drunktown. Nizhoni was adopted and raised as a Christian by a white family, transsexual Felixxia dreams of becoming a model, and Sickboy is headed to basic training so he can take care of his soon-to-be-born child. Drunktown’s Finest portrays a strong underlying tradition of acceptance as each character confronts the reality of living in, or leaving, their community.
Family Friendly Programming
Last year, the festival expanded the popular “Family Program,” a collection of delightful and engaging short films, to a full weekend of showings at the Ashland Street Cinemas. This season, the AIFF continues to grow its family friendly programming with the Oscar nominated animated feature, Ernest & Celestine. A curious and surprisingly open-minded mouse, Celestine, befriends Ernest, a down on his luck bear. The two take an immediate liking to each other in this charming, playful and beautifully animated film. Featuring Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, and William H. Macy, it will enchant audiences of all ages.
The Free Locals Only Programs highlights the work of talented local area filmmakers such as artist Bruce Bayard, whose film Elegies is a unique personal narrative about mourning, loss, and life passages. Featuring documentaries and shorts, as well as winners from the Launch Regional Student Film Competition, the Locals Only programs screen during the festival at the Varsity Theatre and the Ashland Street Cinema.
Question-and-answer sessions with attending filmmakers follow many of the screenings. Free TalkBack panel discussions will be held with filmmakers of all genres discussing their craft at the Ashland Springs Hotel on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10am. Audiences also have the opportunity to mingle with filmmakers and chat about their favorite festival moments with other film-goers over a late-night drink at the AfterLounge hosted by a different restaurant every night.
Tickets for films and events are available online at ashlandfilm.org and at the festival Box Office located on the Plaza in Ashland beginning March 10 for members and March 16 for the general public through April 2, and at the Varsity Theatre April 3–7. A full schedule of festival films will be available March 5 at ashlandfilm.org.
Ashland Independent Film Festival:
A Community Collaboration
The non-profit Ashland Independent Film Festival is made possible through the support of grantors, local businesses, and individual members, ticket buyers and community volunteers. For more information about the festival's programming activities, visit www.ashlandfilm.org.