Every spring, Southern Oregon buzzes with anticipation and excitement about the Ashland Independent Film Festival. What films will screen? Which filmmakers will attend? Over 7,000 film lovers gather at the art deco Varsity Theatre, the Historic Ashland Armory, and the Ashland Street Cinema to watch 80+ documentary, feature, and short films. Everyone looks forward to the opportunity to discuss independent film with fellow film lovers in line, in the theaters before the films begin, and at film festival events all around town. Filmmakers from around the world interact with audiences after each screening, at panels and workshops, at parties, and in casual conversations right on Main Street. All supported by the best sponsors and local businesses in the Rogue Valley.
PANELS, WORKSHOPS, AND LOCAL FILMMAKERS
There is a new way to make and distribute movies. AIFF is excited to offer a 2-hour filmmaking workshop from Rebel Heart Films, the new enterprise from Diane Bell and Chris Byrne who made the AIFF10 Juried Best Feature Obselidia. The workshop aims to inspire, encourage, and educate new filmmakers. Film lovers are welcome too. This is a 2-hour version of their 2-day workshop. Registration and more details will be available soon on the AIFF website: ashlandfilm.org.
Free film festival events include AIFF’s thought-provoking and engaging TalkBack Panels with filmmakers, jurors, and other industry professionals on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00-11:30 am at the Ashland Springs Hotel. Free screenings include the Locals Only program and the outstanding LAUNCH student film competition winners. AIFF15’s Locals Only programs will feature Reel Smith a loving portrait of local blacksmith Dennis Debey who designed AIFF’s famous Awards statuette. There will also be a screening of the feature-length documentary A River Between Us that chronicles the largest environmental restoration project in American history. Taking place in Southern Oregon and Northern California, the Klamath Basin Restoration serves as a backdrop to the resolution of generations-old conflicts among communities along the Klamath River. Produced by former State Senator Jason Atkinson of Central Point, OR.
SHORTS, SHORTS & OSCAR® SHORTS
As always, AIFF will present an international selection of Academy Award®-nominated short films. The chance for Southern Oregon audiences to see these works on the big screen makes the Oscar Shorts programs among the most popular with audiences every year. Highlights for the 14th annual Ashland Independent Festival include the short doc White Earth, a portrait of the North Dakota oil boom through unexpected eyes. Gorgeous shots of the frozen landscape underscore the moving and informative first person accounts of family members of oil rig workers. Animated shorts include Me and My Moulton by Academy Award®-winning animator Torill Kove (The Danish Poet), a wistful, witty, offbeat look at three sisters and their peculiar parents growing up in Norway; A Single Life in which the curious Pia receives a vinyl record in the mail and soon discovers its power to move back and forth through time. The Bigger Picture uses an innovative mix of life-sized paintings and stop-motion animation to tell the bittersweet, darkly humorous, very real story of two brothers struggling to care for their elderly mother. The live action short Aya from Israel is a charming story that follows two strangers who meet at the airport. He mistakenly assumes her to be his assigned driver. She, enchanted by the random encounter, does not hurry to prove him wrong.
Ashland Street Cinema will host the Family Shorts program for a third year. This all-ages showcase features the Academy Award®-nominated animated short The Dam Keeper. Created by two former Pixar art directors whose work includes Toy Story 3 and Monsters University, The Dam Keeper tells the story of young Pig and Fox who become best friends despite the bullying of schoolmates, the indifference of adults, and the ever-present threat of a post-apocalyptic cloud of pollution that only Pig can keep from destroying the town. A lovely soundtrack underscores the remarkable animation that combines traditional hand-drawn figures and digital painting to create the look of brush art in motion.
The Animation Shorts program gets an assist this year from Mark Shapiro of LAIKA, the Portland-based animation studio that brought us Coraline and The Boxtrolls. Mark has curated the best shorts he has seen at festivals from around the world and will talk about them at Q&As after the films. AIFF is also delighted to include Footprints, the latest animated short from Bill Plympton, AIFF09 Artistic Achievement Award honoree.
Two new documentaries come to this year’s film festival from AIFF Lifetime Achievement Award honorees. Two-time Academy Award®-winner and AIFF14 Lifetime Achievement recipient Barbara Kopple returns to AIFF with Hot Type: 150 Years of the Nation. A vivid, inside look at the legendary progressive magazine, The Nation, the film follows reporters out into the field, editors who shape their work, interns who might one day become staff, and Editor-in-Chief Katrina vanden Heuvel who tries to keep all of the plates spinning. Shot over three years in Kopple’s signature cinema vérité style, the film captures the day-to-day pressures and challenges of America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine as it evolves into the future guided by its remarkable past.
The final film from acclaimed documentarian Les Blank, AIFF07 Artistic Achievement Award recipient, also comes to AIFF15. How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy follows Blank’s 2000 visit with the equally acclaimed documentarian Richard Leacock at his farm in rural France. This loving portrait features a fascinating history of vérité documentary filmmaking, rustic French cooking you can almost taste, and a rare look at a genuine friendship between artists that feels as fresh today as it did 15 years ago. With the passing of both Blank (in 2013) and Leacock (in 2011), the documentary is a moving insight into the lives of two seminal figures in the history of film. Co-filmmaker Gina Leibrecht (All in This Tea) will be in attendance to share the experience of making this film with Les Blank.
MORE DOCUMENTARY AND FEATURE FILMS
AIFF15 will present the year’s most intriguing, illuminating, and inspiring documentaries and features in which protagonists overcome obstacles, persist despite all odds, and bring hope to us all. Highlights include:
Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World
The heartwarming story of 5-year-old Miles Scott who turns San Francisco into Gotham City for a day. Recovering from Leukemia, it is Miles’ dream is to be Batkid, and the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation sets out to make his dream come true. At first, Executive Director Patricia Wilson envisions a small event with family members, but when she posts a call for volunteers on Facebook, the response is enormous! Dozens of people volunteer to be characters, perform stunts, make costumes, and supply Lamborghini cars as Batmobiles. Even President Obama sends a video message. Twenty-five thousand well-wishers show up in person to cheer Miles on while two billion more watch online in an unprecedented display of collective emotion.
Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey
Hal Holbrook first walked onstage as Mark Twain in 1954, and has toured his renowned one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! every year since. He has performed it in all 50 states, in 20 countries, on Broadway, and before five US Presidents. Generations have seen the show, and countless actors have been influenced by his work. This documentary is a behind the scenes look into the heart of America’s most esteemed satirist and the actor who has brought him to life for nearly 60 years. Featuring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Richard Chamberlain, Annie Potts, and Martin Sheen.
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
To honor James Baldwin’s 90th birthday and the 25th anniversary of this award-winning 16mm documentary, a dedicated crew set about to repair, restore, and digitally convert the damaged original film. This classic documentary blends intimate interviews and eloquent public speeches with private glimpses of Baldwin, exploring what it means to be born black, impoverished, gay and gifted. Includes on-camera interviews with Maya Angelou, William Styron, Ishmael Reed, and Bobby Short. As current events will attest, Baldwin’s call for an end to prejudice and injustice has yet to become a reality.
Back on Board: Greg Louganis
An engrossing, intimate portrait of an American legend, this documentary tells the moving story of four-time Olympic Champion Greg Louganis as he returns to diving after a long period of absence. The film explores the captivating, compelling, and complicated life of an Olympic star whose athletic talent spurred a worldwide fascination with diving. Part biography, part social exploration, this film reveals Louganis’ evolution from childhood diving prodigy to Olympic champion, and from pioneering openly gay athlete with HIV to almost forgotten sports icon.
Claressa “T-Rex” Shields is the vibrant, talented, beautiful 17 year-old “phenom” who won the first Gold Medal in Women’s Boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The moment when Ressa stands on the podium clutching her gold medal and laughing into the sky is an extraordinary image of triumph. But T-Rex isn’t just a film about a boxer and her historic achievement. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl from Flint, Michigan whose resilience is tested again and again in a place fraught with negativity and dysfunction as she walks a tightrope between celebrity and poverty, independence and loyalty to family and coach.
Frame by Frame
In 1996, the Taliban banned photography in Afghanistan, so taking a picture was considered a crime. When the US invaded the country and overthrew the Taliban, the media blackout disappeared. But now, in a country facing abject uncertainty and ongoing war, a free press is anything but assured. Frame by Frame follows four Afghan photojournalists navigating an emerging, yet dangerous media landscape. Through cinema vérité, powerful photojournalism, and archival footage shot in secret, the film reveals the ongoing struggle to capture the truth.
An unrecognizable drought-stricken Oregon valley in the near future. Fresh water has run out and society has collapsed. A greedy water baron, like so many railroad and cattle barons in the Old West, is determined to clear out every survivor, by any means necessary. Only Kendal, a heroic 17 year-old wise beyond her years, stands in the way of this ruthless villain and the anonymous water corporation that employs him. This post-apocalyptic story will have you sitting on the edge of your seat and rooting for Kendal — in a riveting performance by Haley Lu Richardson —as she fights for what’s right, no matter the cost.
Twenty-one-year-old Bambi returns home from 2 years in prison to his old Los Angeles neighborhood in Watts. Now educated and eager to pursue his dreams of becoming a published writer, he must first come to terms with his role as the sole caretaker of his three-year-old son Day. Bambi’s hopes of a legitimate life are challenged by an intractable government bureaucracy on the one hand, and pressure to return to his old gangster life on the other. Finding hope where it is scarce, the only thing Bambi understands for sure is what it really means to be a father.
Mackenzie (Ella Purnell), a troubled, intelligent teenager, is sent by her struggling mother to live with her uncle in Juneau, Alaska. At first “Uncle” (Brian Geraghty) seems supportive and caring, but when the relationship turns, Mackenzie is forced to run away. Trying to make her way back to Seattle alone, Mackenzie winds up stranded in the Alaskan interior. Lost and with no one else to turn to, she shadows Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood), a loner backpacker and unlikely father figure with scars of his own. Together, they traverse the exquisite Alaskan wilderness, gradually discovering sanctuary along the last frontier.
Sophie, portrayed by the luminous Mamie Gummer (who just happens to be Meryl Streep’s daughter — the resemblance is amazing!), is frustrated and bored. She impulsively leaves her rich, Beverly Hills fiancée, and rents an apartment in Echo Park. Just a few miles east, but a world away, Echo Park’s transplanted artists and young professionals coexist with working class Latino families and elderly pensioners. Sophie meets Alex (Tony Okungbowa), a talented British musician who is giving up his bohemian existence to move back to London for a high-paying corporate job. He’s also giving up his home and furniture. Sophie promptly buys his couch, and then his house. Neither can quite decide if they want to be together or apart, committed or free, in Echo Park or somewhere else. Echo Park is as much a romantic comedy about a place as it is about a couple.
Tickets for Festival films and events are available online at ashlandfilm.org and at the AIFF pre-sale Box Office/Will Call located in the Information Kiosk on the Plaza in downtown Ashland beginning March 16 for members and March 22 for the general public. Ticketing and Box Office is sponsored by Project A and Ashland Home Net. Advance tickets are available through April 8, and then at the Varsity Theatre April 9–13. A full schedule of festival films will be available March 11 at ashlandfilm.org.
Membership enhances the AIFF Experience: AIFF Members receive advance ticket ordering, first entry into films, and more. Memberships are now available at ashlandfilm.org/membership.
PARTIES & CELEBRATIONS
The film festival’s Opening Night Bash takes place on Thursday, April 9 at Ashland Springs Hotel. Presented by founding sponsor Rogue Creamery, attendees meet and mingle and Savor the Rogue® enjoying a selection of award-winning cheeses paired with artisan chocolates, charcuterie, fruit, coffee, beer and wine. The Awards Celebration, Sunday, April 12, is held at the Historic Ashland Armory. Attendees can dress up and toast the Juried and Audience Award winners while feasting on food and drink from Rogue Valley restaurants, breweries and wineries. For more casual interactions, everyone gathers at the no-host, no-cover AfterLounge, held at a different local restaurant each night, including Saturday night Karaoke at The Brickroom.