Declaring Independents: Ashland Independent Film Festival Celebrates Its 15th Anniversary
April 7–11 marks the 15th anniversary of the Ashland Independent Film Festival. The festival has grown from 73 films in four days at the beautiful art deco Varsity Theatre to more than 90 films and dozens of special events in five days across Ashland. AIFF16 will expand across town and across genres with films, live performances, and art installations at the Varsity, the Historic Ashland Armory, Ashland Street Cinema, the Ashland Springs Hotel, and new venues, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and the Schneider Museum of Art.
Indie women filmmakers are also prominent in AIFF's new program, BEYOND - cinema that goes beyond the rules and conventions of mainstream documentary and feature filmmaking.
As AIFF embarks on its next chapter, it’s reaching out to new groups—not simply appealing to traditional demographics defined by age, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, but across arbitrary boundaries to a shared artistic ideal. In an age when media fills several screens in virtually every household, and screens are everywhere, it’s fair to ask, why come to a film festival at all? The answer is simple: for the shared experience of seeing a film together; to expand and expound on that experience with filmmakers, performers, animators, artists, and of course, fellow film-goers.
AIFF’s new Director of Programming, Richard Herskowitz, is reviving AIFF’s connection to the Ashland art and performing arts community. Early festivals featured gallery exhibits, a live opera singer, arts cars, and hula dancers. This year, the festival links art, science, animation, cinema, music, and dance, creating new forms of image making and storytelling beyond tired formulas.
2016 programs delve into the BEYOND with feature filmmaking that goes beyond the rules, as well as new and classic documentaries from the venerable Kartemquin films and Women Make Movies (WMM). Women in indie film will be a singular focus with films and special appearances by Women Make Movies executive director, Debra Zimmerman, filmmaker and choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall, visionary lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer, and more. Also, live performances that bridge cinema, art, and music will include two noted animators and performance artists: Laura Heit and Jeremy Rourke, as well as a live score to accompany the feature film He Hated Pigeons, performed by flutist RozalindMacPhail.
Independent film is nothing less than a movement to transform mainstream culture, to promote voices and perspectives neglected by commercial media. To honor its 15th anniversary, AIFF is reaffirming its mission to promote independent filmmaking. One way to do that is to honor the groundbreaking people and cinema that set the standard. As Director of Programming Richard Herskowitz says, “At AIFF16 we will pay tribute to indie institutions—production, distribution, and exhibition companies that have built the infrastructure of the independent film movement, and challenge Hollywood’s dominance.”
Women Make Movies (WMM)
AIFF16 celebrates Women Make Movies and its executive director, Debra Zimmerman. WMM was founded more than 30 years ago to address the under-representation and misrepresentation of women in media, a mission that continues unabated today. Zimmerman will present the remarkable new documentary Sonita, the story of a 17-year-old Afghan girl living in Iran who resists being sold as a child bride by her family. Her resistance comes in the form of an underground rap video that is as compelling and fresh as Sonita herself.
Is Sonita’s exuberant talent and joyful persistence enough to overcome the obstacles she faces? As Zimmerman notes, director RokhsarehGhaemMaghami becomes personally involved in Sonita’s fate, revealing the intimate connections a new generation of contemporary filmmakers, female filmmakers in particular, are making with their subjects.
Another WMM director is Barbara Hammer. A pioneer of queer cinema, Hammer is a visual artist working primarily in film and video. Her work reveals and celebrates marginalized peoples whose stories have not been told. Her cinema is multileveled and engages an audience viscerally and intellectually with the goal of activating them to make social change. She has made over 80 moving image works in a career that spans 40 years. In 2013 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her biographical film about poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979). Welcome to this House, which will screen at AIFF16, is an elegiac exploration of the homes and loves of Bishop, revealing what life is like in the shadows, and the anxiety of making art without full self-disclosure.
While in Ashland, Hammer will share her talent and experience in queer film production with a group of high school and college student filmmakers, as supported by the Equity Foundation. In recognition of her unique contributions, AIFF will present Hammer with a Pride Award.
Kartemquin Films 50th Anniversary
You might not recognize the name Kartemquin Films, but you are undoubtedly familiar with their body of work, particularly the award-winning documentary Hoop Dreams. Kartemquin is a documentary powerhouse with a tradition of nurturing emerging talent, and acts as a leading voice for independent media. Kartemquin is a collaborative center for documentarians who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society.
To honor Kartemquin’s 50th anniversary, AIFF welcomes Artistic Director and co-founder Gordon Quinn and directors Joanna Rudnick and Maria Finitzo, and will screen several films, including a program of Kartemquin classic short docs. These are:
Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap. Produced in 1984, this 16-minute documentary explores the growing difference in voting patterns between men and women (the gender gap) in the mid-1980s. The film includes satirical animated scenes by cartoonist Nicole Hollander, creator of the comic strip Sylvia, animated by Ron Crawford and Sydney Crawford.
The hour-long Chicago Maternity Center Story portrays how for more than 75 years, the center provided safe home deliveries for Chicago mothers. This film interweaves the history of the center with the stories of a young woman about to have her first baby, and the center’s fight to stay open in the face of the corporate takeover of medicine.
Directed by Emmy®-nominated filmmaker—and AIFF16 special guest—Joanna Rudnick, the short doc On Beauty is a story about challenging norms and redefining beauty. Follow fashion photographer Rick Guidotti as he leaves the restrictive fashion industry to refocus his lens on subjects too often relegated to the shadows in order to change the way we see and experience beauty.
AIFF will also screen two more Kartemquin titles: the feature doc In the Game, directed by Peabody Award-winner Maria Finitzo, which follows the ups and downs of a girls’ soccer team to reveal the very real obstacles that low-income students confront in their quest for higher education. Plus AIFF16’s Secret Screening will showcase a coming of age documentary set in the rural south, from another notable female director.
More Films from Groundbreaking Independent Filmmakers
AIFF16 presents a program of short docs from legendary filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, who directed the Academy Award®-nominated The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (AIFF10). Reichert and Bognar were unable to make it to Ashland in 2010, but will be special guests this April.
Women He’s Undressed: From award-winning Australian director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) comes the fascinating biopic of legendary Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly, winner of three Academy Awards for An American in Paris, Les Girls, and Some Like it Hot. Part documentary with interviews from Hollywood icons like Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury; part fictional re-enactment of Orry-Kelly’s dream-filled life as a child in Australia and his later romantic life as a gay man in Hollywood, including his relationship with Cary Grant. Women He’s Undressed shines a light on this brilliant, all-but-forgotten artist.
NEW FORMS: BEYOND
Indie women filmmakers are also prominent in AIFF’s new program, BEYOND—cinema that goes beyond the rules and conventions of mainstream documentary and feature filmmaking. These films contain beautiful, surprising, and sometimes disorienting images, but always “question the boundary between fiction and fact, challenging viewers to be more creative and participatory,” says Herskowitz. Films include: Ma, the feature directorial debut of choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall, who also stars in the film.
A transfixing, practically wordless trek across the desert toward salvation, this unique and beautiful film evokes a great work of modern dance, articulating its meaning through movement and visual expression. Celia Rowlson-Hall, named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of 2015,” will be in attendance for Q&As, and to receive a Juice Award. The $2,000 award provides recognition to the director, as well as tangible support for her future filmmaking projects. The Juice Award goes to a first or second-time female director, and is supported by Tangerine Entertainment (led by Academy Award-nominated producer Amy Hobby and Anne Hubbell), and the Faerie Godmother Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation. This is the first time AIFF has presented a cash award to a filmmaker.
In addition to screening Ma, AIFF presents aConversation on Dance and Film with Celia Rowlson-Hall with a selection of her wonderful dance, fashion, and music videos.
NUTS! is a witty feature documentary that tells the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat testicle impotence cure and a million watt radio station. Using animated reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and a cheerful, but unreliable narrator, NUTS! traces Brinkley’s rise from poverty and obscurity to the heights of celebrity, wealth, and influence in Depression-era America. A film that asks and—perhaps—answers the question: is truth really stranger than fiction? Directed by Penny Lane (yes, that’s her real name) also a Filmmaker Magazine “25 New Faces” director in 2012.
He Hated Pigeons is directed by AIFF alum Ingrid Veninger (The Animal ProjectAIFF14). This gorgeous feature explores exquisite, rarely seen vistas of Chile through the eyes—and emotions—of Elias, a young man who has inexplicably lost his lover, Sebastien, to a freak accident. Driven by grief and need, the long, winding geography of Chile is his constant companion. A live improvised score, performed by flutist RozalindMacPhail, will accompany the film.
LIVE CINEMA AND INTERACTIVE MEDIA
Entering her second year as AIFF’s Executive Director, Cathy Dombi joins with Director of Programming Richard Herskowitz in emphasizing the power of collaborative arts events. She asserts that AIFF16 will “expand the film festival experience through community partnerships. It is exciting to collaborate with ScienceWorks and the Schneider Museum of Art to bring amazing performance and visual artists to Ashland, and to offer dynamic multimedia performances and installations for 2016.”
Herskowitz is excited to share his focus on interactivity: “Festivals emphasize the liveness of the cinematic experience. Most screenings are introduced and discussed by visiting filmmakers and attentive filmgoers through post-film Q&As and in bustling lines and lobbies. AIFF wants to further invigorate the film-going experience by hosting artists who perform live with their films, and who engage audiences to physically interact with their films in galleries.”
In addition to the improvised film score by flutist Rozalind MacPhail, AIFF16 will present the work of two talented multimedia artists at two new locations: the Schneider Museum of Art and ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum. The artists are:
Laura Heit: Traveling Light Animation and Matchbox Show
Laura Heit is an experimental filmmaker and performance artist whose disquieting and evocative films and performances cross genres to unfold poetic visual narratives. Heit employs a strong handmade aesthetic and an irreverent sense of humor with drawing, puppetry, and animation to tell stories about phantoms, ghosts, love, loss, and invisibility. AIFF will present Traveling Light, a collection of animated films curated by Heit, which will be followed by one of her acclaimed puppet-show-in-miniature Matchbox Shows. Playing the part of hostess and star, Heit performs a variety of puppet shows within matchboxes, projected on a big screen. Each matchbox contains its own story: some are dreams retold; others are circus acts or nightclub rendezvous. At ScienceWorks, Friday evening, April 8.
Heit will also have two gallery exhibits in Ashland during and after the film festival: Two Ways Down will be at the Schneider Museum, and Hypothetical Star: An Animation Diorama will be at ScienceWorks.
Jeremy Rourke: Live Music and Animations
Jeremy Rourke is a self-taught animator and musician from San Francisco. His charming stop-motion short films belie his painstaking creative process involving a variety of materials such as paper, paint, leaves and sticks combined with shadows, words, and old photographs. Rourke will accompany his animated films with live guitar and vocals. His shows are a fun and playful mix of sound and visuals, involving the audience in interactive sing-alongs and play-acting.
Rourke will perform two shows during the festival: At ScienceWorks, Saturday, April 9—there will be an afternoon performance for kids and families, and an evening show for adults.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: SHORTS PROGRAMS, PANELS & PARTIES
The always-entertaining Family Shorts program will screen at Ashland Street Cinema. Children of all ages will enjoy CineSpace, a compilation of winning short films inspired by and using actual NASA imagery from the 2015 Houston Cinema Arts Society international competition. Academy Award-nominated director, producer and screenwriter Richard Linklater (Boyhood) helped choose the winners.
Mark Shapiro of the Portland-based animation studio LAIKA will once again curate a program of animated shorts, this time featuring his favorite music videos. Plus the popular Short Stories, Short Docs, and After Hours Shorts & Docs programs will return to the Varsity Theatre.
Free events include Locals Only and the LAUNCH student film competition, each comprised of films created by Siskiyou-region filmmakers. 2016’s TalkBack filmmaker panels, funded by an NEA Art Works grant, include Online Platforms for Creative Filmmaking, Women Make Indie Movies, and Activist Collectives: Kartemquin and New Day, the latter featuring Kartemquin Films Artistic Director Gordon Quinn and New Day Collective members Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar.
AIFF’s hosts its 15th anniversary at the Opening Night Bash, Thursday, April 7 at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. Presented by founding sponsor Rogue Creamery, party-goers meet, mingle and Savor the Rogue®, enjoying award-winning cheeses paired with charcuterie, fruit, artisan chocolates, beer and wine. The Juried and Audience Award winners are recognized at the Awards Celebration, Sunday, April 10, at the Historic Ashland Armory. The conversation will be taking place each night at the no-host, no-cover AfterLounge. This year’s locations are Liquid Assets Wine Bar on Thursday, Thai Pepper Restaurant on Friday, Brickroom—with Karaoke at 9pm—on Saturday, and The Black Sheep Pub and Restaurant on Sunday.
AIFF’s Preview Night provides an opportunity to get a sneak peek of the 2016 festival. Meet new Director of Programming Richard Herskowitz, Executive Director Cathy Dombi, and the whole AIFF staff.
The full program of AIFF16 film and events will be announced accompanied by film clips, special announcements, and more. Preview Night is Tuesday, March 15 from 7–8:30 pm at SOU’s Recital Hall.
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 21 for members and March 27 for the general public. Advance tickets are available through April 6, and then April 7–11 at the Varsity Theatre. During the festival, tickets may be ordered online up to 3 hours before show time, after which they will have to be purchased at the Varsity Box Office. A full schedule of festival films will be available March 16 at ashlandfilm.org.