Event will be anchored at The Clover Theater and The Raven Film Center

Though Kathryn and Ryan Hecht have already breathed new life into the Cloverdale cinematic scene through the revitalization of The Clover Theater, the pair recently announced their intention to promote film education on a broader scale through the introduction of the Alexander Valley Film Festival, set to debut in October of 2015.

The inaugural festival, planned for Oct. 22 to Oct. 25, will be anchored at The Clover Theater and at The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg. The nonprofit producing the event, called the Alexander Valley Film Society, is headed by Kathryn Hecht and her husband Ryan.

Over four days, the society plans to screen films from all over the world, as well as student films from young people in the local area. Though organizers also plan to showcase food, wine and music alongside the chosen films, youth-based arts education is critical to both the mission of the festival and the programming that it will fund.

According to Kathryn Hecht, the film society grew organically out of initiatives that The Clover Theater wished to pursue despite limitations associated with the film exhibition industry. With a background in nonprofit administration and development, she realized that working through a nonprofit would provide more freedom to pursue creative programming.

“But it wasn’t enough just to be able to show art house films,” Kathryn said. “[The nonprofit] really needed to have a purpose.” While working as the director of communications for Gateway Public Schools in San Francisco, Kathryn said she came upon the final piece of the nonprofit puzzle.

“My experience in the public school system really kind of begat this understanding of the gifts that we have been given through the theater, and this cool community that’s really mobilized around art and community itself,” she said. “We saw that if we use that for education, it would be a win-win.”

Proceeds from the film festival will fund educational programs for an upcoming project called The AV Film Lab, which may include documentary filmmaking courses, animation workshops, speaker series and scholarships to other Bay Area film festivals. Though Kathryn thinks that high school students will be the natural fit for the programs, she said a strong case can be made to include seventh and eighth graders as well.

Though Kathryn said she believes that arts education in the area has taken a significant hit due to budget cuts, she envisions that the society’s programming will supplement what arts education remains. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We are trying to figure out ways where we can really supplement the expertise that’s already in place.”

At the same time, Kathryn and Ryan also hope to appeal to underserved and culturally diverse students at Alexander Valley schools. “We don’t see a lot of international events or heritage events, or celebrations, and so that became another aspect of what we wanted to do,” Kathryn said. The Hechts plan to promote multiculturalism through the films they showcase at the festival.

“From the festival standpoint, we have the autonomy to really bring diverse international artists in to showcase their films,” Kathryn said. “My ideal moment in the film festival is to have a kid in our community – let’s say one of our kids that doesn’t feel culturally represented. They come to the film festival and they meet a filmmaker who not only speaks their language, but understands their culture. Suddenly, that kid identifies with an adult doing something artistic and the potential for what that means gets blown wide open.”

Regarding the journey to produce the film festival, Kathryn said that the first piece – fundraising – is already underway. The Hechts hope to have their venues nailed down by the end of January, and to line up their largest sponsors within the next two months.

At the film festival, Kathryn said they plan to lean toward showcasing independent films. “It would be so fun to have some Hollywood flair,” she said, “but we really want to keep the theme of the festival independent.”

Through the society, Kathryn and Ryan Hecht have partnered with the Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale Unified School Districts, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Office of Education.

“Most of my experience with kids in this area is as the owner of a movie theater,” Ryan Hecht said. “And from my observation, it’s very difficult to get kids and students to see some of our independent films, some of our arts films and classic films.” While he too appreciates superhero movies and action-adventure films like “The Hunger Games,” Ryan said he feels that marketing practices may limit youth from exploring other genres.

Not all young people may appreciate the films that they plan to include in the film festival, Ryan admits. “Some might like it, some might hate it, some might never want to go see another art film again,” he said. “But I just think it’s important to have the experience, whatever that becomes, and through having that experience, so many things can happen.”

Through viewing international films, “You get perspective of different walks of life, different cultures.” he said. “Our goal is to use film to educate people to becoming prepared for the world – to become well-rounded people and have experiences and experience that they might not otherwise.”

“A lot of people have said: ‘Why another film festival?’” Kathryn said. “And my response to that is, Alexander Valley needs one.”

For more information on the Alexander Valley Film Society and the upcoming film festival, visit www.avfilmsociety.org. To contribute to the society’s fundraising efforts, visit www.donatenow.networkforgood.org/avfilmsociety.

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