The Alexander Valley Film Festival is back for its seventh year, moving to new spring festival dates, expanded offerings
This year’s Alexander Valley Film Festival may feel a bit different to regular festivalgoers — it’s moved its regular date to the spring, and the festival runs longer than it has in the past. The festival, now in its seventh year, runs virtually from April 23 to May 2.
“It was back in 2019 that the leadership of the organization decided to move the festival to the spring, and here we are,” Alexander Valley Film Society Executive Director Kathryn Hecht said. “Having no idea that we would be in the middle of a global pandemic, that most of our films would be screened virtually, but what we have seen over the past year is that film has an incredible power to keep people connected. We’ve leveraging all of the good stuff about film and what it can do for this year’s festival.”
The notion of connection in a year of distancing and film’s ability to keep people connected is shown in this year’s festival theme — connection.
“The pandemic forced all of us to re-evaluate what matters most. Our entire team of staff and volunteers used the year of lockdown to work through what it means to connect and belong. This year’s festival is a direct reflection of those renewed values,” Hecht said.
“We’ve met for more than a year as a team to deepen our awareness, education around equity and belonging,” Hecht said. “We’ve formed a committee that we’ve titled Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Access. Particularly, after the murder of George Floyd last spring, we took it as a call to action to articulate what we felt internally and what we had been using film to accomplish for many years, but had never been deliberate about it. We started to evaluate with a new lens the films we were choosing, how we were using them to connect with one another. A big part of that is looking at who’s making movies and how they’re getting resources.”
The festival features an array of films and filmmakers from around the world with 30 feature films, 38 short films, more than a dozen panels and Q&As and 14 student works — over double the number of films it’s hosted in the past.
Trying to build a culture of inclusion and community around the film festival has come to the forefront in recent years. Last year’s film festival centered around the theme of “justice” and, in many ways, this year’s festival builds on that.
“We are compelled to have these conversations, uncomfortable though they may be,” Hecht said in a September 2020 interview. “Who else to have them other than artists and patrons of the arts?”
One panel being hosted by the festival this year, Amplifying Indigenous Stories, highlights three different films focused on Indigenous communities.
“Now we get to have a conversation about, ‘Yay for making the movie in the first place — and how do we be better allies as creators and activists? How do we create more seats at the table? How do we create a sense of belonging where Indigenous people get to tell their own stories? What resources do we need to help develop?”
“I think we had a really powerful and engaging festival last year, in spite of it being completely online. The feedback was strong, our audience grew, we reached people all over the United States, even overseas, for the first time,” Hecht said.
Hosting a virtual festival last fall and again this year has showed festival organizers what a future, post-pandemic film festival may look like.
“Having a virtual festival, at least aspects of it, are here to stay,” Hecht said.
Making films available online helped create access for people who may be homebound or people who may not have the discretionary income to spend on things like additional gas to drive to northern California. Additionally, having films online allows festival-goers to use assistive technology with the films. She said that they’re hopeful that in the next couple of years, every film in the festival will not only be closed captioned, but also offer Spanish subtitles.
“What I can tell you is that we have, for the first time, diversified our programming team. We have five programmers opposed to two,” Hecht said when asked about the films that stood out to her the most.
Each programmer focused on a specific grouping of themes and Hecht pulled out one grouping of films under the title “Pride and Perseverance: LGBTQIA Lives in Focus” that includes a discussion panel about sex worker rights today.
“Chelsea (Kurnick) is centered in social justice work, both as a human being and as the chair of the board of Positive Images. She brings an incredible contemporary lens into film and built this program using that lens, and I couldn’t be more pleased and more proud,” Hecht said.
Along with the block of films put together by Kurnick, local filmmaker Chris Metzler put together a block of feature and short films by Bay Area filmmakers and Mike Traina from Film Fest Petaluma organized groupings of short films to be screened.
New this year, the festival also includes a collaboration with Film Fest Petaluma based out of Santa Rosa Junior College who provided four short film collections. All festival ticket purchasers and pass holders will have access to the film festival’s Discord server for “Lobby Talks” throughout the week to meet virtually and discuss films. And, building on the Alexander Valley Film Society’s focus on personal and mental health, this year there will be Mental Health Meetups each Sunday morning for patrons to gather virtually for complimentary yoga with Jenn Russo of Yoga on Center.
“We felt it was incumbent on us to name the elephant in the room — that this has been a year of struggle and for our community, it’s been years of struggle. So why not incorporate mental health as a part of enjoying movies?” Hecht said of the yoga meetups.
All festival films open on Friday, April 23, at 9 a.m. and close on Sunday, May 2, at 11:59 p.m. For film passes, individual tickets, the full lineup of films, live panel/Q&A times and Oscar opportunities, visit avfilmsociety.org/alexander-valley-film-festival.
Those who want to attend the festival can still purchase all access passes, passes that allow them to stream the films, just the shorts or just the student films.
• April 23 at 6 p.m. Opening Night panel discussion. Beau Bridges and Emily Bridges will discuss Emily’s directorial debut, “Acting: The First Six Lessons,” in which her father, Beau, is featured. A west coast premiere, the film follows the acting legacy of the Bridges family using interviews spliced with an interpretation of Boleslovsky’s core text as a backdrop for discovery.
• April 24 at 8:30 p.m. “Dirty Dancing” at the Drive-In” at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair.
• April 25 at 4 p.m., supporters will tune in from home for Red Carpet Evening, the 93rd Academy Awards®.
• April 26 at 6 p.m. features “Amplifying Indigenous Stories.” The panel will highlight the filmmakers and stories from three films from the Festival: “Stories I Didn’t Know,” the story of a white woman confronting the past and beginning the process of making reparations in partnership with native community members; “Guardians of the River,” an appeal from indigenous leaders to restore a healthy Klamath River; and “Aguilucho: Dance of the Harpy Eagle,” a look at indigenous communities who meet a fair-feathered ally.
• Wednesday is Neighbor Night! On Wednesday, April 28 at 6 p.m., Chief Marshall Tuberville and award-winning photographer Kent Porter join filmmakers and subjects for the panel “Community Rising: Wildfire Response and Recovery” to discuss the local film “The Kincade Fire.” To help celebrate the world premiere of the new documentary, local restaurants from the cities affected in the 2019 wildfires — PizzaLeah in Windsor, Campo Fina in Healdsburg and Papa's Pizza Cafe in Cloverdale — will host specials for takeout.
• The 2021 Student Film Competition screens Saturday, May 1 at 8:30 p.m. at the Healdsburg Community Center. Attendees will “drive the red carpet,” student works will play on the big screen, and students in middle school, high school and college will compete for $3,000 in prize money.