AIFF 2017- Films To Explain and Inspire Citizenry: AIFF Punches Forward with Cinematic Activism
Two days after the recent presidential elections, after Donald Trump’s surprising victory, Richard Herskowitz was in Texas for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. Many of artists and filmmakers were floored and the mood, says Herskowitz.
Likewise, about that same time in New York, the cast of “Hamilton” addressed then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence as he exited the theater, pleading for fairness and inclusion, and a few weeks later Meryl Streep delivered a speech from the winner’s podium at the Golden Globe Awards calling for concern and compassion.
Herskowitz says the mood at November’s film festival in Houston also was a state of shock and concern. But, he says, “we had to go along and be festive; we were a festival after all.”
Even so, those emotions and the conversations Herskowitz had during the Houston festival have germinated into a prevalent theme for this year’s Ashland International Film Festival.
“I decided almost immediately,” says Herskowitz about the push to spotlight “Activism and Film” for AIFF 2017. “As a festival that celebrates and reflects what’s going on in the independent film world,” he continues, “this has been the primary topic of discussion: what to do with the demonization of other voices.” He adds, “this is what filmmakers have been talking about.”
AIFF opens this year with a screening of Dolores, a documentary about Dolores Huerta who built up the United Farmworkers union along with Cesar Chavez, but who didn’t receive the attention her compatriot did. The film is directed by Peter Bratt, an acclaimed director and recent transplant to Ashland.
“How can we use our medium to re-build empathy for outsiders, for immigrants, for all the people being demonized by the (Trump) administration?,” Herskowitz explains. On Friday, one panel will showcase “Filming Activists,” and on Saturday another panel will address a central concern, “Indie Documentary Journalism in the Age of Fake News.” Moreover, the festival presents the highly acclaimed documentary, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press?, which examines the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker lawsuit. Throughout the festival, there is a clear pathway of movies examining and explaining social activism and causes: From environmental issues, like What Lies Up Stream, a documentary about water pollution in West Virginia, to a trilogy of documentaries, The Resistance Saga, from director Pamela Yates, about the dark and bright sides of revolution in Guatemala. That focus is also seen with the festival’s Pride Award winner, Jenni Olson, whose beautiful cinematic essay The Royal Road debuted at Sundance two months ago and will play Sunday, 12:40 pm at Varsity 3.
“Your citizenry has to become active,” exclaims Herskowitz.
This year’s festival also places a strong emphasize on the filmmakers themselves—and especially on those connected to southern Oregon.
“The emphasis on Ashland and Oregon is much bigger,” confirms Herskowitz.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to James Ivory, a Klamath Fall native whose last name is half of the duo Merchant Ivory, who produced a brisk pace of 24 feature films in their 44 year partnership, including 25 Academy Award nominations. Maurice will screen its 30th anniversary on Friday, April 7 at 6:40 at the Armory; Howard’s End will screen its 25th anniversary at 3 pm at the Varsity, and James Ivory will attend a TalkBack session about “Cinematic Literature” with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, Sunday, April 9, 10 at the Ashland Springs Hotel.
Another local filmmaker, Alex Cox, will be honored with the fittingly named Rogue Award. The director for Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, Cox helped define punk culture during the Reagan 80s, and his latest film, Tombstone Rashoman, will screen Saturday, April 8, 6:40 pm at the Ashland Street Cinema.