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Shakespeare on the Silver Screen: Three AIFF Screenings pay homage to the Bard

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Whether you’re a Shakespeare aficionado or just someone who enjoys breathtaking, hilarious and thought-provoking films, Ashland Independent Film Festival 2016 has a little something for you. Three very different screenings this year incorporate some sort of Shakespeare.

Top of the list is Julie Taymor’s fantastical, sensual and playful adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Filmed over the course of 20 live performances at the Polonsky Center in Brooklyn, this is no mere recording of a play. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street, Brokeback Mountain) uses multiple cameras to capture both the dizzying breadth of the production and the actors’ faces close up, while the score by Academy Award-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal completes the fully immersive experience.

Richard Herskowitz, AIFF’s Director of Programming, sought out the film to include in the festival in part because he’s a huge fan of director Julie Taymor’s work.

“She is one of the great directors of Shakespeare,” says Herskowitz. “To see her work on the big screen is a real privilege.”

midsummerAs an extra bonus to AIFF viewers, the screening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be followed by a Skype interview with Taymor herself. She’ll answer questions about the production, the film, and her own directorial genius (and yes, we’re using that word aptly here), but she might not be able to tell us why Shakespeare plays can be produced over and over again and always seem fresh and alive.

Another Shakespeare-centric film is Bill, a tale that attempts to shed light on this age-old question though Shakespeare’s (invented) biography. Not yet released in the US, Bill was produced by the comedy troupe behind the popular UK series Horrible Histories. Take a generous portion of dark British humor, sprinkle on a bit of slapstick, pour it all over a historical figure of mythic proportions, and Bill cooks up good laughs for a wide reach of audiences.

“It’s a film for family viewers,” says Herskowitz. “People don’t know very much about how Shakespeare emerged and became a playwright, so there’s lots of room for invention.” Struggling Rogue Valley artists will sympathize when Bill gets kicked out the band after a particularly bad lute performance, decides to fall back on his acting skills, and finds himself dressed up as a tomato advertising produce for a farm stand.


shakespeare1Silly? Absolutely, but Bill also offers viewers a what-if scenario to chew over. If Shakespeare had listened to his wife (or society) and given up his silly dreams of becoming a great writer, his plays would never have inspired audiences around the world and given rise to Ashland’s cultural cornerstone, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. . .

. . .which is where David Desantos and Stephanie Beatriz, stars of the short film Closure, met. David Desantos, who wrote the screenplay, spent three years acting at OSF, and viewers may recognize him from 2010’s Hamlet. Desantos first met Beatriz, now of the TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, when they acted together in OSF’s View From the Bridge in 2008. Desantos says he and the production team still consider Ashland to be a major source of their creative roots.

“It’s a blessing to have our film premiere in Ashland,” he says. “It’s a homecoming in a way.”

Closure screens alongside Stairs in AIFF’s “Ashland Actors On Screen” program. Stairs is a short film starring Anthony Heald, a long-time Ashlander and OSF company actor whose Hollywood credits include Silence of the Lambs.

All the world’s a stage, but for one week in Ashland, all the world’s a movie theater. We think the Bard would approve of this year’s entire creative and awe-inspiring lineup. And you may not catch a glimpse of the man himself, but this is your chance to rub shoulders with other budding playwrights, directors and producers. Pick their brains—they might just be the next Shakespeare.

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