Alexander Valley Film Festival Brings Art House to Your House

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Alexander Valley Film Festival's now-virtual program screens new films like "Critical Thinking," about the first inner-city high school chess team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship.
  • Alexander Valley Film Festival's now-virtual program screens new films like "Critical Thinking," about the first inner-city high school chess team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship.
The Alexander Valley Film Festival regularly screens engaging independent films and welcomes exciting filmmakers to Northern Sonoma County each fall, and this year’s AVFF—hosted by the Alexander Valley Film Society—will stay true to that mission while presenting a virtual version of the sixth annual film festival due to Covid-19.

“Our theme this year is justice,” says Kathryn Hecht, executive director of the Alexander Valley Film Society. “Social, economic, environmental, and mental and spiritual unrest are at crisis levels. And that is exactly where art—namely movies—come into play. Film helps us process our reality, either directly or as a moment of interlude to relax and refocus.”

Now streaming online for five days, the 2020 AVFF will screen feature films, short films and student films, and present panel discussions and Q&A events between Wednesday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Patrons can view the festival’s films and events from their computers and use Roku to screen it on their TVs.

The virtual offerings begin with an opening-night film, the 1955 French film Rififi. Watch the film online beginning the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 23, and then tune in at 8pm for a panel featuring Hecht and film-critic Jil Hales in a discussion of Jules Dassin’s quintessential caper film. All other films will be available for viewing starting Thursday, Sept. 24, at 9am and will remain available until Sunday, Sept. 27, at 10pm.

The festival’s feature-film lineup includes several new movies such as Critical Thinking, a biopic about an inner-city chess team that is directed by John Leguizamo; The Artist’s Wife, a drama about living with dementia that stars acclaimed actors Bruce Dern and Lena Olin; and Aggie, a feature-length documentary about art-collector Agnes Gund, who sold Roy Lichtenstein’s painting “Masterpiece” in 2017 for $165 million to start the Art for Justice Fund.

The festival’s short-film highlights includes 26.2 to Life: The San Quentin Prison Marathon, which tracks San Quentin inmates as they train for a marathon race as part of a prison running team. Director Christine Yoo, volunteer coaches Frank Ruona and Diana Fitzpatrick, and film-subject Markelle Taylor discuss the filmmaking journey and what is next in the process on Sept. 26 at 2pm.

Other featured online panels include an expert discussion covering the media’s representation of the transgender community on Sept. 24; a panel about new queer cinema and how it intersects with social justice on Sept. 25 at 2pm; a conversation on healthcare challenges facing vulnerable members of the community on Sept. 25 at 8pm; as well as many other events focusing on social-justice storytelling, equity in the arts and more.

In addition to feature-length and short-film presentations, AVFF once again spotlights several local student filmmakers, with two blocks of student films from Healdsburg High School, Santa Rosa High School, the Geyserville Unified School District and the AV Film Society’s film camps. Meet the student filmmakers during a panel on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 2pm.

To compliment the movies, AVFF will also team up with local restaurants and wineries to offer pick-up food and wine options for a fully immersive film experience. Healdsburg’s Barndiva offers dinner and wine on Sept. 23; Young & Yonder Spirits sells a summertime paella and cocktail pairing on Sept. 25; Trading Post in Cloverdale helps close out the festival with food and wine on Sept. 27.

Passes to this year’s virtual festival range from $75 to $125, and individual films can be screened for $15 each. All proceeds from the festival benefit Sonoma County students through the Alexander Valley Film Society’s year-round educational and cultural enrichment programs.

The virtual Alexander Valley Film Festival is taking place online between Wednesday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Avfilmsociety.org.

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