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That’s Entertainment! Virtually

Film festivals held from coast to coast and around the world have scrambled to reinvent the screening experience how did the Alexandria Film Festival fare?

Kickoff Gift Basket Winners AFF All-Fest Pass Holders Dan Wolf and Vivan Greblo. (Photo Alexandria Film Festival)

Alexandria, VA – It’s been 14 years since Patti North founded the first-ever Alexandria Film Festival. Back then sold-out film showcases attracted Port City film fans with top-notch indie shorts and feature-length filmmaking from around the globe. While the AFF continues to offer the best of independent filmmaking the world over, the home-grown film festival has expanded from folding chairs at the Athenaeum to state-of-the-art stadium-style theater screening at the AMC Hoffman 22 Theaters.

Film festivals held from coast to coast and around the world scrambled after March 2020 to reinvent the screening experience. Some canceled. Others did a hybrid festival offering limited on-site film showings paired with online options. Some even created pop-up drive-ins to make sure the show would go on. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even announced recently that drive-in screening would meet the theatrical release requirements for film eligibility.

Under the direction of Margaret Wohler, the AFF quickly moved to a virtual format with Q&As following most feature film streamings. As in the past, film blocks were organized by thematic showcases: Sunrise Showcase, The 19th Amendment Centennial Celebration Showcase, Historical Showcase, Political Showcase, Girlpower Showcase, The Burke and Herbert Family Showcase, Personal Stories Showcase, Local Shorts, Foreign Features, Special Features, Human Interest Showcase, What Is Truth? Showcase, as well as the annual Salute to Service Members Showcase, which the AFF traditionally held on Veterans Day weekend.

Alexandrians who purchased an all-access AFF pass were eligible to win a film aficionado basket chock full of classic concession favorites—popcorn, soda, and candy—delivered to their door on opening night. Congratulations to the lucky AFF All-Fest Pass holder kickoff gift basket winners Dan Wolf and Vivan Greblo!

From November 12-15, 45 films were released and streamed over the four days of the festival. Highlights included Oscar-winning filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar in a Q&A following the streaming of 9 to 5: The Story of a Movement. The song by Dolly Parton and the film of the same name starring Dolly, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin was inspired by this equality protest movement.

Who hasn’t ever wondered…if I could turn back time or go back in time to save a life who would it be? (Courtesy photo)

An interesting premise for a film is Saving Robin Williams as told in his own words. The film examines the existential riddle: Who would you save if you could only once go back in time, and why? The film by Lawrence Whitener stars Roger Kabler as the late comedian who tragically took his own life in 2014.

Another film short perfect for the holiday season was 12 Ingredients Over the Generations, centered around an heirloom sweet potato pie recipe. Alexandria filmmaker Sam Hampton explores the traditions of holiday pie baking as a metaphor for the ties that bind and weave us together throughout not only individual family legacies but also a celebration of the cultural diaspora across generations in African American life as well.

The film short12 Ingredients Over a Generation is a delightful and timely film spotlighting the generation gap via a treasured sweet potato pie recipe. (Courtesy photo)

The 2020 Alexandria Film Festival has once again been creatively and impeccably curated by Vice Chair and Programming Director Dara Sanders. New this year are previews of short films paired with music to be performed by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. The Homegrown Project: American Stories in Music and Film was scheduled for this fall but postponed until November 2021 due to COVID-19.

Kite is one of the films paired with a musical score that will be performed by the Alexandria Symphony in November 2021. (Courtesy photo)

One such film short, Kite, is about a boy intrigued by flying whose imagination is sparked by a kite and the magical bond he shares with his grandfather. Kite will screen next year accompanied by the score “Blue Cathedral,” composed by Jennifer Higdon.

Finding Manny tells the story of Holocaust survivor Manny Drukier who escaped a death train. He happens upon an online article that compels him and his family to embark on a journey back to the places of his youth. Directed and written by Kacey Cox and co-produced by Cindy Drukier, this Canadian feature documentary will remind you that home truly is where the heart is. As we regroup for the holidays in the new normal of pandemic life, a story such as Finding Manny puts hardship and horrific human tragedy into a new perspective. Hope is a gift.

Holocaust survivor Manny Drukier of Finding Manny revisits his past in this plaintive feature documentary. (Courtesy photo)

The 14th annual AFF concluded 11/22 with the 2020 excellence in film awards held via Zoom. Seven filmmakers earned this year’s kudos, with a special induction of Joe Cantwell into the AFF Hall of Fame as the “Superstar of the Decade” for his ten years of dynamic dedication to spotlighting and advocating for the annual nonprofit film showcase. This honor has been bestowed on only three people.

This year the Best of the Fest award went to 9-5 filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar. The coveted Audience Award was won by local filmmakers as well. Legacy Sessions was directed by Port City brewmeister and return AFF filmmaker David Ashton. Stars Jacob Glasser graduated from TC Williams High School and Bonnie Jourdan is a veteran of the Little Theater of Alexandria.

The Special Performance Award went to Roger Kablar for his portrayal of the almost inimitable comedian in Saving Robin Williams.

The Best Regional Film prize went to James Ross, Music Director of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, for a film that also happened to be a Homegrown Project submission. Beat the Machine, a silent film narrative of survival and achieving power, was directed by Shannon Washington of Shannondoah Films.

Hat tip to all the filmmakers and organizers who participated in making the virtual 2020 Alexandria Film Festival a success. In the spirit of the show must go on, Patti North and Margaret Wohler improvised a compelling virtual home-theater cinéma vérité. The 15th annual AFF will no doubt be back better than ever next year. At Z Movies declares…now that’s entertainment!

ICYMI: Alexandria Businesses Bring Back Drive-In Movies Starting Oct. 31

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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