Cover Story

The Alexandria Film Festival Is On Now!

Putting the movies and the magic in Movie Magic Month

The house was packed at the Old Town Patagonia—formerly the Old Town Theater—for the early screening of Living Wine.

Alexandria, VA – For three years in a row, November has been Movie Magic Month in Alexandria. This year is no different. From November 10 through 27, the 16th annual Alexandria Film Festival will screen over 50 movies of all genres, uniting films, filmmakers, and film lovers worldwide.

For the first time post-pandemic, the festival will be in person, but it will maintain its virtual component by offering a selection of hybrid viewing modes.

“Film is meant to be enjoyed in a theater, with a larger screen than anyone has at home, experienced with others in a communal space,” says Alexandria Film Festival Founder and Executive Director Patti North about this year’s festivities. “Streaming is fine and obviously very convenient, but it can never replace the emotional and aesthetic intensity of the theater. And very significantly, having filmmakers here in person (or sometimes via Zoom or Skype) adds something that streaming could never offer: interaction and conversation with, and insights from, the artists themselves.”

On November 11 and 12, screenings will be at the AMC Hoffman 22 Theater (206 Hoffman Street, Alexandria). On November 13, 1-5 pm, screenings will be at The Lyceum (201 S Washington St). From November 13-27, the festival will comprise virtual cinema streaming.

Founder Patti North and Joe Cantwell, Strategic Advisor at Abramorama, the film distributor for Living Wine.

Founded in 2007 by Executive Director Patti North, then-Vice Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts, the Alexandria Film Festival began as most filmmakers do, as an independent operation.

Dara Sanders, current chair of the Alexandria Film Festival, was drawn to the indie aura of the film fest eight years ago in an indie film group at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library.

“One of the members of that group was a member of the film fest,” says Sanders, “and she encouraged me to join. I started simple, helping with judging, then it became helping with programming, and I was granted progressively more responsibility and became more involved over time.”

However, Sanders’s interest in film did not pique until her college film class. “That was the first time I went in-depth and understood filmmaking and the devices filmmakers use,” she says. “In grad school, a video store near me had off-the-wall indie films. I got into the habit of renting those.”

Before she knew it, Sanders’ curiosity in renting independent films saw her grow into the role of vice chair of the Alexandria Film Festival until two years ago when the chair stepped down, leaving Sanders to fill the position.

This year, the Alexandria Film Festival is returning in person. With Sanders and founder North at the helm, it is a hit before it has even begun. In September and October, the festival presented two early screenings at the Old Town Patagonia store on King Street (the former Old Town Theater): The Human Trial (virtual screening) and Living Wine, about an independent, sustainable, organic winery in California.

Seeing the whole picture

The Alexandria Film Festival is about much more than film. It is about cultivation, culture, inspiration, and collaboration, which is why the Living Wine premiere saw a sold-out crowd, free snacks and beverages, and a post-screening Q&A with the director, Lori Miller.

The line was out the door for early screening entry, an indicator of the festival’s success.

“This was a unique screening for us especially,” says Miller. “The cool thing about the Alexandria Film Fest is they look for interesting ways to screen films based on subject matter and theme. We were invited to show the film at a special event at Patagonia. Patagonia used to be a historic movie theatre, it is a sustainable brand, and the film is about sustainability.”

While this was Miller’s first time in Alexandria for the festival, it was not her first time to be involved. In 2011, Miller was a producer of the film Shakespeare High about underserved children in Los Angeles who discover Shakespeare and are inspired to pursue higher education.

“I know it was a great screening, but the difference for me now is that after years of producing, I started directing. To come here as the creative person behind the film was really exciting. The experience was great from beginning to end. I worked directly with Patti, and I knew a lot was going on behind the scenes to make this unique event happen here. We had a fully packed house, a nice Q&A, it was a lovely experience.”

Lovely experiences are precisely what North and Sanders aim to curate throughout the festival. The whole month will be such a lovely experience that Mayor Wilson has proclaimed November as Movie Magic Month for the third time.

Making the magic happen

How does the Alexandria Film Festival make this month so magical? Since its inception, the festival has brought the wonder of movies to life by hosting unique showings that program food, drink, and event pairings into their screenings and offering various film genres and styles. Its ability to do so has only gotten better each year.

The Old Town Patagonia Store on King Street used to be the Old Town Theater, where the film festival held most of its screenings. It still houses and uses the big screen and projector.

In 2014, after years of success with the City, the Alexandria Film Festival became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, earning grants and gaining sponsorships from increasingly larger entities each year. Not long after it transitioned to nonprofit status, the Alexandria Film Festival welcomed Sanders to its creative team.

For six years, North, Sanders, and many volunteers put their hearts and souls into making the Alexandria Film Festival better than they could have imagined.

Regarding the art of programming, Sanders says, “I like to see the films we get when we have a showcase and figure out how to fit them in, how to fill their space, what to pair them with, what theme to designate for their night. That fascinates me. The more I’ve gotten involved, the more I find it interesting to talk with filmmakers because sometimes you can watch a film and not realize there is so much more effort behind it than you thought. The cool thing is talking to them about their creative process.”

For six years, North and Sanders ran their program this way, creatively programming events around the films, welcoming directors, and getting deeply involved in every aspect of the film process. Then 2020 brought a long intermission. How do you run a film festival if you cannot show films?

Patti North found a way. “The fest has been virtual for the last two years,” she says. “I prefer movies in a theater, but we learned a lot from having to pivot, and now we screen films throughout the year.”

All smiles for the Alexandria Film Festival!

As Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Facetime, and other virtual platforms rose to the top of society’s communication avenues, virtual screening didn’t seem impossible. It became so popular that now North and her team continue to offer virtual screenings throughout the month.

“This is the first year we will be hybrid with in-person events throughout the weekend and, after that, streaming through Thanksgiving Weekend. Of course, filmmakers have remained busy throughout the pandemic, and we get to enjoy the fruits of their labors.”

In addition to 50 films screened in-theater or virtually and director meet and greets, what can moviegoers expect from the 2022 Alexandria Film Festival? Shall we cap off the month of movie magic with an awards ceremony?

Behind the scenes of a festival film from a previous year. (Courtesy Alexandria Film Festival)

“We will have numerous directors on site to take questions and pose for pictures with our guests,” says North. “The awards ceremony will be Saturday night at Ted’s Montana Grill. They will get to vote for their favorite film. We will award two Audience Awards this year. The in-person audience will vote for one, and the virtual audience gets to vote for the other.”

To register for the Alexandria Film Festival, see the complete list of films, and vote for your favorites, visit Don’t forget to share your experience with #alexfilmfest.

AMC HOFFMAN 22 Featured Films

Visit for a list of all in-person and virtual screenings.

Friday, November 11, AMC Hoffman 22

12:00 noon


Salute to Service

Be Moved

Dance of Life

Her Magnum Opus

One Old, One Young


What’s The Mark?

3:30 pm

The American Experience

The Dark Side

Flowing Home



Lilith NPK

One Pint at a Time

Second Hand

Sentinel Inside a Sacred Duty

The Sun Rises in the East

The Tell-Tale Plant

Thank You For Your Service

This Vast and Mysterious Ocean

To Be Forgotten


7:00 pm

Love & Desire

Just Let Me Go

A Lone Star Love


7:30 pm

Women on the Move

Brainwashed Sex-Camera-Power

Experimental Curator The Sally Dixon Story

Guest House

Oh, Mother of Mine

Tillie’s Great Escape

Saturday November 12, AMC Hoffman 22

12:00 noon

Foreign Films

Men & Masculinity

Aaron with Two A’s


Cat Daddies


Forgive Me


Loose Change A Memoir of Childhood



Thank You

3:30 pm

Battles Won & Lost

Barry Farm


Goodbye to All Cats

4:00 pm

Before and After Tragedy

Hitler’s Olympics: The Debate of 1936

Repairing the World Stories from the Tree of Life

Three Minutes A Lengthening

7:30 pm

Behind the Camera

8:00 pm


Image of an American Frederick Douglass and The Right to Vote

The Preacher

The Split

Spring Break on the Ukrainian Border

Sunday November 13, The Lyceum

1:00 pm

Commissioner Gordon: Oh Snap

Hitler’s Olympics: The Debate of 1936




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