23 to watch in 2023: Kathryn Hecht, founder/executive director of AVFilm

Kathryn Hecht is spearheading efforts to open the Plaza Cinema Center tri-plex in Healdsburg by the end of 2023 featuring first run, art-house films.|

For more people to watch in 2023, go here.

Name: Kathryn Hecht

Title or position: Founder and executive director of AVFilm (Alexander Valley Film Society) and co-owner of the Clover Theater in Cloverdale

On the job since: A force on the Sonoma County film and movie scene since 2013

Age: 49

Hometown: Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston

Why is Kathryn Hecht someone to watch:

In what could have been a film plot line, Kathryn Hecht and her husband Ryan left New York City in 2013 to buy an old movie theater in a small town they had never heard of.

They managed to raise the funds to renovate and reopen The Clover Theater in Cloverdale, moving across country even before they had the money in hand or a deal secured.

A year later, Hecht founded The Alexander Valley Film Society, or AVFilm, raising some $3 million for educational and community programming, including The Alexander Valley Film Festival or AVFest.

Hecht, undaunted by long odds and big risks, has a new goal for 2023: to bring art house films to Healdsburg, which has been without a theater since The Raven closed in 2020. The Plaza Cinema Center would be multipurpose for “the exhibition, study and enjoyment of film and media arts.” Plans call for a three-screen theater downstairs and classrooms, offices and meeting space for AVFilm above.

As the head and heart of AVFilm, Hecht oversees the nonprofit’s strategic planning, financial management, fundraising and operations. Observers say she brings to her latest project a track record of manifesting difficult projects through a mixture of entrepreneurship, enthusiasm and a talent for bringing disparate groups together under common cause.

Hecht knows the importance of building a powerful team. She enlisted Alfonso Felder, executive vice president for administration for the San Francisco Giants, to serve as volunteer leader for the project. Felder is on the board of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which supports old movie houses out of the belief they arecritical to a community’s quality of life.

“I’ll do all the visioning, fundraising and operational work and he’s going to make sure we end up with a really beautiful space,” Heck said.

The project is well on its way, with a location already scoped out just off the plaza in a former Bear Republic brewing space and a healthy foundation of seed money.

Hecht, who has served five years on the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, intends to “hit the ground running” in 2023. The team has raised $1 million raised so far and next year will continue to fundraise and Move forward.

A self-identified “community builder,” she sees the cinema center as a chance to to summon the power of film to further diversity, equity and inclusion for different groups in the community.

What others are saying about Hecht:

“Kathryn is open-minded and she connects with people. She can talk easily with anyone and she is a really good listener and great about getting people excited about a project. She can find people’s common links and ways we can all help each other,” said Jenny Gomez, board chairwoman of AVFilm.

What Hecht says about making the list and her work in 2023:

“I’m quite touched. I’ve worked hard here on behalf of my community for a full eight years and being recognized for that work makes it that much more special. And the timing is exciting because I’m about to make my biggest leap in about 10 years and it’s a really big leap being powered with so much hope and promise. I anticipate a very busy year involving so many parts of my work in the arts: economic development, advocacy, diversity, equity and access - and a love and appreciation for movies. I’ll be continuing to dig into the power of this really accessible art that can do so many things for so many people.”

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


For more people to watch in 2023, go here.

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