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Alexander Valley Film Festival returns with 26 films at five venues

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What: The second annual Alexander Valley Film Festival, held in Northern Sonoma County.

When: Oct. 20-23

Where: Venues include The Clover in Cloverdale, The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Alexander Valley Hall and the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Tickets: All-Access pass is $375 and film-lovers pass is $110; Neighbor Screening, $65; Opening Night Film & Block Party, $50; Closing Night film and awards ceremony, $40. Individual tickets: $12, $11 seniors, free to students with ID. Students must queue up 15 minutes before each film begins.

Box office: Pass pickup and onsite ticket purchases may be made at Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg and Plank Coffee in Cloverdale during certain hours. Venue box offices will open one hour before the first film of the day.

Information: 707-893-7150 or avfilmsociety.org.

When she was thinking about launching a local film festival, Cloverdale resident Kathryn Hecht looked to the Mill Valley Film Festival as a model, and especially to the nonprofit California Film Institute, which founded the festival in 1977.

Hecht, who owns The Clover Theater in Cloverdale with her husband, Ryan, decided that the best way to proceed was to start her own nonprofit that would serve as an umbrella for a small but ambitious festival.

“A nonprofit can take chances with showing an art house film for a couple of nights,” she said, adding that most movie theaters in small towns cannot draw enough audience to run those kinds of films for a few weeks.

So Hecht, a former New York City actress, started the nonprofit Alexander Valley Film Society in 2014, then went to work on its educational outreach arm. The Alexander Valley Film Lab was founded in 2015 when a board member, an animator at Pixar Animation Studios, gave some workshops at the three high schools.

“We led with the educational piece to the programs to help seed the first year of programming,” she said. “Almost everybody can get behind public education.”

Then, her nonprofit added a monthly screening series at The Clover and The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg. Last October, she finally added the third and final puzzle piece. The first annual Alexander Valley Film Festival took place at The Clover and The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg, with a few parties held in Geyserville.

This Oct. 20-23, the film festival will return to those three Northern Sonoma County towns with an intriguing lineup of 26 films that range from beloved classics and cutting-edge animation to offbeat comedies and thought-provoking documentaries. The festival’s theme is bringing the world to the community and the community to the world.

“This festival is designed to engage, provoke, excite and reflect both the diversity and commonality within our community and beyond,” Hecht said. “Film is the easiest point of entry for people to connect, because it’s visual and accessible. There’s no experience like being in a darkened theater with other people.”

During the festival, guests will get a chance to mingle with the directors, actors and other industry luminaries; enjoy a classic movie screened outdoors at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery; and take part in gala opening and closing night parties.

This year, the festival has grown by about 50 percent, Hecht said. Film lovers can watch films from many genres, including mind-bending sci-fi, inspiring environmental films and a fun shorts program. Of course, there will be an educational element as well.

“There’s a countywide student film competition, and the winners will screen at the festival,” Hecht said. “Before that program, there will be a visiting filmmakers’ panel.”

Thanks to an anonymous donor, any student with a student ID can get into any screening during the festival for free, except for the opening night film.

It takes a lot of volunteers to make the festival happen, including the 15-member community screening team, who volunteered to vet the submissions.

“They watched over 150 films,” Hecht said. “Five of them watched all of the films submitted.”

The final decisions were made by Hecht and Connie White, who books the films for The Clover Theater. Both of them travel on a regular basis to other film festivals like Sundance, to scout out the best offerings.

What: The second annual Alexander Valley Film Festival, held in Northern Sonoma County.

When: Oct. 20-23

Where: Venues include The Clover in Cloverdale, The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Alexander Valley Hall and the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Tickets: All-Access pass is $375 and film-lovers pass is $110; Neighbor Screening, $65; Opening Night Film & Block Party, $50; Closing Night film and awards ceremony, $40. Individual tickets: $12, $11 seniors, free to students with ID. Students must queue up 15 minutes before each film begins.

Box office: Pass pickup and onsite ticket purchases may be made at Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg and Plank Coffee in Cloverdale during certain hours. Venue box offices will open one hour before the first film of the day.

Information: 707-893-7150 or avfilmsociety.org.

This year, about half of the films are documentary, and the other half are narrative features. In order to reflect the community, the festival will showcase three films that feature the Spanish language, and three films that reflect the LGBT community.

“It’s important that people can identify themselves up on the big screen,” Hecht said.

“The Incident,” directed by Mexican director Isaac Ezban, is a sci-fi thriller that Hecht compares to a modern-day Hitchcock movie.

“I think he’s an auteur,” she said of Ezban. “He has an incredible storytelling sense and an incredible visual sense.”

“Take Me For a Ride,” a film made in Ecuador, is a Spanish language and an LGBT film. It tells the story of the love between two teenage schoolgirls in Ecuador.

“Elijah’s Ashes,” a rare LGBT comedy, is about two brothers who take a road trip to bury their dad’s ashes.

“One is gay and one is homophobic, and hilarity ensues,” Hecht said. “This film was ... unknown to us, and it was universally adored.”

Most of the festival’s films have not been released yet to the theaters, with a few exceptions. But many have already won major awards at other film festivals.

“‘American Honey’ and “Certain Women’ are critically acclaimed indie darlings,” Hecht said. “‘Seasons’ was done by the guys who did ‘Winged Migration’ (the 2001 indie-documentary) ... It’s about 15,000 years of civilization, and what it’s done for the planet.”

There’s even a film that was made on location in Geyserville last summer. “For What it’s Worth” is about a troubled young man trying to prove himself in the criminal world. Some students from the Alexander Valley Junior Film Society, a branch of the Alexander Valley Film Society, served as interns on the film.

While the films will be playing all weekend on two screens at The Clover and two screens at The Raven Film Center, film lovers won’t want to miss a handful of special events at various venues.

The weekend kicks off Oct. 20, with a “Neighbor Screening” at the Alexander Valley Hall that includes a dinner at 6 p.m. and the 7 p.m. screening of “National Bird,” an eye-opening, whistleblower documentary about the U.S. drone program in Afghanistan.

On Oct. 21, the Canadian film “The Saver” will screen at 6 p.m. during Opening Night at The Clover Theater, followed by a block party along First Street with live music, libations and food.

“It’s a sweet story about a 16-year-old girl who loses her mother and decides she is going to become a millionaire,” Hecht said. “The lead actress, Imajyn, is coming from Canada with her mother.”

On Oct. 22, Hitchcock’s classic thriller, “Rear Window,” will be shown outdoors at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, owned by one of the most iconic film directors of our time. Wine and food will be available for sale.

“It’s fun to throw in a classic,” Hecht said. “‘Rear Window’ is why people go to the movies. It’s an astonishingly well-made film.”

On Oct. 23, the Raven Film Center will screen “Finding Kim,” an intimate film about a female-to-male transition that Hecht discovered at the Seattle International Film Festival. The director and others involved in the film will attend the closing night party. Following the film, an awards ceremony at the Shed in Healdsburg will feature audience and student film awards.

“We’re a storytelling culture,” Hecht said. “There’s really something so moving about someone putting their creativity into words and images.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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