*****FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*****
June 16, 2020
Molly Kreuzman, Communications Coordinator
Ashland Independent Film Festival Wraps Up First Virtual Festival with Awards Celebration
Host Bruce Campbell Announces 2020 Award Winners
ASHLAND, OREGON - The Ashland Independent Film Festival wrapped up its 19th annual edition, which was also its first virtual festival, on Sunday, June 14, with an Awards Celebration hosted by actor Bruce Campbell. Campbell presented the jury awards to the best documentary and narrative features and shorts, which came with $10,000 in cash prizes that the festival raised through a Kickstarter campaign last fall. He also introduced special award presentations to filmmakers Renee Tajima-Peña, Tom Kalin, and Garrett Bradley and distributor Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing. AIFF directors Richard Herskowitz and Erica Thompson closed the evening by announcing the audience awards, drawn from viewers’ ratings on the festival’s Film Festival Flix platform.
Taping of the live-streamed awards night
The live-streamed event is archived and available for viewing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSSB0KVdCoI.
During the award ceremony, normally held live at the Historic Ashland Armory, Campbell, Herskowitz, and Thompson walked a virtual red carpet and were interviewed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Jonathan Luke Stevens. Stevens later played the part of “Bruce Campbell’s biggest fan,” the sole, very obnoxious member of the Awards Celebration audience. Campbell commented ruefully during the show: “The CDC said we could only have one fan in the room. The bad news is it’s this guy.”
Over 24 days (May 22 – June 14, 2020), the festival screened 36 feature-length programs and 8 curated shorts programs, comprising 66 short films. Total views for films were 19,877 (estimating 1.7 people per recorded viewing, the online festival industry practice), a 16% increase over 2019. Adding 2,084 views for the Opening Night Bash, Preview Night, and Awards Celebration special events, total views were 21,961, well over 2019’s on-site attendance of 19,288.
“The last three months have been a whirlwind,” said Richard Herskowitz, AIFF’s Artistic and Executive Director, “and I’m immensely proud of what our team pulled off. Every single program was followed by a Q&A, and the virtual hookups allowed us to reach far-flung participants like editor Walter Murch (Coup 53) in London, directors Maryam Touzani (Adam) in Morocco and Fernanda Valadez (Identifying Features) in Mexico, and cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Swoon) in New York. We were also able to recreate some of the networking and socializing opportunities that filmmakers cherish by hosting a weekly ‘Virtual Afterlounge’ with our AIFF20 filmmakers via Zoom.”
Image from Sunday Dinner
The response of filmmakers to the festival’s pivot online, executed rapidly after AIFF’s original April 16-20 dates were canceled due to the pandemic, was overwhelmingly positive. During the Awards Celebration, filmmaker Kevin Mead, director of Sunday Dinner, winner of the Jim Teece Award for Best Narrative Short, said, “The day the Virtual Festival started was the day the reality hit me what we were going to be missing out on by not being able to be in person at festivals. We’re not going to be able to sit in a dark theater in the back of the room and watch people watch this movie. …. So, I thought it was amazing that many festivals–and yours obviously was one of the first–got the virtual thing off the ground. I can’t explain how gratifying it is to know that people actually watched it and really enjoyed it.” Sunday Dinner’s writer and lead actor Don Fanelli added, “It was so impressive. The turnaround, the transparency, the support. … What you guys put together as quickly as you did was really amazing.”
Every year, the festival gives a few special awards. This year, the James Blue Award, presented by Daniel Blue, went to Garrett Bradley; the Indie Institution Award, presented by B. Ruby Rich, went to Marcus Hu and Strand Releasing; and the Pride Award, presented by Emily Simon, went to Tom Kalin. Richard Herskowitz presented the Rogue Award to Renee Tajima-Peña.
Image from I'm No Longer Here
The winner of the Best Narrative Feature, Fernando Frias’s I’m No Longer Here, had been selected for the original festival in April but, at the request of its distributor, Netflix, was not included in the virtual festival. A decision was made by AIFF not to penalize filmmakers whose films could not be screened online, and all original selections remained in the jury award competitions. Only virtually screened films, however, were eligible for the audience awards.
The winners of the jury awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Narrative Feature each received cash prizes of $4,000. The winner of the Les Blank Award for Best Documentary Feature was Ursula Liang’s Down the Dark Stairwell, about which the jury stated, “Compressing a story of incredible depth into a briskly moving feature, the film combines vérité immediacy, courtroom reconstruction and thoughtful reflection to examine structural racism and police brutality with delicate and even-handed precision—a remarkable achievement.”
The jury award winners for Best Documentary and Narrative Short each received $1,000. Quinn Else’s Fort Irwin won Best Narrative Short and Luz Carasa, a Portland-based filmmaker, earned Best Documentary Short for Giants, a film about a neighborhood’s fight to preserve three giant sequoias. The jury stated, “Giants tells a timely story of a neighborhood taking action and having an impact and does so with artistry and originality.”
Jury awards were also given to Heather Young’s Murmur for Best Narrative Feature Cinematography and Deborah Shaffer’s Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack for Best Documentary Feature Editing.
Image from Public Trust
Audience awards, tabulated from viewer’s online ratings, went to five features and shorts. Alongside Sunday Dinner picking up the narrative short prize, Barcelona-based David Regos took the audience award for Best Documentary Short for A Fistful of Rubbish. Maryam Touzani’s Adam, distributed by Strand Releasing, won the Varsity Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, while David Garrett Byars’ Public Trust attracted the Rogue Creamery Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The final audience award is a new one, named after the beloved Vice President of the Coming Attractions Theatres chain, who passed away in late 2019. The Lee Fuchsmann Award for Best Local Short went to Kathy Roselli’s playful environmental documentary Way to Go!
The complete list of AIFF2020 award winners follows:
iNDIE INSTITUTION AWARD
Marcus Hu and Strand Releasing
JAMES BLUE AWARD
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
I'm No Longer Here
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE CINEMATOGRAPHY
LES BLANK AWARD: BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Down a Dark Stairwell
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE EDITING
Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack
BEST NARRATIVE SHORT
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
VARSITY AUDIENCE AWARD: BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
ROGUE CREAMERY AUDIENCE AWARD: BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
JIM TEECE AUDIENCE AWARD: BEST NARRATIVE SHORT
AUDIENCE AWARD: BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
A Fistful of Rubbish
LEE FUCHSMANN AUDIENCE AWARD: BEST LOCALS SHORT
Way To Go!
SPECIAL JURY RECOGNITION AWARDS
EXCELLENCE IN DOCUMENTARY FEATURE PRODUCTION
Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock
EXCELLENCE IN DOCUMENTARY FEATURE EDITING
Down a Dark Stairwell
EXCELLENCE IN NARRATIVE FEATURE PRODUCTION
EXCELLENCE IN NARRATIVE FEATURE CINEMATOGRAPHY
Take Out Girl
EXCELLENCE IN NARRATIVE SHORT PRODUCTION
EXCELLENCE IN DOCUMENTARY SHORT PRODUCTION
Ashes to Ashes
ABOUT ASHLAND INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL (www.ashlandfilm.org)
Cited by MovieMaker Magazine several times as one of the “Top 25 Coolest Festivals in the World” and as one of “The Best Online Film Festivals of 2020,” the Ashland Independent Film Festival is usually held annually in April in Southern Oregon. AIFF screens 100-plus selected independent documentary, narrative, animation, and short films released in the past year. In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, AIFF moved online for its 19th annual festival and extended its five-day event to 24 days.