Filmmakers from across the globe are braving the wintery wilds of Alaska to showcase, compete, and celebrate their work during the 19th Annual Anchorage International Film Festival beginning on Dec. 6.
Over 100 new and independent films, representing 47 countries, will be shown over the course of 10 days at several theatre locations, giving Anchorage audiences ample opportunity to engage in workshops, screenings, and plenty of organized after-parties.
While some might assume that the distance to Alaska and time of year in which the festival is held, could be a deterrent for many traveling filmmakers, excitement and attendance continues to grow according to John Gamache, AIFF Filmmaker Relations Manager.
“Alaska continues to draw larger than average participation,” said Gamache. “Over 40 of the 100 filmmakers, including Alaskans, are coming to the festival and bringing along additional cast and crew. We have people coming from Finland, Italy, Sweden, and a lot of people from the U.S. and Canada. We often don’t have to persuade filmmakers to come to Alaska.”
While filmmaker attendance may not be much of a concern for organizers, this year had a unique set of challenges due to the fact that the festival does not have a current Director of Programming. Jessica Kaiser, who formally held the role left the organization last year and her position remains unfilled, according to Ida Theresa Myklebost, AIFF Program Director.
“The former leader left last year and it was too late in the year for someone new to learn the procedure, so this year the Board has done an amazing job stepping in,” Gamache said.
The adjustment in leadership was not the only thing new for the film festival for 2019 as the submission process for filmmakers also underwent a change.
“We received nearly 400 submissions for this year, which was a little lower than last year because of stricter rules and not giving away as many submission waivers. We want to ensure Anchorage gets the reputation for being a fair festival and if films get in for free they can’t be in competition for awards,” said Myklebost. “Anchorage might have started as a local film festival but it certainly has the possibility, and momentum, to become a really established international film festival and it’s well on its way to do that. It really has made a name in the independent film community around the nation.”
That momentum was not hindered by the fact that the 2018 AIFF got off to a shaky start when Anchorage was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on the festival’s opening day on Nov. 30, leaving organizers shaken and uncertain about the fate of the festival.
“The Bear Tooth suffered, the Alaska Experience Theatre suffered, filmmakers didn’t get to come up to Alaska or didn’t know if they could,” said Myklebost. “But at the same time we had an amazing local community who came with brooms and brushes and helped fix the theatres, cleaned-up dust and debris, and we actually had an audience at the festival despite the earthquake, which is something that speaks volumes about the Alaskan audience.”
The Award Categories for the 2019 AIFF include Narrative, Documentary, Made in Alaska, Screenplay, Short, Animation, Super Short, and Kids Short films with several Alaskan filmmakers along with cast and crew, screening and competing at this year’s event.
“First of all we are really excited about this program and have some incredibly strong feature and short films,” said Myklebost. “We have a big Made in Alaska category including, Native Alaska short programs, the 5-Day Film Royal, and the Alaska Teen Media’s ‘After School Special.’ The festival is getting really good local community involvement but at the same time Anchorage is an international film festival and it really is being placed on the map.”
Increased international attention has brought some heavy hitters to Anchorage to garner publicity for their films and subject matter. Two such films that are being featured during the festival are in contention for Oscar nominations and address powerful social injustices. On Dec. 6 ‘Sin Cielo’ written and directed by L.A. filmmaker, Jianna Maarten Saada, will be shown at the Bear Tooth Theatre. The story set in a corrupt Mexican border town, depicts a young teenage boy’s turmoil in the wake of his girlfriend’s disappearance.
“It’s a Romeo and Juliet-style love story — very much boy-meets-girl,” said Maarten Saada. “At the crux of the film they make this date to walk to school together and on the day they are supposed to meet, he oversleeps and misses her. She walks to school alone and on the way gets abducted.”
The second Oscar contender, ‘Those Who Remained,’ written and directed by Hungarian filmmaker, Barnabás Tóth, will be shown at the Anchorage Museum in conjunction with the Alaska Jewish Museum on Dec 12. The story reflects loss and redefining the context of love between a middle-aged man and teenage girl after losing both of their families in the camps during WWII.
“For me, this film is first of all a hymn, an ode to a man who is totally wrecked but pulls himself together for one last time to save another half-destroyed soul. And meanwhile, it is a one-sided, beautiful love story,” said Tóth in a recent Director Statement. “We’ve seen so many films about what happened before and during the Holocaust. But very few showed us the fate of those who remained with us, those who came back.”
In addition to their involvement in the Anchorage Film Festival, Myklebost and Gamache are heavily involved in producing and attending Film Festivals across the globe. Myklebost, a Norwegian-American film director and journalist based in Oslo, Norway screened her award winning short documentary film ‘Unwelcome’ at over 30 film festivals (including the AIFF in 2017) since its debut.
Gamache is both an independent filmmaker and video producer, and the Associate Director of the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was at Woods Hole where he and Myklebost met while she was screening ‘Unwelcome’ and for the next two years they traveled together across the U.S. showing her film at as many festivals as possible.
Their hard work and diligence came to fruition when Myklebost recently announced that Newsweek — home to 45 million unique visitors to its website per month — acquired her film on Dec. 1 2019.
“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “It’s hard to get your work out of your own living room. Getting it into big festivals is a major step and you hope your film gets a distribution deal in the end. This is the goal; it’s what every filmmaker hopes for.”
This year also marks the third year Gamache and Myklebost are returning to Anchorage as AIFF event organizers and continue to enjoy their experience each year. “What’s unique about the Anchorage Film Festival is its rather down-to-earth,” said Gamache. “This is a festival where filmmakers and audiences can come join in and just be a part of the whole festival.”
With years of experience of organizing, managing, and attending Film Festivals, Gamache encourages all Anchorage audiences to come out and participate.
“It’s great to watch people who come to a film festival for the first time sitting in the room with a bunch of people they know from their community and watch something together most people in the world will never get the chance to see,” he said. “It’s strong and it’s powerful and it’s a wonderful unique experience you can’t duplicate on Netflix, you can’t duplicate on HBO, you can’t really even duplicate it going to a big blockbuster film anymore because the days of everybody clapping and cheering the way you used to is over. Film festivals really are the last place you can do that; that you can have those experiences, and they stay with you.”
The Anchorage International Film Festival is a 501©3 organization founded in 2001 and committed to independent filmmaking. Hundreds of volunteers, filmmakers, artists, sponsors, partners, and supporters make it possible to put on a two-week event every December. To find the full list of films and events and to purchase tickets visit www.anchoragefilmfestival.org.