By Indra Arriaga
The Anchorage International Film Festival (AIFF) this year continues to be solid, entertaining, and smart through-and-through. The programmers did a great job in mixing and matching content that resulted in screening combinations that are interesting and timely. As the IAFF closes its 2019 cycle this weekend, it does so with some films that honor Alaska, its people and its history.
The opportunities of for filmmakers and audiences to connect at this year’s IAFF were generous and greatly appreciated all around. Swedish filmmaker Kim Jansson, who premiered her film ‘The Family Farm’ at AIFF says that her film was presented in a way that made sense in the programming and the festival provides a good mix between and filmmakers and audiences, making Q&A sessions fun.
“It’s a welcoming experience,” says Jansson.
The Family Farm resonates with audiences for many reasons, the similarities between climate and challenges to sustain a way of life for one, as well as its depiction of a personal narrative that is both reticent and universal about intergenerational relationships and their respective acceptance of their choices and experiences. Maybe one can go home again after all, even if it’s just for a visit. One of the festival’s strongest films is ‘Laugh or Die’ by Heikki Kujanpää. Laugh or Die was Finland’s official entry to the Golden Globe Awards. The film is about a theater group led by Parikka, “Finland’s funniest man,” that is detained on “Death Island” outside Helsinki in 1918, during the country’s civil war. The group is forced into acting as if their lives depend on it, because they do. The occurrences during this time wounded the country deeply and healing from it is an open-ended process, a point the director drives home with grace and humor.
The Anchorage International Film Festival continues through this week and closes on Saturday, December 14 so there are still many opportunities to see some wonderful films. Of AIFF’s offering of 100 films, the majority of them are short films curated and presented in thematic blocks, including a block of Alaskan made shorts (“SHORTS: Made in Alaska”, screening 12/11) that reflect the growing number of local filmmakers and the evolution of filmmaking in the state. Other blocks of short films coming up this week include “Martini Matinee” at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub on 12/12; “SHORTS: Power to the People” at the Alaska Experience Theater on 12/13; “SHORTS: Our World” at the Anchorage Museum on 12/13.
On December 14 there is a segment called “SHORTS: Love & Pain” at the Anchorage Museum. The Anchorage Press had a chance to chat with Arthur Halpren and Kelly Miller who direct and star in the short film ‘Touchscreen’, respectively. Touchscreen is about love in the time of digital interactions in which living behind a screen is both safe and isolating. The story is about a man whose primary way of reaching out for love and sex is through the safety of a computer screen, when he is faced with the decision to take his relationship offline and into the messy and unpredictable real world, he must face deeply rooted fears and weigh the risks. As technology redefines intimacy and expectations.
“It’s the actual human interaction that can be a very dangerous or a vulnerable place to be,” states Miller. Miller delivers the role beautifully, with restraint, quietude and the finesse of a young John Lithgow. The strength of the narrative is that this story, and the character’s experience can be just about anyone’s regardless of gender or sexuality, if one is single and looking for love, the touchscreen is the new “wingman”.
Two films not to miss on December 14 are Immigrant Outpost, and ATTLA, which are about some of the people and experiences that make Alaska unique and great. Immigrant Outpost by John D. Hay Jr. is the story of the Filipino-American community in Anchorage through their own lens and with their own voices. The film narrates the long history between the U.S. and the Philippines in the context of Alaska, thus providing a way for the communities, Filipino and non-Filipino, to know each other a little better.
ATTLA is about George Attla’s life, persona and his 50-year dogsled racing career. The film by Catharine Axley explores Attla’s story from his childhood as a tuberculosis survivor in the Alaskan interior, to his rise as a ten-time world champion and mythical state hero, to a village elder resolutely training his grandnephew to race his team one last time. Axley uses old footage to that informs viewers of the beauty of Alaska and the richness of the cultures in a way that is compelling and respectful. ATTLA, the man and the film honors the heart of Alaska, the Huslia community and the resiliency of courage across generations.