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Friends and Films, Old and New in Ashland!

Posted on April 30, 2018 by Amy Heller | 1 Comment

Last month, Dennis and I were excited to be invited to the Ashland Independent Film Festival in southern Oregon. Neither of us had ever visited this part of the Pacific Northwest (we are both NJ natives) and we were excited to experience another great film festival led by our long-time friend, Richard Herskowitz. Richard, who we each first encountered in the 1980s when he headed the Cornell Cinema, is a brilliant film programmer and scholar. Over the decades Richard has invited us to all the venues he has programmed — Ithaca, NY, Charlottesville, VA, Houston, TX and now, Ashland. He is a marvelous host and he always brings amazing people and films together. And the 2018 AIFF was another cinephile’s delight.
 
(Dennis and Amy and breathtaking views)
 
But first, the place! In Ashland, all you have to do is turn your head to see panoramas of glorious snow-capped mountains and verdant hills. The town itself, nestled between these gorgeous peaks, is absolutely charming. All year, Ashland is host to a wonderful Shakespeare festival and the town is designed to cater to the needs and wants of vacationers and theater geeks. Walk down Main Street and you pass dozens of excellent restaurants, charming clothing and shoe stores, well-stocked record shops, great vintage clothing and antique dealers, and bookstores (our weakness).
 
The town also has two wonderful movie theaters, a science museum, and Southern Oregon University. Also, for those who like such things, it is a center for great cheese (with blue a specialty), wine, and hard cider. Everywhere we went in Ashland we encountered active and engaged filmgoers and festival volunteers who had chosen to retire to this amazing community — and we could see why. 

The 17th annual AIFF brought a wonderful selection of films, filmmakers, and cinema experts to town — including some old friends of Milestone… and some new! We were very happy to get the chance to hang out with pals Jonathan Marlow (filmmaker, musician, and self-described “purveyor of moving images’); filmmaker and activist Helen De Michiel; Claire Aguilar, programming director of the International Documentary Association; and Courtney Sheehan, the wonderful head of Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum. It was great to reconnect with artist and animator Stacey Steers, who we first met a few years ago in Houston, and to see how she is continuing to use silent film imagery in her gorgeous, hypnotic films. Other old friends we didn’t get to schmooze with, but were happy to see included Clemence Taillandier, Laura Thielen, and Betsy McLane.

We even “met” a wonderful British composer we first collaborated with many, many years ago — Joby Talbot, who wrote the wonderful score for one of the Evgenii Bauer melodramas on Milestone’s Mad Love DVD. Now living in Ashland, Joby and two wonderful musicians, performed his score accompanying Bauer’s The Dying Swan. And we were happy to meet festival juror Cameron Swanagon —nontheatrical and festival coordinator at Oscilloscope Films, which is Milestone’s  partner for streaming and video distribution. It’s amazing how often we run into fellow NYC-area friends in far-flung festivals. 

(George taking a photo of the audience at a screening).

A highlight of our festival experience was the amazing reception that the festival goers gave Milestone’s restoration of No Maps on My Taps and its effervescent filmmaker, George Nierenberg — who made it a point to shake the hand of every person on a line for a special screening for school kids. The crowds loved the joyful dance documentary and the tap dance demo by local hoofer Suzanne Seiber and her students.

(Dennis sitting far left next to Joby Talbot and others on a panel about commissioning and composing scores for films.)

Another great treat was discovering Saving Brinton, a documentary about a real-life cinema hero — Michael Zahs. The film brilliantly chronicles one year in Zahs’s decades-long quest to save and preserve a collection of pre-1908 films, lantern slides, wax-cylinder audio recordings, and papers from the estate of two Iowa promoters, Frank and Indiana Brinton. The documentary is wonderful and we were absolutely thrilled to meet Zahs and filmmaker, Andrew Sherburne. The film will be screening in New York at Cinema Village in May and at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles in June. Catch it if you can! 

Other new friends include Dan Miller and Suzanne Clark, the creators of the documentary, Citizen Blue: The Life and Art of Cinema Master James Blue, and Richard Blue, the brother of the filmmaker (who died in 1980). We also really enjoyed meeting trans activist, artist, and filmmaker, Zackary Drucker, who turned out to be a fellow fan of Portrait of Jason. Erica Thompson, the festival’s Filmmaker Liaison, was incredibly welcoming and lovely — she is one of those festival angels who keeps things going smoothly and does so with real grace and kindness. And her volunteers were also wonderful — we send special thanks to Vicki Augustine and Nicole Gullickson, who drove us around and made us feel like Oregonians. We look forward to keeping in touch with all these wonderful folks! 

Finally, we had a blast at the closing night Awards Ceremony, which Courtney Sheehan MC-ed like a boss. And we were very moved when Thom Southerland, whose film Fort Maria won the juried award for Best Narrative Feature, came up to us and told us that his experience seeing Killer of Sheep and meeting Charles Burnett in 2015 had been a powerful inspiration for his own filmmaking — he even shot his feature in black and white in tribute. 

Dennis and I were really thrilled to be honored by such a wonderful film festival and community. And, if you have time next spring, we heartily recommend planning to spend April 11–15, 2019 watching films at the Ashland Independent Film Festival... maybe you want to mark you calendar now!

 

 

Posted in Amy Heller, Ashland, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Dennis Doros, Evgenii Bauer, Film fesival, Fort Maria, George Nierenberg, Joby Talbot, Michael Zahs, No Maps on My Taps, Oregon, Richard Herskowitz, Saving Brinton, Stacey Steers, The Dying Swan

 

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