Our View: A local treasure

Our View: A local treasure
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein

The Alexandria Film Festival has grown during the past 14 years from a creative idea to a firmly entrenched part of our city’s burgeoning identity as an arts destination.

The Alexandria Times prints occasional articles in an ongoing series called “City Creatives,” that showcase individual artists in various mediums. But few entities as a whole are as innovative as the AFF.

For the uninitiated, the AFF was a project of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts, of which AFF Executive Director Patti North was vice chair, back in 2007. It started out that first year with 17 films.

Intended as a place for imaginative independent filmmakers to show their work, the festival now routinely offers the D.C. and Virginia premieres of movies, with an emphasis on promoting local filmmakers. This year’s innovation is “Homegrown: American Stories in Music and Film,” a collaboration between the AFF and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra.

There are six “Homegrown” films, each paired with a piece of symphonic music written by an American composer. The ASO was originally slated to accompany the six films with live performances of the music, but COVID-19 intervened, and the live performances have been pushed back to the 2021 AFF.

However, “sneak previews” of the endeavor are available to watch in this year’s virtual festival, and a delightful Q&A between ASO Music Director James Ross and filmmaker Michael Fallavollita that follows the movie “Kite” explains a bit of the process.

The AFF, chaired by Margaret Wohler, who began volunteering at the festival back in 2007, pivoted as well as any organization we’ve seen to overcome obstacles presented by the pandemic. Fortunately for the AFF, few things work as well virtually as a film, and so this year’s remote festival provides the same viewing delights as in years past. It’s just a more solitary endeavor.

In fact, some facets of this year’s festival are enhancements over previous years, when films had to be watched in person. Showings at different locations, and the fact that a dedicated film-watcher really had to devote an entire weekend to taking in most of the films, limited potential viewership.

This year, it’s possible to buy an all-festival pass for $50 and take in the 45 films, most of which come with recorded Q&A sessions with key players, as it fits into one’s schedule. All of the films are available over a two-week period – which started on Nov. 12 – and once a particular film is unlocked, it’s possible to watch it multiple times over a three-day period. In practical terms, this means that a family could buy a $50 pass, and everyone in the family could theoretically watch every film.

This week’s Times contains reviews of seven films from this year’s festival, starting on page 15. We chose to review “Her Name was Jo,” “Bluebirds of Antietam,” “Kite,” “Archie: An American Journey,” “Bird’s Eye,” “Dancing is an Old Friend” and “A Piece of Cake.” While these seven films were our choices, any other seven of the offerings would have also presented a compelling array of talented writers, directors and actors.

The AFF has become one of our favorite events each year in Alexandria. We encourage readers to check out this terrific local showcase of films. See www.alexfilmfest.com for information about various films, ticket pricing and viewing options.

But hurry, there’s only one week left – and 45 films to watch.