An Alexandria treasure

An Alexandria treasure
The Alexandria Film Festival has made a return for the 17th year with expanded locations. (File photo)

Each year, we’re reminded how special it is to have our own film festival in Alexandria. 

During the pre-vaccine portion of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the deft way the Alexandria Film Festival leadership took this totally in-person event and made it a stellar remote experience. 

First, they did a total pivot from the usual in-person format and put all of the films online, which enabled viewers to watch them more than once safely from their homes. AFF also included many filmed question-and-answer sessions – which are the heart of the festival – at the end of the films. 

During the Q&As, directors, writers, producers and actors share windows into their craft. When the festival is held in person, audience members ask the questions. At the height of the pandemic, AFF leaders conducted filmed interviews with the filmmakers and actors. 

There was no dropoff in quality, and the festival provided a needed happy respite during those uncertain days. 

The AFF topped that by next collaborating with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra to utilize grants awarded to filmmakers to create films that matched an array of compositions played by the ASO. It was a night to remember when the films were finally shown live accompanied by an ASO performance in the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center. 

Each year, diehard film lovers buy all-festival passes for $80 and take in as many offerings as possible. Others are intrigued by one particular film and are happy with just seeing it. Still others are enticed by a particular theme to view an entire showcase. 

We encourage viewers to watch entire showcases and not just the one film in it that originally caught their eye. Like browsing in a bookstore or reading a whole newspaper rather than ordering one book from Amazon or reading the single story about which the Washington Post sends you an alert – you literally don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t cast a wide net. 

Be open to being charmed or amazed, educated or overwhelmed by unexpected delights when you view multiple films in a showcase. 

For example, perhaps you attended the student film showcase on November 10 at The Beatley Library mainly to see the documentary “Arming the Left” or the fiction short film “Flowers Die First” – but also watched the rest of the showcase. 

If so, you would have been “udderly” charmed by the exquisite 13-minute film “Hoof Trimmer” by Kate Woods and amused by the 11-minute short documentary “Whirled of an Artist” by filmmaker Brodhi Ethan Bryan-Roig about his talented and authentic uncle. 

The AFF is blessed to have long-time leadership, particularly Executive Director Patti North, who co-founded the festival 17 years ago, former Chair Margaret Wohler and current Chair Dara Sanders. This festival is a labor of love for these special ladies, and for the many others who volunteer their time, year after year, to bring this delightful slice of culture to Alexandria. 

And if you’re reading this and wondering what all the hoopla is about, never fear: there’s always next year. Though if you’ve missed the AFF for 17 years straight, you might want to mark your 2024 calendar now for the second weekend in November.