Anchorage International Film Festival opens Friday

An animated poem to mankind. Portraits of great Alaskans. Hip-hop, Arctic-style.

The 10-day Anchorage International Film Festival begins Friday.

With “films worth freezing for,” the festival should stretch your mind, make you laugh and, through Q and As and workshops, deepen your understanding of cinema arts.

The festival is in its 18th year. More than 130 films — animations and documentaries, shorts and features — will be shown at venues around town. We caught up with Festival Director Jessica Kaiser a few days ago to discuss the festival.

“It’s my bright light in the middle of our dark winter,” said Kaiser, who has been involved with the festival off and on since 2004.

One of the themes this year, she said, is a focus on films by or about women. A number of the films have strong political messages, “very in-your-face, more so than in the past,” she said.

A goal for filmmakers is exposure. Some films end up on Netflix and Amazon, Kaiser said. At the festival itself, filmmakers from the Lower 48 collaborate with Alaskans. Filmmakers visit Anchorage schools. Fun extras include a fat tire bike ride, with donated rentals for all visiting filmmakers, to the screening of the film “Afghan Cycles” on Dec. 5.

“We are really, really excited about the fact we’ve made it 18 years in such a small community,” Kaiser said.

We’re excited too! In several ways, Rasmuson Foundation is connected to the festival.

Allison Akootchook Warden

We supported two films and the documentary series “Magnetic North: The Alaskan Character.” Alaska Humanities Forum launched the series as a way to explore the lives of six Alaskans who helped shape the state’s political, social and cultural frameworks. And one of this year’s Individual Artist Award recipients, Allison Akootchook Warden, is among the performers in “We Up,” a documentary by David Holthouse telling the story of hip-hop as reimagined by young indigenous artists of the North.

The festival’s program director, Samona Norombaba — who also works for the Foundation as administrative assistant — managed volunteers who selected films from more than 1,000 submissions from all over the world.

Here is a snippet about one of the films being screened on opening night. We will share about a couple of others in coming days.

“Wild Woman” will show this Friday in the Soiree of Shorts that begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub. Animator Vanessa “Vee” Sweet, who lives in Shishmaref, finished the film with a 2017 Individual Artist Award from the Foundation. The festival describes the film as “an animated poem to mankind” that touches on issues including drone strikes and religious persecution.

The short film stands out both for intensity and the quality of its animation, which is exceptional for a film made in Alaska, Kaiser said. The film is the first time Sweet has created such a personal work. The journey was a lot like having a baby, Sweet said. “Ultimately I hope that people see this film and get an insight into the struggle of becoming a mother, but also get a feeling of empathy for their fellow man,” she said.

Learn more about the film festival here. Tickets for Bear Tooth screenings are available at the theater or online. For other venues, they are sold in person the day of the screening.