Since the movie "Everybody Loves Whales" started shooting in town this fall, it seems everyone has film fever. Whether it's spotting Ted Danson at a restaurant or standing next to Drew Barrymore at First Tap, Anchorage residents have had a closer connection to the silver screen.
While production on "Whales" is wrapped up, the 10th edition of the Anchorage International Film Festival is just getting under way. The annual festival begins tonight with a showing of Canadian film "The Wild Hunt" and a gala at the Bear Tooth Theatre Pub.
Dawnell Smith, the general manager and sponsorship coordinator of the festival, said she thinks "Whales" has helped bolster excitement, but Alaskans have always been hungry for good film and the type of creative outlet AIFF has provided.
She said this year's program highlights "the unpredictability and the passion of the artists."
"Some of the films are just extraordinary in the way they are fleshed out," Smith said.
This year there are more than 165 films in six categories, including supershorts (under 10 minutes), shorts (10 to 55 minutes), features (more than 55 minutes), documentaries and animations.
The categories will help judges and audiences award prizes for the Dec. 12 Golden Oosikar award ceremony.
The festival also works to highlight local films with its Snowdance category, featuring films made in or about Alaska, or by Alaskans.
"(AIFF) has definitely had an effect on local artists," Smith said. "Any time you have an outlet for your work, it certainly makes more people want to attempt to produce films."
One of the made-in-Alaska films is renowned Inuit-Yup'ik storyteller Jack Dalton's 10-minute short "Native Time." The work finds a traditional Inuit hunter confronting his greatest enemy (a crosswalk in Anchorage).
Another local, Bryant Mainord, is premiering a feature-length film "The Beekeepers." The film channels slacker comedies like "Clerks" or "Half Baked" and finds three best friends trying to become viral video sensations to help save their comatose friend.
Former local Cedric Sanders will also be in a film at the festival. The young actor who made a brief appearance in the "The Social Network," the box office smash hit about the founders of Facebook, has a new film out. In "Rocksteady" Sanders plays the lead role of B.C. Cook, whose world-class skill as a stock car dirt-track racer earns him a spot as the only black driver on the otherwise all-white dirt track circuit of rural New York. The festival will be the film's Alaska premiere.
This year the festival received more entries than ever before, making the selection process difficult.
"There are a lot of really good films that didn't make the cut this year." Smith said.
Original British films such as "The Silent Accomplice," which tracks true-life drama from the perspective of water that flows from a spring to the sea, or Estonia's "The Temptation of St. Tony," about a man whose reality crumbles around him after a series of bizarre encounters, would once have been rare, exciting exceptions to the lineup. Now they find themselves competing for viewers amid a slew of other engaging options.
Founded in 2001 by Tony Sheppard, the festival hasn't just come a long way in terms of the films it can offer viewers. In previous years, attendees could be faced with organizational mix-ups that affected the overall experience. No longer, Smith insists.
"I feel like it's just a little tighter in the programming and the organization this year. The board really wanted to focus on quality and organization," Smith said.
For those who are sad Barrymore and her movie star friends are leaving -- fear not. The Anchorage International Film Festival features the stars of tomorrow, many of whom have roots right here in Alaska.
10th AIFF Celebration
Saturday, Spenard Roadhouse, 9:30 p.m.
Canadian Consulate Filmmaker Reception and Mixed Media Screening
Tuesday, 9:45 p.m., Bear Tooth Theatrepub
Gay-La Screening and after party
Screening: 815 p.m. Wednesday, Bear Tooth Theatrepub
Party: Wednesday, 10 p.m., Mad Myrna's
POP11: Exploding Plastic Inevitable Party and Screening
Thursday, 9:30 p.m., Alaska Dispatch Hangar
Golden Oosikar Awards Ceremony
Sunday Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m., Bear Tooth TheatrepubMore film festival coverage
By David Harper
Daily News correspondent