Film festival brings movies galore to Anchorage

David Harper

In its 10 days, the 11th annual Anchorage International Film Festival will show more films than Anchorage's major theaters will in two months of screenings.

That's one of the selling points expressed by festival founder Tony Sheppard.

"Not only can you see a diverse selection of films from cultures across the world, you can attend workshops, forums, film competitions and other fun events," he said. "Plus, you can meet the makers of many of these films."

Sheppard's last sentiment stood out perhaps the most. While at the Bear Tooth ticket counter during last year's festival, my friend and I openly deliberated on seeing "Rocksteady." A man who overheard us came up and heartily recommended the film. When I asked him why he thought we should go, his response was unexpected.

"I love it, but I'm biased. I'm the director and that is the star," said director Mustapha Khan as he gestured toward Anchorage-born actor Cedric Sanders.

While it can't match the glitz and glamour of other snowbound festivals like Sundance, the Anchorage festival does an exemplary job of highlighting a great variety of films in an intimate fashion, and 2011 looks to be an exciting year, both for the slight changes in the programming and the impressive lineup of films.

One of the most interesting changes is the addition of the Aurora Award, an honor bestowed on the most creative and original film in the festival.

This year's prize went to Israeli director Assaf Tager's "Andante," a challenging and experimental film that explores a dystopian future in which no person can dream save for one man.

"We want filmmakers who experiment with idiosyncratic approaches to movie making to know they can find an audience for their work here in Anchorage," said Bruce Farnsworth, the jury foreman for the Aurora Award.

Many other awards are given out, with top prizes coming in the form of the Golden Oosikar (presented to the top films in the feature, documentary, snowdance, short film, super short and animation categories), the Audience Choice Awards (shared with the films most beloved by audiences in the feature, documentary and snowdance categories) and the Quick Freeze Award.

The latter honor is a unique prize, given to the filmmaker who creates the best five-minute or shorter film. The trick is that each one must contain three subjects that aren't announced until Sunday, giving filmmakers only five days until the movies screen.

But for those looking to find more developed films, there's a diverse and quality lineup that takes a team of many to create.

This year's selections offer a mix of award-winners (Australian film "The Wedding Party" and "The Dead Inside"), quirky indies ("The Dish and the Spoon"), documentaries ("Stan Lee: With Great Power") and Alaska-centric films, which make up the Snowdance category.

The highlight of the festival might be the opening night showing of the Greenland-shot "Inuk," the feature-length debut by French director Mike Magidson. The story is about a Greenland boy from a violent and dysfunctional family. He's removed to a home for neglected children on an island on the Arctic sea ice before eventually setting out on a dogsled journey with a local polar bear hunter.

It's also one of the opportunities you'll get to meet the filmmakers. Magidson and star Ole-Jorgen Hammeken will attend the screening and answer questions afterward.

So whether you adore art films by Kurosawa, quote "Army of Darkness" in everyday conversation or only catch a movie every once in a while, the Anchorage International Film Festival probably offers something that fits those tastes.

By David Harper
Daily News correspondent