Film and TV

With ‘Coolest Film Festivals’ honor, Anchorage International Film Fest focuses on quality over quantity

The Anchorage International Film Festival bills its annual lineup as “Films worth freezing over.”

In its 23rd year, the festival has become even more alluring after being named one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World,” according to Movie Maker magazine.

Organizers say that nod, putting the festival alongside luminaries like the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW, has made an impact. Festival director Ida Theresa Myklebost believes the 2023 edition, which kicks off this weekend, will set a new standard.

“It’s a stamp of approval that really puts AIFF on that level internationally,” she said. “What I’ve noticed is that the film quality has taken a big step up. And that’s kind of the dream scenario.”

The festival opens Friday with “Wild Life: The Lance Mackey Story” and runs though Monday, before starting up again Dec. 7-9 for a second weekend of programming. The festival has three screening venues: the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, Anchorage Museum and the E Street Theater.

Playing at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Bear Tooth, “Wild Life: The Lance Mackey Story” has already sold out.

“It’s such a personal and emotional portrait of Lance,” Myklebost said.


Myklebost is especially excited about the feature-length documentary submissions to this year’s festival.

The festival has gone from 100 films to 82 this year. Myklebost said that’s in part to give audiences a higher-quality experience and also to limit overlapping of films showing at the same time.

Festival associate director John Gamache said the festival was being run under the radar of a majority of the larger film world. But now with the inclusion on the Movie Maker list, more filmmakers and film fans are interested in the festival.

While organizers have previously taken visitors to Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks or out for a night at Koot’s as part of the festival experience, they’re adding more gatherings and outings this year.

“People come up with the expectation of coming to Alaska, which is a bucket-list destination,” he said. “We completely exceed their expectations with the experience they have. But now the expectations are a little bit different. People are expecting a lot from us. So we’re prepared for the challenge this year.”

While the festival is growing in reputation, Myklebost said it still has a small community feel. Part of that is the ease of interaction between filmmakers and festivalgoers, which is much rarer at major film fests.

“This festival has a very low bar for audiences and filmmakers to meet each other. So if you come to the festival ... who knows — suddenly, which happened last year, you’re sitting next to an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who’s flown into Alaska for the first time. And then you have a chat, you have a dialogue and all of a sudden you are friends. And that’s the magic that we’re really aiming at.”

[Examining how climate change affects Southwest Alaska villages, filmmakers highlight Yup’ik resilience and pride]

Tickets are available for individual films and short film series, and a full festival pass for all films is $110. Additional information about the festival, including a full schedule of events, can be found at

Here are five sessions that Myklebost is especially excited about.

• • •

• ‘Citizen Sleuth: This film follows Emily Nestor, a young podcaster whose Mile Marker 181 podcast investigates a death of a young girl in her Appalachian community. The film, which also played at SXSW, investigates the ethical dilemmas of the true crime genre as it has risen in popularity. The film plays Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Bear Tooth.

“It’s a film I absolutely love,” Myklebost said. “She becomes a rising superstar in the podcasting world. The theme of the film is what happens when media is no longer the ownership of the trained journalists who follow certain rules. All of a sudden, everybody can be a journalist: bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, etc. And they might not have that set of training.”

• • •

Shorts: Do We Still Need Feminism: A selection of six short films with run times between nine and 28 minutes, Myklebost expects this series to be controversial. It has an R rating, so it’s only for viewers 18 and over. And while she’s anticipating a few complaints, she said the benefits outweigh the potential risk. The shorts play Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Anchorage Museum. Among the films are “Everyday dicks,” “Courage,” “Paint Her Red,” “Projekt Pappa,” “Unattended” and “Witchfairy.”

“I was very unsure if it was a good idea,” she said. “But then I figured, you know what, if not a film festival to do it, who’s gonna do it? We can push those boundaries a bit more at a festival where many others can’t because when people come to a festival, they expect to see very powerful films.”

• • •

Made in Alaska Shorts: There are two series of Made in Alaska shorts during the 2023 festival. There are short bio docs, on Anchorage residents such as artist/advocate Duke Russell. There are also also explorations of mountaineering, climate, culture and Indigenous life in the state. The shorts are both documentary and narrative style, in comedy and drama genres. The Made in Alaska 1 short series is playing at noon Saturday at the Bear Tooth with a run time of 96 minutes. The Made in Alaska 2 shorts will screen at 2 p.m. Sunday at Anchorage Museum with a 107-minute run time.

• • •

• ‘Dusty & Stones: The story of two musicians from Eswatini — formerly Swaziland — who make up a country music duo are struggling to find a larger audience. But a 10-day trip to the United States opens new doors to them as they chase their dream of country music stardom. The film plays at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Bear Tooth.

“It’s one of those fabulous docs when the team is there when it happens,” Myklebost said. “So we’re with them in Eswatini when they get invited to a country music festival in the U.S. And they come with stars in their eyes and become unexpected heroes.”

• • •

• ‘Ranger: In Kenya, focusing on a newly formed all-female unit for the country’s anti-poaching ranger service, historically dominated by men. While traditionally, military-style training is needed to become a ranger, the women transform into modern heroines to take the roles they were denied for so long. The film shows at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Bear Tooth.

“These women are an inspiration,” Myklebost said. “They’re so powerful. They come from communities where as women, they haven’t had many chances. There’s a lot of hardship, and in comes this opportunity, and they’re fighting for their lives to get the position to be a ranger. It’s a very hopeful film for change in the future.”

• • •

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.