AIFF sets attendance mark, picks winners

"Obselidia," a film about two people starting a relationship in a world in which everything seems to be ending, has won the juried Best Feature award at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Winners were announced at the AIFF's annual awards event Sunday night at the Historic Ashland Armory.

"Entre Nos," a film about a Colombian immigrant and her family, won the John C. Schweiger audience award for a Dramatic Feature and also the Best Acting Ensemble award for the cast of a feature film.

The festival, which continues today, set a new attendance record, selling more than 18,000 tickets, easily eclipsing the old mark of 16,000.

"It's by far our best year," AIFF Executive Director Tom Olbrich said.

The audience award for Documentary Feature went to "Bag It," a hard-hitting look at plastic in the environment. The audience award for Best Short went to "The Butterfly Circus," the story of a man living out his life in a sordid carnival sideshow who finds new hope.

For today, the festival has slated encore screenings of the award winners and several high-demand pictures for which tickets were almost impossible to get for the last four days.

"Garbage Dreams" was named the Best Documentary of feature length. The Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C. Award for Best Cinematography in a feature went to "The River Why."

A special jury mention for acting went to Brian Geraghty, who acted in last year's "The Hurt Locker," for his role in the film "Easier with Practice."

"On the Road to Tel-Aviv" and "Born Sweet" took the awards for Best Short Feature and Best Short Documentary. A special jury mention went to "Close to Home." The award for Best Animated Short went to "The Mouse That Soared."

"Obselidia" follows the quest that leads a young man and a mysterious woman to the desert refuge of a wise man (based on futurologist James Lovelock, who proposed the Gaia hypothesis) who believes the Earth is doomed.

In "Garbage Dreams," three teenage boys born into the "trash trade" grow up in the world's largest garbage village — a ghetto on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, which is home to 60,000 Zaballeen, or "garbage people."

The theme of garbage also comes to the fore in "Entre Nos," directed by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza. It's the story of a Colombian immigrant with two children who is abandoned by her husband and turns to the city's trash — collecting cans to put food on the table — in her pursuit of the American dream.

"On the Road to Tel Aviv" dramatizes the tensions of life in contemporary Israel by focusing on an incident that teeters on the edge between deciding you're being paranoid and giving in to fear.

"Born Sweet" is director/producer Cynthia Wade's film about Vinh, a 15-year-old Cambodian boy who dreams of being a karaoke star but is sick with incurable arsenic poisoning.

"The River Why," producer Kristi Denton Cohen's adaptation of David James Duncan's iconic coming-of-age fishing novel set in Oregon, won for cinematography before even being finished. It's a work in progress that was shown as a thank you to the citizens of Oregon, where it was filmed. It's the story of young Gus Orviston, who arranges his life so that he can fish 141/2 hours a day but soon discovers he is frustrated and lost.

"The Mouse That Soared" tells the backstory of a high-flying circus mouse who began life as an orphan adopted by a family of bluebirds, weaving themes of loss, trust and hope into a six-minute narrative.

The ninth annual AIFF will conclude today with screenings through 9:40 p.m. The box office will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In a new twist, the AIFF has reserved space for today's screenings of films at the Varsity Theatre that were extra-popular during the festival.

"People were asking why we didn't show films again," Olbrich said. "So we held some slots."

Here's a schedule:

  • 9:50 a.m. — "Marwencol," "On the Road to Tel Aviv."
  • 12:20 p.m. — "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers," "Lone Wolf."
  • 3:20 p.m. — Oscar Shorts.
  • 6:20 p.m. — "His & Hers," "The Poodle Trainer."
  • 9:20 p.m. — "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders."

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Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at

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