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AIFF presents 32nd annual Varsity World Film Week(s)

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Riz Ahmed stars in "Mogul Mowgli." AIFF photo.
A scene from "Golden Voices." AIFF photo.
Jesmark Scicluna in the film "Luzzu." AIFF photo.
A scene from "Roaring 20'S." AIFF photo.
Alex Lowe hangs from a cliff edge on the summit of a peak over Patton Glacier, Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica 1998, in the film "Torn." Photo by Gordon Wiltsie, courtesy AIFF.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival will hold its 32nd annual Varsity World Film Week(s) online this year, with a single in-person screening. The event will run virtually Friday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 30, and includes a special outdoor screening of the documentary “Torn” at Lithia Park in Ashland.

With the theme “See The World From Where You Are,” AIFF will present 14 films from 15 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Malawi, Ethiopia, Israel, Kosovo, France, Malta, Belgium, Norway and the Dominican Republic. There are seven narrative features and seven documentaries, with half of the films directed by women.

“In order to protect the health and comfort of our patrons, we made the decision to present this years’ films virtually,” Executive Director Phil Busse stated in a press release. “We are excited to be able to screen one film, ‘Torn,’ live and outdoors, providing attendees a collective viewing experience.”

World Film Week(s) kicks off Friday, Sept. 17, with a virtual screening of an urgent story from Malawi. Focusing on two Malawi women who come to meet with American farmers, “The Ants And The Grasshopper” is a powerful film about climate change and its impact on Africa and the U.S.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, at the outdoor Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park, “Torn” will be shown. Addressing — like last year’s film “Free Solo” — the risks and rewards of extreme climbing, “Torn” tells a true story about love emerging from tragedy.

In 1999, legendary mountain climber Alex Lowe and his close friend and climbing partner, Conrad Anker, were trapped in an avalanche in Tibet. Lowe was killed. Anker survived, and returned to take care of Lowe’s family. A year after the tragedy, Anker married Lowe’s widow and raised his three boys. The story is directed by Lowe’s son, Max, and delves into family dynamics as treacherous as a sheer rock face ascent.

Several of this year’s films are well-known on the festival circuit: “Hive” was a Sundance triple-award winner, and the meticulously choreographed “Roaring 20’S,” shot in one unbroken 90-minute take in the streets of Paris, won best cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“The program is filled with festival favorites like ‘Mogul Mowgli,’ which stars and is co-written by the sensational, Academy Award-nominated actor Riz Ahmed,” Richard Herskowitz, AIFF’s artistic director, pointed out in the press release, “and ‘Ninjababy,’ a subversive, laugh-out-loud funny film about a young cartoonist’s unexpected pregnancy that weaves an ominous animated character into the story.”

“Since the pandemic has thrown a wrench in many people’s travel plans,” Herskowitz went on to say, “we’re happy to provide these captivating cinematic voyages to many foreign lands.”

Tickets for the virtual World Film Week(s) may be purchased online at ashlandfilm.org, and each film will be available on the festival’s Eventive film channel for periods ranging from one day to one week; several will be accompanied by filmmaker Q-and-As. Individual tickets, including for the outdoor showing of “Torn,” are $10 each, $8 for members, seniors and students. A seven-film virtual WFW Passport is available for $60, discounted to $49 for eligible viewers. All proceeds from these events benefit the nonprofit Ashland Independent Film Festival and Coming Attractions Theatres. Tickets and further information, including film listings, can be found online at ashlandfilm.org.

2021 Varsity World Film Week(s) lineup

Sept. 17, Sept. 24: “The Ants and The Grasshopper” (Documentary)

Showing in Oregon only

(Raj Patel, Zak Piper, USA, UK, Malawi, 74 min)

Anita Chitaya has a gift; she can help bring abundant food from dead soil, she can make men fight for gender equality, and she can end child hunger in her village. Now, to save her home from extreme weather, she faces her greatest challenge: persuading Americans that climate change is real. Traveling from Malawi to California to the White House, she meets climate skeptics and despairing farmers.

Sept. 18: “Golden Voices” (Comedy)

Showing in Oregon only

(Evgeny Ruman, Israel, 88 min)

Victor and Raya Frenkel were the golden voices of Soviet film dubbing. In 1990, with the collapse of USSR, they decide to immigrate to Israel, just like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. Their attempts to use their distinctive talent in a country that doesn’t need it will turn the beginning of the new chapter of their life into an amusing, painful and absurd experience.

Sept. 18: “Torn” and “Way To Go!” (Documentaries)

In-person screening at the Butler Bandshell, Lithia Park. Seating opens at 7 p.m., film begins at 8 p.m.

(Max Lowe, USA, 92 min)

On Oct. 5, 1999, legendary climber Alex Lowe was tragically lost in a deadly avalanche on the slopes of the Tibetan mountain, Shishapangma. Miraculously surviving the avalanche was Alex’s best friend and climbing partner, renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker. After the tragedy, Anker and Alex’s widow, Jennifer, fell in love and married, and Anker stepped in to help raise Alex’s three sons, including film director Max Lowe. The film follows Max as he explores his family’s complex relationships in the wake of his father’s death, and returns with them to Shishapangma to claim his father’s remains. Preceded by WAY TO GO!, Kathy Roselli’s 9-minute documentary about the composting toilet at the top of Mount Shasta.

Sept. 19, 26: “Mogul Mowgli” (Narrative)

Showing in U. S. only

(Bassam Tariq, United Kingdom, 90 min)

“Mogul Mowgli” is the debut narrative feature from award-winning documentary filmmaker Bassam Tariq. It follows the story of a British Pakistani rapper (Academy Award-nominated actor Riz Ahmed) who, on the cusp of his first world tour, is struck down by an illness that forces him to face his past, his family and the uncertainty of his legacy.

Sept. 20, 27: “Hive” (Narrative)

Showing in Oregon only

(Blerta Basholli, Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania,

84 min)

Sundance triple award-winner “Hive” is a searing drama based on the true story of Fahrije, who, like many of the other women in her patriarchal village, has lived with fading hope and burgeoning grief since her husband went missing during the war in Kosovo. In order to provide for her struggling family, she pulls the other widows in her community together to launch a business selling a local food product. Together, they find healing and solace in considering a future without their husbands — but their will to begin living independently is met with hostility.

Sept. 21: “Little Girl” (Documentary)

Showing in Oregon only

(Sebastien Lifshitz, France,

85 min)

“Little Girl” is the moving portrait of 7-year-old Sasha, who has always known that she is a girl. Sasha’s family has recently accepted her gender identity, embracing their daughter for who she truly is while working to confront outdated norms and find affirmation in a small community of rural France.

Sept. 22, 25-27: “Faya Dayi” (Documentary)

Showing in Oregon only

(Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia,

120 min)

In her hypnotic documentary feature, Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir explores the coexistence of everyday life and its mythical undercurrents. Though a deeply personal project — Beshir was forced to leave her hometown of Harar with her family as a teenager because of growing political strife — the film she returned to make about the city, its rural Oromo community of farmers, and the harvesting of the country’s most sought-after export (the euphoria-inducing khat plant) is dreamlike: a film that uses light, texture and sound to illuminate the spiritual lives of people whose experiences often become fodder for ripped-from-the-headlines tales of migration.

Sept. 23, Sept. 28-30: “Daughter Of A Lost Bird” (Documentary)

Showing in U. S. only

(Brooke Peplon Sweeney, USA, 66 min)

The film follows Kendra Mylnechuk Potter, a Native woman adopted into a white family, as she reconnects with her Native identity. The film, both instigator and follower, documents Kendra on this odyssey as she finds her birth mother April, also a Native adoptee, and returns to her Native homelands. Relying upon verité scenes as the bulk of the film, the story is intense, emotional and personal.

Sept. 24-30: “Luzzu” (Narrative)

Showing in Oregon only

(Alex Camilleri, Malta, 94 min)

Jesmark, a Maltese fisherman, contends with a newfound leak in his wooden luzzu boat. Barely getting by, he sees his livelihood — and a family tradition from generations before him — imperiled by diminishing harvests, a ruthless fishing industry and a stagnating ecosystem. Desperate to provide for his wife and their newborn son, whose growth impediment requires treatment, Jesmark gradually slips into an illicit black-market fishing operation.

Sept. 24-30: “Madly In Life” (Narrative)

Showing in Oregon only

(Ann Sirot and Raphael Balboni, Belgium, 87 min)

Alex and Noémie, both in their 30s, want a child. But their plans are upset when Alex’s mother, Suzanne, starts acting rather bizarrely. It is due to her suffering from “semantic dementia,” a progressive neuro-degenerative disorder that influences her behavior. She spends money recklessly, visits her neighbors in the middle of the night to eat slices of bread, and cobbles together a fake driver’s license for herself with scissors and glue.

Sept. 24-30: “Ninjababy” (Narrative)

Showing in Oregon only

(Yngvild Sve Flikke, Norway,

104 min)

When Rakel, 23, way too late, finds out she’s six months pregnant after a not-so-romantic one-night stand, her world changes. Her boyfriend, who’s not the father, is kind of okay with her having a baby. But Rakel is absolutely not ready to be a mother. Since abortion is no longer an option, adoption is the only answer. That’s when Ninjababy, an animated character who insists on making Rakel’s everyday life a living hell, turns up. He climbs out from her notebook, jumps into her tea cup and keeps reminding her what a terrible person she is.

Sept. 24-30: “Roaring 20’S” (Narrative)

Showing in Oregon only

(Elisabeth Vogler, France,

90 min)

On one beautiful afternoon in Paris during the surreal summer of 2020, 24 different characters roam the streets of the city with a sense of giddy abandon after a spring of lockdown and confinement. Filming began one day after the lockdown ended, allowing the audience to accompany everyday people as they cross paths throughout the day, experiencing their long-awaited freedom and celebrating the City of Love. Winner of Best Cinematography at Tribeca, the film was shot in one unbroken 90-minute take.

Sept. 24-30: “Stateless” (Documentary)

Showing in U. S. only

(Michèle Stephenson, Dominican Republic, 95 min)

In 1937, tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were exterminated by the Dominican army, on the basis of anti-black racism. Fast-forward to 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court stripped the citizenship of anyone with Haitian parents, retroactive to 1929, rendering more than 200,000 people stateless. Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary follows the grassroots campaign of a young attorney named Rosa Iris as she challenges electoral corruption and fights to protect the right to citizenship for all peopl.