Anchorage film festival comes to Soldotna

The biggest film festival in Alaska is taking to the road for the first time, taking a few of its most popular choices to smaller communities, including the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna.

The Anchorage International Film Festival, hosted annually in venues across Anchorage, wants to increase its visibility year-round, both in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state, said Rebecca Pottebaum, the festival director.

“There are a lot of ways we’re pairing with organizations, not only spreading our reach or growing our influence in the state, but what’s happening is we’re providing the media at no cost to the library because our goal is to be able to expand the mission,” Pottebaum said.

The festival will bring three documentaries to Soldotna on Saturday — “Circus Without Borders,” “Right Footed” and “Stink!” — that were some of the most popular among the festival’s more than 100 films screened in December 2015. “Circus Without Borders” follows two circus performance groups from opposite sides of the world as they try to prevent youth suicide and violence. “Right-Footed” is the story of a woman born without arms who pilots a plane with her feet and works as a disability rights advocate, and “Stink!” follows a man who wants to find out what is in store-bought fragrances.

Pottebaum hopes that by bringing the films to smaller communities outside Anchorage, it will increase the public’s exposure to independent films. In addition to Soldotna, the festival has sent films to Nome, Skagway, Juneau and Homer.

“There are a lot of things that come through the film festival circuit that are really so different and really pertinent to our lives … maybe a film on suicide,” Pottebaum said. “That’s what I mean, things you wouldn’t normally get to see.”

The festival is also partnering with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based nonprofit focused on eliminating dangerous chemicals from the environment, which is lobbying for legislation to require chemical labeling on products in Alaska.

The partnership has provided the Alaska Community Action on Toxics a chance to speak to audiences after showings of “Stink!” in various locations. Pamela Miller, the executive director of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said the film will be shown in Juneau and representatives will have a chance to speak to legislators about SB111 and HB199, which will require 10 toxic chemicals commonly used in children’s products to be labeled.

“We think it’s very important to start with kids’ products,” Miller said. “We just thought it was a great opportunity to raise awareness about this issue.”

Miller said a representative will be present at some of the events, such as the showings in Homer this week. In the places someone cannot come to speak in person, the organization will send information about the bill, she said.

Part of the attraction of film festivals is in the social atmosphere, Pottebaum said. In a world where movies can be streamed online instantly and rented from Redbox, the discussions after films with the directors and other audience members are often lost. Film festivals provide that, and Anchorage International Film Festival hosts upward of 10,000 attendees at any time.

The smaller venues on the road are meant to encourage some of those same discussions, and over time — with more visibility and potentially grant money — the filmmakers could travel with the films, Pottebaum said.

“We want to increase exposure to good, independent films, especially in a month where it’s kind of dismal — to really expand our outreach,” Pottebaum said. “Hopefully, this could translate to grant opportunities later on so we could reach more communities.”

The Soldotna library will screen the films Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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