The Anchorage International Film Festival provides a cornucopia of film flavors

When big budget movies at mega-cinemas begin to stagnate, many film fans flock to screenings of more independent films, like those found at Bear Tooth’s “Art House Mondays.” Once a year however, fans get a much larger dose of indie moviegoing experience: the Anchorage International Film Festival.

AIFF, founded in 2001 by Tony Sheppard, hosts a plethora of independent films for two weeks in December.

“Back in 2000 the festival was ready, and I was willing to make it happen if I had to do it all by myself,” Sheppard said.

Designed to compete with other film festivals, AIFF has risen from its humble beginnings to be the largest event of its kind in the last frontier. Helped by Bear Tooth in the past, AIFF has expanded film screenings to Out North and the Alaska Experience Theater.

As it has grown to include additional venues and days, the total number of films it screens has also increased; this year’s event will run from Dec. 2 to 15 and feature over 100 different pieces. Film offerings include 20 full-length feature films, 22 documentaries of varying lengths, 19 animated features of varying lengths, 19 shorts and 22 super shorts (films 10 minutes or less). In addition to the general submissions, there are also special categories set up for the 23 Snowdance features (films made by Alaskans.) About 20 percent of the selected films, including Snowdance submissions, are submitted into competition.

“Out of 500 submissions we pick our “Official Selections.” Out of the Official Selections we pick seven of the best films in each category to be our “Films in Competition,” Sheppard said.

Woodruff Laputka, UAA student and winner of the “Audience Choice” award in September’s 48-Hour Film Competition, will have his short film “Lost Land” screened along with the other short Snowdance films at Out North and Alaska Experience Theater on Dec. 4 and 10, respectively.

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“‘Lost Land’ was inspired by a sound design that I was working on; early summer, 2009. The sound design was a simple, constructed atmosphere of heavy rain and a Buddhist prayer bell,” Laputka said.

As the name of the festival suggests, many of the films come from around the world. Countries from which submissions will be screened this year include Israel, Greenland, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Italy, Pakistan, Poland, India, and more.

This level of international involvement almost guarantees that the festival will include a diverse range of viewpoints to challenge and expand on popular Hollywood efforts. Of the “Features” division (the most prominent narrative-format selections), seven were nominated to be in competition, with issues ranging from neo-Nazi youth violence in David Wnendt’s German-produced film “Combat Girls,” to love during the Rwandan genocide in Alrick Brown’s “Kinyarwanda.”

AIFF has something for almost everyone. In addition to the serious, thoughtful and important films offered at this year’s festival, there are also a number of light-hearted ventures, such as “Wakiyaku Monogatari,” or “Cast Me If You Can,” a Japanese romantic comedy by Atsushi Ogata. The film focuses on a supporting actor who aspires to play the lead role.

“The original inspiration for ‘Cast Me If You Can’ was an image I had in my mind of the lead actor (who also acted in my previous film) running around Tokyo wearing a police uniform, and ‘Frasier,’ the American TV sit-com, whose humorous father-son relationship reflects also the relationship I have with my own father,” Ogata said.

In addition to films like Ogata’s, the screening of animated shorts provides an activity for those who both have good taste and have children. With offbeat and fun animated films like “Attack of the Killer Mutant Chickens” by Bangladesh’s own Nayeem Mahbub, the animated selection this year is shaping up to have broad appeal for all ages.

The festival is sure to pack a crowd if last year’s attendance is any example; as many shows then (both Snowdance and otherwise) sold out in advance. The rising level of interest in AIFF by Anchorage residents, as both audience members and filmmakers, makes it much easier for a locally-grown film such as “Lost Land” to be screened. Laputka and other locals like him in the Snowdance category attest to the fact that Alaskans really can produce films people want to see.

“Never compromise your standards, and always, no matter what, be open minded to new ideas,” Lapuka said.

In terms of advice to film makers wanting their pet projects to see screen time, both home-grown directors and their internationally-renouned counterparts have similar advice: be passionate.

“Just because you can buy a brush, it doesn’t mean you’d instantly be a painter,” Ogata said. “It’s also important that you do it because you feel passionate about it and like the process.”