STUDENT WORK — Henry Gomez working on his student film. 

Festival focuses on heroes, overcoming obstacles

The fourth annual Alexander Valley Film Festival (AVFF), hosted by the Alexander Valley Film Society, will be held from Thursday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 21.

This year’s festival theme is heroes; each year the festival theme represents common threads in the films submitted. This year’s theme was also influenced by where the festival was last year — sitting on the haunches of the firestorm.

“I think this year we had a confluence of things happen that helped the heroes theme emerge,” said Kathryn Hecht, founder and executive director of Alexander Valley Film Society. “One is the content that we got in this year — the movies that we got in, (included) a lot of intensely powerful personal stories about triumph. Triumph over adversity, triumph over limitation, people pushing their limits to accomplish magnificent things. The other thing that really informed that this year was where we were a year ago.”

While most of the films don’t directly relate to the fires, Hecht discussed how the spirit of healing and moving forward is represented in some of the films being shown during the AVFF. One example of this is the opening night film, “Free Solo.”

“This movie emerged as telling the story of where we want to be,” she said. “That anything is possible. This is the kind of thing we wanted to communicate to our community. There’s a spirit in the film that transcends the darkness and the challenges that we faced and that people are continuing to face.”

Taking a more direct approach, the student film competition that takes place during AVFF has a focus on the fires. The film competition, which was been integrated into the curriculum in Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale schools and was open to students from all Sonoma County school districts, asked young filmmakers to interview their peers about the impact of the fires.

“We sat down with the Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County and they were interested in hearing from adolescents about mental health,” said Hecht, “how our adolescents in the county were processing the trauma from 2017. What does that look like now? How have they made meaning of that experience? Our adolescents had very different experiences, depending on where they lived. We talked about using the student film competition as an avenue in to start to get to some of those stories and at the same time, give students an opportunity to practice these critical storytelling skills.”

The film society partnered with the Healthcare Foundation and SCOE to get the word out to Sonoma County students. The parameters of the competition including making a three-minute micro-documentary wherein they interviewed one of their peers about how the fire impacted them.

One student participating in the film competition is Henry Gomez, a sophomore at Healdsburg High School. In his mico-documentary, Gomez interviews Elijah Popkin. “It’s about a story about this cat who was lost through the fires and was found after the fires,” said Gomez.


BELLA — Henry Gomez filming Elijah Popkin for his Alexander Valley Film Festival student film submission. 

Gomez’ favorite thing about the filmmaking process was “shooting it and sharing the story.” At the time of interview, the micro-documentary was untitled, but the student was thinking of naming it “Bella,” after Popkin’s cat.

“It’s really fun,” he said when discussing the balance between creating a film and adhering to the boundaries set by the student film competition. “It’s pretty fun and creative, it’s open but there are boundaries and restrictions.”

The films made by students across the county will be showcased at The Clover Theater on Oct. 20.

The films being shown during the film festival cover a wide variety of subjects. From documentaries to narrative pieces, the subjects of the films range from LGBTQ rights to fat activism to films about inspiring kids. Over the course of the festival festival, film showings will take place at The Clover in Cloverdale, The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg and at the Geyserville Odd Fellows Hall. The neighbor screening on Oct. 18 will be at the Alexander Valley Hall. Tickets for the events are available online at

“When you are sitting in a dark room in that fully immersive experience of watching a movie, and you have a community response, a communal response of laughing or crying or screaming at the screen — there’s just something so holistic about that,” said Hecht. “It’s so inspiring to me and it’s not replicated in many other places.”


Event highlights include:

Oct. 18, 6 p.m. Neighbor Screening of the short documentary “Empire on Main Street” and documentary “Chef Flynn.” Doors open at 6 p.m. Dinner will be a potluck with main dishes provided by Jimtown Store. Attendees with last names beginning in A-M are asked to bring a side dish, and attendees with last names beginning in N-Z are ask to bring a dessert.

The movie showing begins with “Empire on Main Street” at 7 p.m. “Empire” producer Eric Holland and film subject Christa Luedtke and “Chef Flynn” director Cameron Yates will be in attendance. Alexander Valley Hall, 5512 State Hwy. 128, Geyserville.

Oct. 19, 6 p.m. Opening night and reception, screening of the documentary “Free Solo.” Screening begins at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a reception in the Silverwood Plaza at 8 p.m. The Clover, 121 E 1st St., Cloverdale.

Oct. 20, 10 a.m. Filmmaker workshop and student film competition. Saturday has a focus on students. There will be coffee and donuts at 9:30 a.m. followed by a workshop with filmmakers at 10 a.m. and a screening of student micro-films at 11 a.m. The Clover Theater, 121 E 1st St., Cloverdale.

Oct. 20, 7 p.m. Saturday night classic film, “Double Indemnity.” Doors will open at 7 p.m. for cocktails, wine and popcorn. The screening of the film will begin at 8 p.m. Geyserville Odd Fellows Hall, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville.

Oct. 21, 2:45 p.m. Screening of “Fattitude” and a discussion panel. After the film, a panel led by AVFS Executive Director Kathryn Hecht with certified health coach and emotional eating expert Isabel Foxen Duke and body trust coach Elizabeth Hall, will discuss the importance of body acceptance work and how diet culture has shaped societal attitudes and practices about body weight and appearance. The Clover, 121 E 1st St., Cloverdale.

Oct. 21, 5:30 p.m. Closing night screening of “Warrior Women.” Following the film, there will be a Q&A and an awards ceremony at spoonbar at h2Hotel in Healdsburg. Directors Elizabeth Castle and Christina D. King and warrior woman Lakota Harden will be in attendance. The Raven Film Center, 415 Center St., Healdsburg.

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