PUZZLING EVIDENCE A robot investigates a past civilization in the animated classic ‘WALL-E,’ to be screened at AVFest on May 1 with director/sound designer Ben Burtt in attendance
Ben Burtt will bring his film ‘WALL-E’ to SRJC Petaluma on May 1, 7pm.

Lights, camera, action: the 10th annual local film festival now known as AVFest opens Friday, April 26, and continues with screenings and events through Sunday, May 5. While many of the showings take place in a Healdsburg barrel room, a number of special events spread the glamor out across Wine Country to Alexander Valley Hall, the Geyserville Firehouse, Petaluma’s Carole L. Ellis Auditorium and the Raven Theater on North Street.

“We have so much excitement packed into 10 days—incredible independent films from all over the world, our signature dinners and events, and more than 70 filmmakers coming to visit Sonoma County and meet our community,” said AVFest executive director Kathryn Hecht. “It is shaping up to be a perfect milestone anniversary party.”

Opening day, Friday, is entirely in Cloverdale, the birthplace of what was formerly known as the Alexander Valley Film Festival. The city’s Performing Arts Center will screen Green Border, about the refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. It unspools at 1:30 on Friday afternoon.

‘Green Border’ – April 26, 1:30pm

Then the cine-fun spills out onto the boulevard with Friday night’s Cloverdale Block Party, which follows the 5pm showing of Humanist Vampire. Described as a “genre mash-up,” it’s a French comedy by first-time director Ariane Louis-Seize. The horror-accented rom-com is fully titled Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, which suggests the twisted plotline.

Movie and block party admission is $100, with added drink and food tickets available for purchase. The party includes live music, food and wine vendors, and the chance to grab a selfie with some of the creators taking part in AVFest. A set of eight edgy “Late Night Shorts” at 8:30pm concludes the opening night occasion.

The rest of the festival takes place largely in Healdsburg, with screenings on weekends at Longboard Vineyards (5 Fitch St.) in their barrel room. With some 70 films overall, both features and shorts, it would be impossible to list them all—for that, bookmark avfilmpresents.org/film-festival/ for best access.

Special Events

Journalists investigating international crime in film 'The Grab'
‘The Grab’ – April 29, 5:30pm

That said, the schedule includes a number of special events, which may be of particular interest. Of special local interest is The Grab, a documentary of investigative journalism, produced by Little Saint owners Laurie and Jeff Ubben. The AVFest crew said they have been “chasing the film” since it screened at Telluride two years ago. It’s the story of “a global land-grab game where the stakes are literally life and death,” as told through the work of former Press Democrat reporter Nate Halverson.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (who directed Blackfish, about captive orcas) will be on hand, with Jeff Ubben, to speak at the screening on Monday, April 29. The film and reception take place at Longboard, starting at 5:30pm, but the ticket price includes one drink at the after-party—at Little Saint, of course.

Foodies will focus on The Art of Eating, a documentary on celebrated food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who lived in Glen Ellen for the last 20 years of her illustrious life, and in St. Helena before that. The director, Gregory Bezat, as well as chef Kyle Connaughton and food writer Michele Anna Jordan, will be in attendance for the accompanying three-course dinner, with local wines included in the $125 ticket price (film only $15). The food and reception will be held at Lo & Behold (214 Healdsburg Ave.)

‘Thelma’ – May 2, 8pm

Food and wine make another appearance during AVFest on Thursday, May 2. After an Italian dinner at Geyserville’s Catelli’s (21047 Geyserville Ave.) at 6pm, $150 ticket-holders (or festival pass holders) can head over to the firehouse for a screening of Thelma, “Best of Fest” at this year’s Sundance. It stars June Squibb, who won a supporting actress award in Nebraska, as a senior on a mission to avenge telephone scams on the elderly.

Sound Tribute

AVFest’s centerpiece, falling on May 1, is a tribute to Ben Burtt, an Oscar-winning sound designer and director of the animated WALL-E. An often overlooked calling in film, sound design (or sound editing as it was formerly known) has played an integral role in movies since talkies emerged. One way to measure the quality of sound design is to “watch” a movie with one’s eyes closed. In addition to modern action movies like Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films—where Burtt holds the credits—more subtle dramas benefit from attentive sound design, too.

‘Blue Giant’ – May 3, 8pm

Burtt will hold court this Wednesday night at a VIP reception at 5pm, an onstage interview at 6pm, then a presentation of his much-awarded, prescient WALL-E (for which he also supplied a major voice) at 7pm with a Q&A to follow. It’s all at Ellis Auditorium, on SRJC’s Petaluma campus.

Other special events include a Friday, May 3, student film competition screened at the Raven at 5pm, followed by a Healdsburg Block Party on Center Street with live music and food from local vendors (funded in part by a $2,500 HTID award), ending up with an 8pm screening of Blue Giant—an animated feature from Japan about jazz obsession.

Though it doesn’t appear on the Special Events list, Saturday, May 4, sees the premiere of Werewolf Serenade, a horror comedy from Daedalus Howell (a name familiar to readers of this and other regional weeklies). 

‘Werewolf Serenade’- May 4, 9pm

It’s actually his second film—his earlier Pill Head has been called “possibly the most bizarre film ever made in Petaluma”—and this one concerns an academic who turns into a werewolf. It screens Saturday night at 9pm at Longboard. Like most programs at AVFest, individual tickets are $15.

The festival concludes the next night, Sunday, May 5, with a 5pm showing of Ghostlight, a comedy-drama about the healing power of theater. Co-directors Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan will attend as well. Afterward, at 7:30pm, the group is invited to the Awards After-party at The Matheson (104 Matheson St.) where results from both judge and audience voting will be announced.

Complete AVFest information and ticket links at avfilmpresents.org/film-festival.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.



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