RAPT AUDIENCE Attendees at closing night of the 2023 AV Film Festival included Scott and Mary Newman, in front, with Carrie Brown behind them. (Israel Valencia photo)

As the AV Film Festival prepares for its 10th annual AVFest, from April 26-May 5, the news that the festival, school and projected Healdsburg cinema would be changing its name was a bit of a shocker.

“We needed a name that better reflected the driving energy behind the organization, and something that represented everybody we serve,” said Kathryn Hecht, executive director of what until next month will be known as AVFilm—itself a short form of Alexander Valley Film Festival, its original tag (and still its legal name).

“Alexander Valley wasn’t the name anymore, it was AVFilm,” Hecht said. “But people weren’t able to really connect with that. We heard from stakeholders; they didn’t know what it meant and who it represented. Was it geographic? Was it audio visual?”

True West is not, perhaps surprisingly, the name of a Western movie. It is the title of a Sam Shepard play about sibling rivalry, a play that, however successful it’s been on stage, has never been made into a movie for theatrical release.

“We knew we needed something that was distinct and unifying and geographically representative, but also energetic and representative of our drive,” Hecht said.

Moving On

In addition to the annual festival coming next month, AVFilm also runs an education program with after-school programs and a summer film camp, in both Healdsburg and Cloverdale. Moreover, other movies are occasionally screened, including two this coming Saturday, March 23: The Space Race, about Black astronauts (at 1pm); and Origin, about the writing of the book Caste (at 4pm). Both films are free, with donations to the local NAACP encouraged.

SWEET RELIEF Board Chair Jenny Gomez (left) celebrates the closing night of AVFest 2023 with Board Member Jeanne Kears and her husband, Stephen. (Photo by Israel Valencia)

The announcement of the new name comes as the organization commemorates its 10th anniversary, its first-ever grant from the National Endowment for the Arts earlier this year and the groundbreaking for its new cinema center in Healdsburg this year.

That three-screen theater, which had been announced and promoted as Plaza Cinema Center, will now become the True West Cinema Center. It is to be located at 371 Healdsburg Ave., set back from the street in a small courtyard. Hecht said she hopes that the theater opens within a year.

Festival Plans

Sooner than that, however, the 10th Annual AV Film Festival, a.k.a. AVFest, will launch in Cloverdale on April 26, at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center. The majority of subsequent screenings will be held at Longboard Vineyards (5 Fitch St., at the intersection of Hudson), and “pop-up” screenings are planned throughout the county though May 5, including in Petaluma, Alexander Valley and Healdsburg.

Although plans for the opening night are still shrouded in secrecy, the festival centerpiece will be a tribute to sound designer and 12-time Oscar nominee Ben Burtt, who will discuss his storied career from the original Star Wars trilogy to Lincoln. His 2008 film, WALL-E, will be screened as part of the program.

Two other animated features are also planned: the Oscar-nominated Robot Dreams, about the unlikely friendship between a dog and a robot; and Blue Giant, a Japanese anime about a young man’s journey to becoming a jazz great.

The 75-year-old Polish auteur, Agnieszka Holland, has made nearly 50 films over the past half-century, and her 2023 Green Border will also be featured. The film follows a group of Syrian refugees seeking asylum at the border between Poland and Belarus.

Details of the opening- and closing-night programs, and ticket availability, are expected on March 31, at avfilmpresents.org/film-festival. The name change to True West won’t become official until after this year’s 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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