An insider’s view of the AFF

Feeling every inch the stowaway, as I always do at events like the Grove Park Inn’s Nov. 6 gala opening for the first Asheville Film Festival, I’d hardly processed the concept before I found myself — as a film-festival judge — being interviewed by WLOS TV’s John Le.

And before I could fully process that, I found myself talking with the widow of the man who made The Angel Doll — one of the AFF competition entries — asking her why Cheerwine popped up so often in her late husband’s film. That same soft drink played a part in my own decision to come back to North Carolina (another discussion for another time) — and it turned out that not only had director Alexander Johnston also enjoyed the beverage, but one of his movie’s investors had stock in the company, as well.

The world of product placement extends far beyond Hollywood, it seems.

As the weekend unfolded, the surrealism of opening night soon gave way to the usual snags — technical glitches at Diana Wortham, movies that weren’t quite going over (hey, I warned you that Hotel Lobby was pretentious!), scheduling difficulties. But these were hardly unexpected in a first effort at staging a film festival.

Like many of its movies, the festival had some rough edges — but as with its films, it was somehow working anyway. Part of the glory of the whole thing was that it had been done at all.

By Saturday night, when the awards ceremonies at Blue Ridge Motion Pictures rolled around, all the snafus had faded into insignificance, and all the pre-festival chaos seemed suddenly worth it. (I had, by that point, even forgotten to resent the parking ticket I’d been awarded when a judges’ meeting at the Fine Arts Theatre ran long.)

Former Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick, who got the AFF ball rolling, was deservedly honored. And it was nice seeing Fine Arts owner John Cram receive a special “AFFy” for bringing to Asheville quality films that otherwise wouldn’t be seen here — and equally nice to see John share this award with theater manager Neal Reed.

Behind the scenes, Reed was instrumental in the festival’s success, as was Gayle Wurthner, who organized the AFF’s lecture series. Due to the brevity of the awards show, not everyone received equal due. But the surprising success of an event initially troubled with so many teething problems was ultimately shared by all.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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