Alameda’s Film Festival Flashes Forward

Alameda’s Film Festival Flashes Forward


Sci-fi film “Youth,” coming to AIFF, looks at growing old in a youth-obsessed society.

The festival runs Oct. 7-9 in the Crystal Room at the Alameda Hotel.

Of the thousands of film festivals dotting the globe, all but a few began as a labor of love. Of course, organizers also yearn to share movies with an audience. But let’s not forget the labor: Executive producers Mark Farrell and Colin Blake of the nascent Alameda International Film Festival watched all 190 of this year’s submissions—totaling 40 hours—before passing the great majority on to the selection jury.

Now that might not sound like work to you, and Farrell hastens to say that it’s a task he relishes. But it’s a far cry from the thrill he gets when a crowd reacts to a film.

“The audience can respond collectively in a way you just don’t get when it’s two people watching a screen in their living room,” he effused. Sometimes, he noted, something might be really funny in rehearsal yet may fail to get as big a laugh from the audience; the opposite also holds true, he said.

The Alameda International Film Festival unspools three feature films and seven shorts programs Oct. 7-9 in the Crystal Room at the Alameda Hotel and the Pacific Pinball Museum Film Lounge. Filmmakers from as far away as Ukraine are flying in for the festival, joining numerous local directors with demonstrably shorter commutes.

The festival began in an Alameda backyard in June 2008 as a summer kickoff that the assorted artists and friends in attendance dubbed the Long Day Short Film Festival. Blake and Farrell took the helm in 2011, and converted the one-night show to a public event under a tent in Forbidden Island’s parking lot while maintaining the solstice theme: The duo accepted works up to 6:21 in length.

The LDSFF then moved indoors to a massive hangar at the Rock Wall Wine Company for two years, followed by last year’s event at Allen Michaan’s lovely theater on the former naval base. Always seeking the next step up, Farrell and Blake, who just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, subsequently renamed the festival, expanded it to three days, and jettisoned the 6:21 constraint.

“Moving it to October puts the focus on film instead of summer,” Farrell said. “It helps to anchor the festival in something more serious.”

They made one more important strategic decision: They aimed for the heart of the island.

“One setback for us has always been that we have it at a remote place and bring in food and music,” Farrell explained. “Alameda needed the event to take place downtown. Alameda residents have a lot of civic pride, and putting Alameda in the name increases recognition.”

The central location should increase attendance, and newcomers are going to be surprised at the level of filmmaking across the board. The seven shorts programs are filled with gems, from Hungarian filmmaker Elena Brodach’s gorgeous vignette Silence, part of The Perfect Storm: Rites of Passage, to former Pixar whiz Joe Garrity’s first-person Twinsburg, capturing a fraternal reunion at the massive annual Ohio twins convention, to Family Business: Ties That Bind.

The AIFF’s trio of features includes the California premiere on opening night of William J. Stribling’s outdoorsy romantic comedy Bear With Us, featuring a performance by Cheyenne Jackson and a posse of investors and producers from Alameda. Eric Metzgar’s For the Coyotes also unfolds under the trees, where a terminally ill Buddhist teacher (Berkeley Rep favorite James Carpenter) extends an olive branch to his estranged son (Josh Schell). Hayward natives Greg and Mark Runnels unveil The Last Alleycat, a drama about a man who challenges his midlife crisis with an 80-mile bicycle race.

Farrell and Blake, an English teacher, aren’t in it for the money, as evidenced by the $2,000 in cash to be awarded to filmmakers during the AIFF. So they’re especially grateful to this year’s sponsors, including 21 Alain Pinel real estate agents in Montclair and Alameda. Indeed, they’re already brainstorming about the 2017 festival.

“Our overarching thing has been how can we expand each year and not do the same thing,” Farrell said.

The Alameda International Film Festival runs Oct. 7-9 in the Crystal Room at the Alameda Hotel, 1415 Broadway, and the Pacific Pinball Museum Film Lounge, 1510 Webster St. For more information, visit

Published online on Sept. 29, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.