Anchorage International Film Festival Lights up Winter in the City
Anchorage has its share of blockbuster hits. Wildly rugged mountain adventures? Check. World-class fishing opportunities? Naturally. Urban comforts and unparalleled cuisine? Yes, please. But perhaps more than this, Anchorage is a limitless source of immensely diverse and unforgettable stories. Adventures inevitably come to an end, but stories live forever. After all, isn’t that why we travel, or dream up new staycations?
Alaska, it could be said, is built on storytelling. For thousands of years, Alaska Native communities have shared knowledge, wisdom, and traditions through the art of storytelling. Following the gold rush, writers, poets, painters, and idealists heeded the call of the wild, trekking north to Alaska to chase awe-inspiring stories and art. More recently, latte-wielding reality television producers flocked to Alaska during a renaissance of frontier stories for cable networks – with (checks notes) varying degrees of success.
Storytellers know this is the land of big views, bigger ideas, and bold dreamers – and given its legacy of Alaska-sized stories, it makes sense that the state’s largest city would be home to a prestigious film festival.
Since 2001, the Anchorage International Film Festival (AIFF) has served as a hub for emerging filmmakers from Alaska and across the world. The weeklong cinema event was recently selected as one of the 25 “coolest” film festivals in the world by MovieMaker Magazine alongside industry staples SXSW and Sundance Film Festival. Sure, it’s a designation that recognizes the festival's consistently buzzworthy lineup of independent films, but it is also an apt nod to the fact that it is literally cool. The festival takes place in early-December when snow and ice put Anchorage in full winter mode. AIFF is one of Anchorage’s true winter attractions, drawing filmmakers and film-fanatics from across the globe to revel in all things cinema. With screening locations spread across town – from the trendy Bear Tooth Theaterpub, to the inimitable Anchorage Museum – AIFF manages to light up the winter darkness with something Alaskans readily embrace: World-class storytelling.
The 2023 iteration of AIFF (Dec. 1-10) will screen 82 films from 17 countries and play host to more than 60 visiting and Alaska-based filmmakers. The lineup includes both feature length and short films that cover nearly every genre of fiction and nonfiction cinema. Film fans and Alaska insiders alike will no doubt be dazzled by “Wild Life,” an opening night feature documentary on the legendary yet often troubled dog musher Lance Mackey.
While global in scale, AIFF retains a decidedly Alaskan vibe. The festival’s “Made in Alaska” category ensures that the lineup includes films produced throughout the state, often giving voice to emerging local talents. As an Anchorage-based filmmaker, I can attest that AIFF provides both an unforgettable experience and a welcoming community of artists.
In 2022, I was fortunate to screen and win an award for “The Purpose of Song,” a short documentary on Yup’ik singer Byron Nicholai who found healing and success through producing original music in his native language. Screening this film for a sold out audience at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, a first for me, was a pulse-racing thrill that has inspired me to dig deeper as an independent filmmaker. This year, I’m pleased to be back at AIFF with “True Colors,” a short documentary focused on the nation-leading diversity in Anchorage’s public schools. The film follows two graduating seniors at Bartlett High School as they reflect on lessons learned about equality, acceptance, and what it takes to make it to the top. Screening this film at AIFF is sure to leave me buzzing once again as I dream up ideas for my next project. There’s nothing quite like sharing a film you’ve put your heart into with a live audience – it is without a doubt the pinnacle of the mountain-climb that is the craft of filmmaking.
No matter the format, Alaska has always known a truth about great storytelling: It brings people together. If you need proof, just pop into any AIFF screening. Imagine dodging a December snowstorm to step into a packed Anchorage theater for a block of curated independent films from across the world, while sampling local fare and brushing shoulders with emerging filmmakers. That’s not just a world-class festival experience, it sounds like the start of a great story, made right here in Anchorage.