Ron Craig, the executive director and founder of the Astoria International Film Festival, feels such a strong connection to the city of Paris he believes he might have walked its backstreets in a past life. His affinity for the place led to a love of cinema that motivates him to this day.
“For me, it’s part of my roots,” he said of the French capital, which he visits habitually.
Craig’s fondness for France as the birthplace of cinema and a creative hub of artists from around the world endows the upcoming festival — taking place Friday through Sunday, Oct. 20 through 22, at the Liberty Theatre — with a multicultural richness. And his affection for the Pacific Northwest and its homegrown talent gives the annual event a local flair.
A self-described “black Bohemian” from Portland who has found success as a filmmaker and author — he bears his talent and accomplishments humbly — Craig feels education is an important part of what he can contribute to the region’s culture.
Now in its 11th year, the film festival is a “vehicle to deliver that education,” he said.
Viewers can check out foreign films, American classics, documentaries and shorts created by regional filmmakers, all threaded together by a theme: “The Human Spirit.”
‘I Am Not Your Negro’
Perhaps the most important aspect of the film festival is promoting social consciousness — bringing awareness to topics that are sensitive, controversial or ignored.
“I always felt I wanted people to scratch their heads going out of the door after seeing a film,” Craig said. “To be able to do that is really important.”
This year’s festival will feature “I Am Not Your Negro,” a 2016 documentary based on an unfinished manuscript by American writer and social critic James Baldwin.
At the time of his death in 1987, Baldwin had only completed 30 pages of a book meant to be his personal account of the lives and assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, three of Baldwin’s close friends. “I Am Not Your Negro” is filmmaker Raoul Peck’s approach to finishing the story Baldwin was unable to.
The film will be followed by a one-hour forum for viewers to dialogue about the events, people and truths it portrays.
Astoria resident Elaine Bauer, who has attended the festival several times and volunteers on occasion, said Craig typically hosts a forum of this sort “after his most profound offering of the season.”
Craig will sometimes pose a question, but largely allows the audience to drive the discussion, share their views and make their own discoveries.
“It’s fun — it’s very dynamic,” Bauer said. The forums are “not nearly as well-attended as they deserve to be,” she added, but attendance seems to have grown over the years.
Some viewers may be unaware of events and people that shaped past and present social movements and have forced critical change in the country.
Craig does not condemn them for their ignorance of certain benchmarks in human rights or other revolutionary movements. Rather, he believes he owes it “to them and myself to have a forum so they can discuss those social issues.”
Another film at this year’s festival that addresses racial and cultural segregation is “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” which will be shown Saturday afternoon and again Sunday morning.
An adaptation of Kent Nerburn’s book of the same name, the film follows Nerburn, a white American writer, as he travels to the Dakotas to transcribe an oral history preserved by Dan, a 95-year-old Lakota elder. A social clash ensues, as the writer struggles to connect with Dan’s story. The experience forces Neburn to come to a new understanding of events and a history he thought he knew.
In memory of James Beard
For a local subject, there will be a screening of the 2017 documentary “James Beard: America’s First Foodie,” directed by Beth Federici.
Beard, who was born in Portland and died in 1985, was a chef, a pioneer of the food media industry and an early champion for the importance of sustainability and localism. He spent many childhood summers in Gearhart.
“We always try to do something connected to this region,” Craig said. “James Beard was one of the creative and talented people from the area. It’s an honor for me to be able to honor him.”
After the screening, festival-goers are encouraged to stop by Baked Alaska, where 12th Street meets the Riverwalk, to pay tribute to Beard. They can share their favorite story about the renowned chef and foodie, even if they did not know him personally.
Craig’s personal, and brief, encounter with Beard took place in Paris in the 1970s. Heading back to a hotel with his wife to relax for the evening, the couple crossed paths with Beard, whom Craig recognized on sight.
Craig remembers telling Beard how much he appreciated his work and that he was a big fan. Perusing Craig’s grocery bag full of cheap French beer and potato chips, Beard joked, “Yeah, it looks like you are.”
Also on the marquee
Other films showing Friday and Saturday include the 2015 Swedish comedy-drama “A Man Called Ove,” written and directed by Hannes Holm; the 2014 drama “Whiplash,” directed by Damien Chazelle; the documentary “Dina,” by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini; a collection of 1998 shorts by the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival; and “The Noble Spirit,” a documentary about Fred Noble directed by Dane Henry.
The final social event of the festival will be a croissants-and-coffee gathering Sunday morning, where festivalgoers can enjoy pastries provided by Blue Scorcher Bakery & Café and coffee from Columbia River Coffee Roasters.
Craig includes this because he’s found that “the people who started at 5 o’clock on Friday, they’ve seen enough films they feel that they would like to discuss them.”
From there, out-of-towners may head home or stick around with locals to catch the final features: a second showing of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” and “The Defiant Ones,” a 1958 crime drama starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis that won Academy Awards for cinematography (black and white) and original screenplay.
Bauer, who typically attends as many of the films as she can in any given season, said she is impressed by the caliber and sincerity of the festival under Craig’s direction.
“Almost everything he does has some very important social significance to it,” she said, adding that, over the years, the event has exposed her to several thought-provoking films she might not otherwise have seen.
The cost for admission is $10 per film or $80 for a full festival pass. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information, visit goaiff.com/.