Albany FilmFest Goes National 

But the city's community-oriented film festival is still sticking to its roots.

When the organizers of the Albany FilmFest premiered the city-coordinated short film fest last year, they weren't exactly sure how it would go over. The event — put together by the City of Albany; its community access television station, KALB 33; and the city's Community Media Advisory Committee — had all the trappings of the standard community film festival: a pre-screening gala, copious amounts of popcorn, a panel of esteemed local judges, and a collection of films made by a mix of kids, amateurs, and established filmmakers. As it turned out, the city's community center-turned-festival theater was filled to capacity. "We were very happy," recalled organizer and committee member Naomi Lucks Sigal. "Because the first time you do something you have no idea what's going to happen."

After the lights had dimmed, the crowds had cleared, and the last kernel of popcorn had been swept from the floor, the next step, it seemed, was to do it all over again. For the second iteration, which takes place on Saturday, March 3, at the community center in which it debuted (1249 Marin Ave., Albany), organizers decided to open the submission process to filmmakers from all over the country (last year only in-state filmmakers could compete). That process was made easier thanks to the online entry form provided by International Movie Database, which allowed last year's films to be included in its exhaustive online database.

As a result, this year's programming includes films — from animations to documentaries, some from artists as young as six — from across the United States. While it's diversified the programming, it also means that outside entries outnumber those by Albany residents. Perhaps to combat that imbalance, this year's event has a theme: "My Own Private Albany," and, accordingly, local filmmakers have been challenged with creating cinematic interpretations of the small East Bay town. "We wanted to keep people in Albany feeling that, even though it's become national, this is still their festival," Lucks Sigal said. "Because it really is. Being from Albany is kind of what sets us apart from every other festival. It's a quirky place."

Approximately thirty films will screen throughout the day, with filmmaker Q&As, and winners will be determined by a three-judge panel that includes local filmmaker Les Blank. Guest filmmakers include Albany natives Waylon Bacon and Hoku Uchiyama, and animator and El Cerrito resident Geefwee Boedoe, whose animation, Bought Some Cheese, premieres at the fest. Attendees can come and go as they please, and partake in endless amounts of popcorn. Noon-8 p.m., $1-$5; Pre-festival gala (with food, wine, and live jazz) at the Albany Community Center on Friday, March 2. 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m., $25. AlbanyFilmFest.org

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