The 8th Annual Alexander Valley Film Festival, newly renamed AVFest, wraps up this Sunday with the documentary Kaepernick & America and a closing party at Barndiva and Matheson restaurants in Healdsburg, capping 10 days of in-person screenings in Cloverdale, Geyserville , Healdsburg, Windsor and Sainte-Rose.
This year, the festival featured 38 feature films and 40 short films from 18 countries. Saturday and Sunday – Mother’s Day weekend – it will screen two documentaries with powerful stories about family.
Jimmy in Saigon, a feature-length documentary from Los Angeles-based filmmaker Peter McDowell and executive producer Dan Savage, will premiere on the West Coast on Saturday at the Clover Theater in Cloverdale and screen again on Sunday at Orsi Family Vineyards in Healdsburg. Mama Bears, a feature-length documentary from Emmy-winning director Daresha Kyi, premieres Sunday at Orsi Family Vineyards. The two directors will be present for questions and answers after the screenings.
Jimmy in Saigon follows McDowell as he embarks on a decade-long journey that takes him through the United States, Vietnam and France on a quest to learn more about his brother’s life and death. elder Jim, or Jimmy. Jimmy was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War and returned to Saigon after his tour ended. He died there, under mysterious circumstances, in 1972 when he was 24 and McDowell only five.
Years pass and McDowell’s family silently mourns Jimmy’s death. But as he grows up, McDowell finds he can’t rest with so many unanswered questions about his brother. In an effort to uncover the cause of his brother’s death and to find out more about who he was, he searches for those who knew Jimmy during his later years.
Through conversations with Jimmy’s friends and family members, and through reading more than 200 letters written and sent by his brother, McDowell gains a deeper connection to the older brother he barely knew in life and learns that Jimmy was probably gay. McDowell, who is also gay, discovers a powerful connection between his brother and a young Vietnamese man, also deceased, and eventually reunites their respective families so that the two men can be honored.
“When someone dies, I don’t think closure is really possible,” McDowell said. “Going deeper inward and learning more about yourself and the person is, for me, a more realistic goal. Our family talks about it a lot, a lot more than we ever have.
On Sunday, Jimmy in Saigon will screen right after Mama Bears at Orsi Family Vineyards in Healdsburg.
Mama Bears premiered at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas in March 2022. The feature-length documentary follows a group of conservative Christian mothers whose lives are transformed when they decide to “assert and defend on behalf of their LGBTQ children. The women, realizing that their love of God cannot come at the expense of their gay and trans children, support each other in a private Facebook group, which they call “Mama Bears.”
The documentary explores the emotional journey of women, from grief to freedom and growth, as they lose the support of their evangelical community and later find a new sense of belonging through the LGBTQ community and the Mama Bears group. . They realize that faith in God and unconditional love for the LGBTQ community can coexist and they decide to express it through action:
A mother fights an anti-trans bill in Texas bathrooms while fiercely defending her young daughter; another starts the nationwide Free Mom Hugs movement, which embraces people (figuratively and literally) who have been rejected by their families because of their gender or sexuality; a third joins the Reformation Project, a Christian organization that educates on “the biblical case for LGBTQ inclusion” and shows how Christians can “fully affirm both the Bible and LGBTQ people.”
In times of pandemic, war and what often appear to be irreconcilable political differences, we could all use a reminder that stories about family and love – stories many of us can relate to, regardless who we are, where we come from or what we believe in — have the power to bring people together.
Individual tickets for Jimmy in Saigon and Mama Bears can be purchased online at avfilmpresents.org/film-festival/individual-tickets.