Tickets to the eighth annual Ashland Independent Film Festival, April 2-6, are now sale to the general public.

Tickets to the eighth annual Ashland Independent Film Festival, April 2-6, are now sale to the general public.

Tickets, membership passes, the full schedule, descriptions of the 94 films to be shown and the 80-page festival souvenir program are available online at www.ashlandfilm.org and at the box office on the Ashland plaza, open from 3 to 6 p.m. until the festival begins.

More than 6,000 cinema lovers gather for the festival each year, and filmmakers of the documentaries, features and shorts come from around the world. The AIFF features filmmaker Q-and-As, the nightly afterLOUNGE and free screenings of locally made films and filmmaker forums.

The 2009 films focus on Garrison Keillor, The Beatles, Cirque de Soleil and author and PBS host David McCullough — and include a musical version of a modern Midsummer Night's Dream, six Academy Award nominated and winning films and more. Special guests include NPR film critic Elvis Mitchell and Cannes-winning and Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton,

The festival's opening night film is "Wendy and Lucy," called "a pitch perfect triumph" by the New York Times and starring "Brokeback Mountain" Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams.

"All Together Now" captures when Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles collaborated to create the visual and musical circus show "LOVE." Before each screening, Ashland's Le Cirque Centre's TILT Dance Theatre will perform four exclusive acts on ropes, silks and aerial hoops.

"Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes" provides a behind-the-scenes look at Keillor, with bits of his broadcasts of "A Prairie Home Companion" and his personal life.

In "Automorphosis," filmmaker Harrod Blank (son of 2007 AIFF Artistic Achievement Award winner Les Blank) unveils the creative eccentrics, visionaries and just plain folks who have transformed their autos into "art cars." Blank will bring to town his "Camera Van" and will present an "Automorphosis" photography exhibit of art cars at Houston's Custom Framing and Fine Art to celebrate April's First Friday Art Walk.

The 2009 AIFF Artistic Achievement Award will be presented to director, producer, writer and animator Bill Plympton, whose short films and newest animated feature film, "Idiots and Angels," will be featured at the festival. He will also present an animation demonstration and retrospective of his career. Plympton, who won the Jury Prize and Canal Award at the Cannes Film Festival, grew up in Portland and credits Oregon's rainy climate for nurturing his drawing skills and imagination. He has served as an illustrator, cartoonist, MTV and film animator and his illustrations have appreared in The New York Times, Vogue and Vanity Fair. His cartoons have appeared in Rolling Stone, National Lampoon and Glamour, and his political cartoon strip, Plymptom, was syndicated in more than 20 papers.

Entertainment critic Elvis Mitchell will be presented with this year's AIFF Rogue Award. The former film critic for the New York Times has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition since 1985 and is the host of Turner Classic Movies Channel's "Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence." At the AIFF he will host a live, one-man show, "Elvis Mitchell on Cinema: Past, Present and Future," and show his "Black List" films, featuring interviews with African-American leaders.

The AIFF includes a gala Opening Night Bash April 2 at the Ashland Springs Hotel, featuring "Savor the Rogue," a specialty food and wine tasting presented by the Rogue Creamery. On April 5, juried and audience awards will be presented at the annual awards celebration party and dinner at the Historic Armory.

The closing night film, "Sugar," Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's ("Half Nelson") newest project, tells the story of a 19-year-old Dominican baseball pitcher trying to make it in the U.S. minor leagues.

The AIFF again will feature Academy recognized films, including the Oscar winner in the Documentary Short Subject category, "Smile Pinki," and another nominated in the short documentary category, "The Final Inch." Two nominated in the Best Documentary Feature films — "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" and "The Garden" — will also be included.

Other films include "Were the World Mine" — in which a gay, high school boy is cast as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and stumbles upon a magical recipe, turning much of his narrow-minded town gay — and "Upstream Battle," about a coalition of Klamath, Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Native Americans battling to remove dams that have devastated the salmon population on the Klamath River.

On Saturday and Sunday the festival will again feature its popular programs of films suitable for families. Short films are an AIFF mainstay and more than half of the productions will be shorts, including a full Short Stories program.

Free local programs

The AIFF will also offer Locals Only, free programs of works by local filmmakers. The Sunday morning Locals program will feature the winners of The Launch, the festival's Southern Oregon student competition. Locals Only films also include three by Southern Oregon University students and alumni, and "Meeting with Chekhov," a documentary examining former Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Libby Appel's lifelong love of the playwright's work.

The festival will also again feature free TALKback panel discussions with filmmakers of all genres discussing their craft. New this year, AIFF board members invite film lovers to talk about reactions to the films that left them feeling raw on Friday and Saturday mornings of the festival at Munchie's Resturant.