Alexander Valley Film Festival Screens Powerful Family Movies This Mother’s Day Weekend

The 8th Alexander Valley Film Festival, newly renamed AVFest, concludes this Sunday with the Kaepernick & America documentary and closing night at Healdsburg Barndiva and Matheson restaurants, capping 10 days of in-person screenings in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor and Santa Rosa.

This year’s festival included 38 feature films and 40 short films from 18 countries. On Saturday and Sunday – Mother’s Day holiday – two documentaries are shown with touching stories about the family.

Jimmy in Saigon, a feature-length documentary directed by Peter McDowell and Executive Producer Dan Savage, of Los Angeles, will premiere the West Coast film Saturday at Clover Theater in Cloverdale and screen again Sunday at the Orsi Family Vineyards in Healdsburg. Mama Bears, a feature-length documentary by Emmy Award-winning director Daresha Kyi, will premiere Sunday at the Orsi Family Vineyards. Both directors will be present for questions and answers after the presentations.

Jimmy follows in Saigon McDowell as he embarks on a decade-long journey that takes him across the United States, Vietnam, and France in an effort to learn more about the life and death of his older brother Jim or Jimmy. Jimmy was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War and returned to Saigon after his tour ended. He died there, mysteriously, in 1972 when he was 24 and McDowell only five.

The years passed and the McDowell family mourned the death of Jamie in silence. But as he grows up, McDowell discovers he can’t rest with so many unanswered questions about his brother. In an effort to discover the cause of his brother’s death and learn more about his identity, he searches for those who knew Jimmy during his later years.

In conversations with Jimmy’s friends and family members, and by reading the more than 200 letters his brother wrote and sent, McDowell gained a deeper relationship with the older brother he barely knew in life and learned that Jimmy was likely gay. McDowell, also gay, reveals a strong connection between his brother and a young Vietnamese man who also died, eventually bringing their families together so that both men can be honored.

“When someone dies, I don’t think a shutdown is really possible,” McDowell said. “Deeping inside and learning more about oneself and the person is, for me, a more realistic goal. Our family talks about this a lot more than we did before.”

On Sunday, Jimmy in Saigon will appear right after the Mama Bears at the 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 and Christian mothers whose lives have been changed when they decide to “assert and advocate on behalf of their LGBT children.” God can’t come at the expense of their gay and transgender children, and they support each other in a private Facebook group, which they call “Mama Bears.”

The documentary explores the emotional journey of women, from grief to personal growth, as they lose the support of their evangelical community and later find a new sense of belonging through the LGBTQ community and Mama Bears group. They realized that belief in God and unconditional love for the LGBTQ community could co-exist and decided to express this through action:

A mother fights a bathroom bill against transgender people in Texas while fiercely defending her young daughter; Another organization launched the national movement Free Mom Hugs, which includes people (figuratively and literally) who have been ostracized from their families because of their gender or sexuality; Third he joins the Reform Project, a Christian organization that reports on “the biblical case for LGBT inclusion” and shows how Christians can “completely emphasize the Bible and LGBT people.”

In a time of pandemic, war and what often seem like irreconcilable political differences, we can all use as a reminder that stories about family and love — stories that many of us can relate to, no matter who we are, where we come from or what we think they are — have the power to bring together Between people.

Singles tickets for Jimmy in Saigon and Mama Beers can be purchased online at

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