More than 90 works chosen for Midd’s first film festival

Daily preparations are underway for the inaugural edition of The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival that will unfold from Thursday, Aug. 27, through Sunday, Aug. 30, at the Town Hall Theater, Dana Auditorium and the Marquis Theater.
Producer Lloyd Komesar, fabulous staffers, Phoebe Lewis and Kyla Jarrett, and I are coordinating filmmaker visits, building schedules, reaching out for volunteers, and approving PR materials.
More than 90 films have been selected for festival screening, from the 320 films that were submitted from 35 countries. Among our choices: a first film, “The Dinkytown Uprising” directed by 92-year-old Al Milgrom. And another, “The Incredible Adventure of Jo Jo and His Annoying Little Sister, Avila,” co-starring 18-month-old Avila Goosebottom. This picture, along with the new animated feature “Shaun the Sheep” will play morning times for family audiences.
We’ll screen narrative films by directors we expect to build award-winning careers. And we’ve got documentaries that promise to change our conversation about pressing issues. Our opening night film, “Approaching the Elephant,” directed by Amanda Wilder, captures intimate details at a fledgling free school as students and adults navigate a rocky terrain where kids decide what they want to learn — and outnumber the adults when it comes to deciding school rules.
“Among the Believers” examines religious extremism by taking viewers inside the notorious Red Mosques of Pakistan, which train children to devote their lives to jihad, or holy war. With incredible access into the schools and its leader, Maulana Aziz, directors Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi crafted this humanizing documentary about big issues by giving us up-close access to Aziz; his longtime opponent, education reformer Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy; and school children Talha and Zarina — a young boy and young girl who are on entirely different educational paths.
Amanda Wilder, Hemal Trivedi, Mo Naqvi and dozens of filmmakers will attend the festival for post-screening discussions that will take us all behind the scenes of these unusual pictures.
I came to be the MNFF’s artistic director through a chance encounter after the screening of my 2013 feature film, “Northern Borders,” starring Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold. I was at the Brandon Town Hall and after my screening I fielded questions from the audience.
A man in his late fifties raised his hand. “When are you going to REALLY distribute ‘Northern Borders’?” he asked.
“I’m really distributing the film now. Here. Tonight,” I said. “This is how we do it. We play large and small towns all over Vermont and New England — usually for two years.”
“No,” the man continued. “I mean, what about Hollywood?”
I explained that we believe strongly in our release into every corner of New England — it’s our mission — and that we reach out to industry sources when we’re finished. “There’s no hurry,” I said.
After the Q&A, a slender man and his pretty wife walked up. “Hi,” said the man, holding out his hand. “I’m Lloyd Komesar. We liked your film.”
“Thanks,” I said. And we talked further about the kinds of films we liked — and the idea of making films right here. Lloyd explained that he was a distribution executive at Disney — making us kind of an odd couple, I guess. Six months later, while in production for my newest film, “Peter and John,” I received an email from Lloyd, asking if I’d meet to discuss the idea of a Middlebury film festival dedicated to new filmmakers. I said I would and, after I finished my film shoot, Lloyd drove up to my Peacham home and we shared ideas including a plan to choose six winning festival filmmakers, whose films we’ll tour to venues in each of the six New England states. Lloyd liked my ideas enough to name me artistic director of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival. It sounded like fun — and an opportunity to break some ground, especially through the festival’s support for regional touring of emerging filmmakers’ work.
Eighteen months after these first encounters, Lloyd, Phoebe, Kyla and I are poised to unfurl our first festival. If people attend and like what they see, we’re already tossing around ideas for next year. We hope you’ll join us for an occasion that promises to be stimulating, informative — and fun.
Jay Craven, the artistic director for the festival, is an award-winning director, writer and producer whose narrative films include “A Stranger in the Kingdom” (1997) and “Peter and John” (2015). He also created several documentaries and an Emmy Award-winning television comedy series.

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