Curtain to rise on inaugural Middlebury film festival
MIDDLEBURY — After narrowing a field of more than 300 film submissions down to 95 final selections; arranging space in 10 local establishments for events and discussions; planning a party with two bands, food and drink on the Middlebury town green; and nailing down all of the little details, organizers are just about ready to invite the world to Addison County’s shire town next week for the inaugural Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF).
The four-day festival, slated for Aug. 27-30, has been 18 months in the making, and with nine days until opening night, festival producer Lloyd Komesar on Tuesday said he was remaining cool despite the approaching festival and the oven-like heat outside.
The process, he said, has been a methodical one, beginning when he recruited award-winning director Jay Craven as the festival’s artistic director. The list of tasks to organize a new film festival was long, but with the end in sight, Komesar said he was feeling gratified by the process.
“I never look at things as hurdles,” he said. “My goal is to always get to ‘yes.’”
The films to be screened at the Town Hall Theater, the Marquis Theater and Dana Auditorium at Middlebury College will range from shorts to feature-length, documentaries to complete fiction, family friendly to adult-themed. The selected films come from 15 countries, including Brazil, Peru, the UK, Turkey, Nepal, Iran, Pakistan and Canada, and also feature a slate with Vermont connections. All of the films come from new filmmakers in the early part of their career and for whom this is their first or second film.
Festival organizers expect more than 40 directors to come to town next week to gauge the audience reaction to their work and talk with viewers and other filmmakers about their craft.
One issue Komesar and other festival organizers are struggling with is getting an estimate of the number of people that could accompany those directors to town, including producers, family members or members of the cast. They know that the director for the film “The Incredible Adventures of Jojo and His Annoying Little Sister, Avila” will be bringing four child actors. Festival organizers are working to arrange housing for guests with families in Middlebury, Cornwall and Weybridge.
Other logistics remain to be worked out as well. In addition to finding housing for all the filmmakers, MNFF needs to arrange for their transportation to and from Burlington, and a platoon of 25 volunteers will need to be trained.
So far, the festival has sold 200 festival passes for unrestricted access to the entire weekend. Komesar said he anticipated having a full house for the opening at the Town Hall Theater next Thursday and estimated that 1,000 people over the course of the weekend could come to Middlebury.
“I could be dead wrong,” he admitted. “But it would be great to see that kind of turnout.”
Happy hours and receptions will be held in 10 local establishments including Storm Café, Two Brothers Tavern, Edgewater Gallery, American Flatbread and other locations. By holding post-screening receptions called “pop-ups,” festival organizers anticipate an increase in business in the downtown area. On Saturday night, a handful of downtown businesses will have extended store hours into the evening.
To handle a possibly large amount of traffic, Middlebury College will allow for festival parking in their parking lots. In addition to street parking in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, free shuttles from Foster Motors will ferry movie-goers to the Dana Auditorium at Middlebury College, the Marquis Theater and the Town Hall Theater.
On Saturday evening, the festival will host an outdoor party on the Middlebury town green from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. featuring bands Left Eye Jump and Evolfodoofeht, (“The Food of Love” spelled backward) providing the soundtrack with food and drink available in tents. The final party will be free and open to the public, regardless of whether they’ve attended a film screening.
The festival concludes on Sunday evening with the presentation of the VTeddy Awards, recognizing the festival’s best films with specially designed teddy bears produced by Shelburne-based Vermont Teddy Bear Co. The awards ceremony will be free to attend as well.
The festival will also offer opportunities for the filmmakers to develop their skills. In addition to “conversations” on film production techniques and festival submitting, MNFF will feature a presentation by Katie McCullough, founder of Festival Formula, a United Kingdom-based company that helps emerging filmmakers by strategizing film festival submissions, and creating successful crowdfunding and social media campaigns.
“It’s completely about their work and their careers,” Komesar said. “This seemed like a natural extension of the festival.”
This being the first year for the MNFF, Komesar said the goal is to establish the festival as a lasting Middlebury tradition.
“My hope is that we’ll do enough things right to create a solid foundation for year two,” he said.