Middlebury film festival plans winter offerings

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) was a hot ticket during its inaugural run this past August, and organizers want to make sure the enthusiasm for the event does not cool off during the frigid Vermont winter.
To that end, MNFF officials on Tuesday confirmed a 2016 Winter Screening Series featuring four films that will be shown at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater from January to April.
“Our goal is continuity,” MNFF Producer Lloyd Komesar said through an email exchange. “Even though the 2nd Annual MNFF is still some months away, we want to keep our commitment to new filmmakers and to our supportive audiences throughout the region going strong on a year-round basis.”
The first annual MNFF boasted 93 short and feature-length films submitted by newly minted filmmakers from throughout the world. Komesar and renowned Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven took the lead in bringing the festival to Middlebury from Aug. 27 to 30. Approximately 200 festival passes were sold for film screenings at three local venues and for related special events offered by MNFF. Another 200 complimentary passes were provided to attending filmmakers, sponsors and other VIPs. Additional attendees elected to buy day passes and/or individual tickets instead of a full festival pass.
The Town Hall Theater, Marquis Theater and Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium all served as the viewing venues.
Organizers reasoned that area residents might have a passion for diverse, creative films, so they partnered with the THT to keep the projector rolling this winter for monthly screenings of what Komesar described as “four outstanding feature films.” All have been directed by first- or second-time filmmakers, and offer a “diverse array of styles and themes, but are united by their quality and powerful cinematic vision,” he added.
The films in the Winter Screening Series have been curated by Craven, MNFF’s artistic director. They are a mix of potent narrative dramas and challenging documentaries, according to Craven.
“I hope that people will make unexpected discoveries in our winter series — as much as they do in the August festival,” Craven. said “Our eclectic line-up will take viewers to the top of the Himalayas, into the inner workings of Dan Rather’s CBS newsroom, inside a small Turkish village, and back in time for an examination of individual moral responsibility for a nation’s past crimes.”
Doug Anderson, executive director of the THT, is pleased to offer the Merchants Row venue for the winter film series.
“I sense there’s a lot of interest in this community for challenging new films, films that generally won’t be found in first-run cinemas,” Anderson said. “And our new projector makes THT the perfect screening room for these films.”
All of the films will screen at 7 p.m. at THT. Tickets for the 2016 MNFF Winter Screening Series cost $12 per individual film, or $40 as a four-film package. Tickets are available through the THT box office, online at www.townhalltheater.org/calendar-and-tickets, on the phone at (802)-382-9222, or in person. The THT box office is open Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., and, of course, just prior to each screening.
Komesar is hoping for a good turnout at the screenings.
“The films we are including in the MNFF Winter Screening Series at Town Hall Theater should attract a broad spectrum of filmgoers and they represent points of view that should stir discussion,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
2016 MNFF Winter Screening Series at THT
• Jan. 3 — Meru. Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, “Meru” is a dramatic adventure documentary about the passions and perilous choices of the world’s best mountain climbers. Directed by Jimmy Chin (one of the climbers) and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, this film puts audiences up close with three elite climbers who struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the high-stakes game of Himalayan big wall climbing. The film boasts exceptional camera work that intensifies the enormity of the climbing challenge.
• Feb. 28 — Truth. Starring Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace and directed by James Vanderbilt, “Truth” boldly delivers “a newsroom drama detailing the 2004 CBS ‘60 Minutes’ report investigating then-President George W. Bush’s military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes their careers,” according to the film’s distributors. The film has been called “tense and riveting, with superb performances by its leads Redford and Blanchett. ‘Truth’ portrays brilliantly the huge risks involved when professional journalism tangles with the highest levels of governmental power.”
• March 20 — Mustang. Distributors are calling the film “an extraordinarily timely drama from director Deniz Ganze Erguven.” “Mustang” is France’s official entry for 2015 Academy Awards consideration and Winner of the Best First Film Award at the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival. It is set during the summer in a small village in Northern Turkey, and revolves around five free-spirited sisters whose seemingly innocent beach play with their male classmates is perceived by elders in the town to be dangerous and immoral. Their family “overreacts, essentially imprisoning the girls, subjecting them to endless lessons in housework in preparation for them to become brides,” reads the plot narrative. “As the eldest sisters are married off, the younger ones bond together to avoid the same fate.”
The film “unflinchingly addresses the universal themes of female empowerment and the pursuit of human dignity in the face of moral rigidity,” according to its distributors.
• April 3 — What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy. It has been called “A truly compelling documentary of great historical significance.” “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy” had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It is best described as “a poignant, thought-provoking account of friendship and the toll of inherited guilt,” that “explores the relationship between two men, each of whom are the children of very high-ranking Nazi officials and possess starkly contrasting attitudes toward their fathers,” according to its distributors. The story is propelled forward by an eminent human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands, whose own family was adversely effected by the actions of these men’s fathers.

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