Film festival to bring big names, add a fifth screen in its third year

MIDDLEBURY — Organizers of the third annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival are putting together their most ambitious event yet, with the promise of expanded viewing opportunities, exciting new rewards for top filmmakers and the participation of nationally known actors and writers who will convey their firsthand experiences in the movie industry.
This year’s festival will span Aug. 24-27 and will showcase more than 90 films submitted by first- and second-time filmmakers. Once again, Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, or MNFF, will be produced by its founder, Lloyd Komesar. Nationally renowned filmmaker Jay Craven will again serve as its artistic director. The growing event will also feature tributes, special guests, workshops, parties and an awards ceremony.
Komesar and Craven last week provided the Independent with a sneak peek at some of the upcoming attractions of this year’s MNFF, which they said has attracted the highest-quality entries in its brief history.
This year’s festival received a combined total of around 350 film submissions. A group headed by Craven has gone through the entries and culled approximately 90 features, shorts and documentaries that will be shown during the festival and will be considered for “VTeddy” awards. As is the case each year, the VTeddy winners will receive MNFF backing to screen their films on a multi-state tour throughout New England.
But top filmmakers this year will have access to even more prizes and recognition for their work.
Weybridge residents Michele Hernandez and Bruce Bayliss have endowed a new cash prize for the filmmaker whose feature submission “best demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit,” according to Komesar. The annual prize will be $1,000.
“For us, it’s a new direction,” Komesar said. “We have not done cash awards, until now.”
He described Hernandez and Bayliss as good friends of the festival who “want to be associated, in a positive way, with our work.”
Festival organizers are hoping other film fans step forward to finance other, future cash prizes for the up and coming filmmakers.
Yet another reward is up for grabs this year, thanks to a new collaboration between the MNFF and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y. The center, among other things, serves as a resource for emerging filmmakers, offering fellowships, mentorships and skill-sharing opportunities. It welcomes established filmmakers from throughout the world to live, work, and teach on the its campus.
Beginning this year, the Jacob Burns Film Center will select one maker of short films from the MNFF to receive a semester-long residency at the center to work on pre-production or post-production for their next film.
At the same time, participants in the center’s “Creative Culture” program will attend the MNFF to show their films.
“The partnership is two ways,” Komesar said. “It’s terrific.”
As was the case last year, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra will select a rising composer of its choice with whom to collaborate on a musical score for his or her next project. This year’s festival will feature screening of a 10-minute excerpt from a new film called “Caregivers” by last year’s winner of the VSO prize (Jesse Kreitzer) that will include a simultaneous performance of the original musical score by orchestra members. Both Kreitzer and the music’s composer, Paul Dedell, are Vermonters.
Komesar and Craven are pleased the MNFF has assembled these new prizes to help the next crop of filmmakers.
“These are three substantial new opportunities for filmmakers to advance,” Craven said. “This has been a trajectory. It started last year, and this year we are doing more.”
MNFF will offer a series of “craft workshops” this year focusing on cinematography. Two experienced cinematographers will help the new filmmakers and general public understand the role of the camera in creating the final movie product.
“It will include the nuts and bolts of how you cover a scene, and how to work with a director,” Craven said.
MNFF attendees will get a chance to see some films from a legend of the craft. A scheduled tribute to the celebrated Robert Altman will include screenings of the films “Nashville” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” as part of the accolade.
“(Altman) opened a lot for doors for a lot of people,” Craven said. “Actors loved him.”
Also receiving tributes will be celebrated character actors Michael Murphy — who appeared in eight Altman Films — and E. Emmet Walsh, a Vermont resident. Walsh’s 118 film credits include “Midnight Cowboy,” “Raising Arizona” and “Blood Simple.”
“These guys have had tremendously long, fruitful careers as important character actors and they have worked with so many directors,” Komesar said of Murphy and Walsh, who will be present to offer comments on their work.
“The focus this year is coalescing around the idea of the ‘character actor,’” Craven said.
Allan Nicholls, who was Altman’s assistant director and key artistic collaborator for 20 years, will also come to the MNFF to recount some of his experiences. He will be among those who will take the stage for a screening of “Nashville.”
Author, journalist and educator Dick Lehr will be among those present for the festivities. He is a former Boston Globe reporter who was part of the publication’s investigative reporting unit, the Spotlight Team. He wrote “The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston’s Racial Divide,” a non-fiction narrative about the worst known case of police brutality in Boston, which was an Edgar Award finalist for best non-fiction. He is co-author of the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award winner “Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal,” and its sequel, “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss.”
Lehr currently teaches journalism at Boston University.
In other 2017 MNFF news, Komesar announced:
•  The festival will include a full day of films on Thursday, Aug. 24, its opening day. The past two festivals have only featured film screenings for a portion of that opening Thursday.
•  The inclusion of a fifth screen for movie viewing, at a venue still to be determined. There are currently four screens at the festival’s disposal — at the Town Hall Theater, Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium, and two at the Marquis Theater.
More details about the 2017 MNFF will be fleshed out in the coming weeks. Organizers were pleased to note that work on Middlebury’s two temporary downtown rail bridges is scheduled to conclude before the festival’s Aug. 24 opening.
More information about the this year’s festival can be found online at middfilmfest.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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