Character actors’ contributions to be highlighted at festival

Great character-actors often go underappreciated and they’re usually underrated for the impact they have in our star-driven film industry. I’m sure this can be discouraging for the actor — they can deliver a richly nuanced performance only to have it upstaged by the muscular plot or movie stars that Hollywood uses to sell tickets. But that comes with the territory.
The most effective character-actors so seamlessly inhabit their characters that they become nearly transparent, offering depth, color and texture to the larger picture. Character-actors can make a movie breathe with authenticity and verisimilitude. They can deliver theme or enlarge the human dimensions of the story. I’m thinking of Melissa Leo’s multi-dimensional performance as the beleaguered north country single mom in “Frozen River,” Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles, playboy Dickie Greenleaf’s prying best friend in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and John Malkovich’s driven but layered villain/assassin in Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire.”
Steve Buscemi, Robert Duvall, Sarah Paulson, Viola Davis, Ned Beatty, Luis Guzman, Margo Martindale, John Goodman, Diane Wiest, Paul Giamatti, J.K. Simmons, Gary Oldman, Harry Dean Stanton, Chris Cooper, James Cromwell — these are just a few of the gifted character-actors who regularly deliver potent and memorable performances.
As an independent filmmaker, I mostly work with character-actors, often in lead roles. But I’ve been privileged to work with some of the greats, among them Tantoo Cardinal, Bruce Dern, Genevieve Bujold, Gary Farmer, Ernie Hudson, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tom Aldredge, Carrie Snodgress, Bill Raymond, Gordon Clapp, Fred Willard, Henry Gibson, Larry Pine, and Tom Aldredge. It’s the pleasure I get from working with these focused and imaginative actors that sustains my desire to make films.
This year’s Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival will highlight the work of two of America’s finest character-actors: M. Emmet Walsh and Michael Murphy. Come meet the actors over coffee on Saturday, Aug. 26, 8:30 a.m., at the Middlebury Inn. The actors will discuss their craft and careers. After the talk, head over to the Town Hall Theater to see a Robert Altman tribute screening of “Nashville” at 9:30 a.m.
M. Emmet Walsh has appeared in 114 films (and counting). They include Sidney Lumet’s pulsing-driving Oscar-nominated cop expose, “Serpico,” Ridley Scott’s near-future sci-fi thriller, “Blade Runner,” and Academy Award winners, “Reds,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Ordinary People.”
Walsh lives in Swanton, and he’s best known to his friends as “Mike.” “There was already a Michael Walsh in Hollywood when I landed there,” Walsh recently explained to festival producer Lloyd Komesar. “So, I went by my middle name.”
On Friday, Aug. 25, 7:15 p.m., at Town Hall Theater, MNFF will screen the Coen Brother’s stunningly original and lushly visual debut film noir, “Blood Simple” that showcases Walsh’s luminous performance as private detective Loren Visser. New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Walsh as “the veteran character-actor who plays Visser with a mischievousness that is perfect for the role.” 
At 1:30 p.m. next Friday, MNFF will screen Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” at Town Hall Theater. Murphy plays Allen’s morally ambiguous best friend, Yale, who gets caught up in a love triangle with Allen and Diane Keaton’s self-centered writer, Mary. In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby singled out Murphy and a young Meryl Streep for their “beautifully played” performances.
Murphy’s other credits include P.T Anderson’s “Magnolia,” Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her,” Paul Mazursky’s “An Unmarried Woman,” Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns,” Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up Doc?” Peter Weir’s “The Year of Living Dangerously,” and Oliver Stone’s “Salvador.” Murphy also appeared in a half-dozen Altman projects including “Nashville” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” both will be screened at this year’s festival.
Filmmaker Jay Craven is the Artistic Director of the Middelbury New Filmmakers Festival, the director of Kingdom County Productions and professor at Marlboro College, Marlboro, Vt.

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