Middlebury in the spotlight as film festival hits screens today

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury takes the regional movie spotlight this week with its hosting of the 3rd Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF), which runs Thursday, Aug. 24, to Sunday, Aug. 27.
Hundreds of young directors and cinema enthusiasts have booked rooms and made restaurant reservations, and will be shopping at area stores while they partake in a menu of more than 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.
“The themes this year are expansion and diversity,” MNFF co-founder and producer Lloyd Komesar said of the growing four-day festival.
“Diversity” speaks to the vast array of topics and subject matter that viewers will find in the films with roots in 16 countries. Representatives of 40 of the submitted films are expected to be on hand for the festivities.
“Expansion” sums up the new territory this year’s MNFF is blazing in terms of content, screening venues and awards.
Komesar and MNFF artistic director Jay Craven have lined up a fifth screening venue — the 50-seat National Bank of Middlebury community room on Main Street — to supplement the two at the Marquis Theater and one each at the Town Hall Theater and Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium.
Thanks to local insurance agent Sue Bourdon, the new filmmakers festival will be able to sell its merchandise and dispense festival programs — and lu.lu’s ice cream — from the former Bud’s Barber Shop at 44 Merchants Row. The temporary shop will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., when the final curtain comes down on the festival.
“We’ve made phenomenal strides in (merchandising) this year,” said MNFF associate producer Phoebe Lewis.
In addition to vying for VTeddy awards, participating filmmakers for the first time this year will get a shot at two separately endowed $1,000 prizes.
The Michele Hernandez/Bruce Bayliss prize will go to the filmmaker whose feature submission “best demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit.”
The second $1,000 prize, underwritten by Lola Van Wagenen and George Burrill, is called “The Clio Visualizing History Prize for the Advancement of Women in Film.” It will be awarded to a first- or second-time female filmmaker whose feature film “boldly portrays the story of a person or events of historical significance.”
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 (Middlebury College alum 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.
And this year’s festival offers a sampling of films with Middlebury ties. The Vermont Collection, as organizers are calling it, includes submissions from local residents and Middlebury College graduates (see box for details).
The third annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival will also screen a diverse lineup of short films made by Vermont teens, selected from the winners of the Freedom & Unity Youth Film Competition, and Conversations from the Open Road.
Freedom & Unity invites young Vermonters to create films that explore the life and culture of their state, and Conversations from the Open Road showcases the work of Vermont high school and college students, as part of a two-week digital journalism and storytelling media program.
The MNFF this year is also partnering with the Jacob Burns Film Center to present six short films from the center’s Fall 2016 Creative Culture semester, which will be shown at the Marquis Screening Room on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 10:30 a.m.
In addition, the Burns Film Center is offering Alex Gonzalez’s “Beyond The Mountain,” a virtual reality short, which will be festival’s first virtual reality film exhibition. The VR will run Saturday and Sunday at the Marquis Theater Cafe from 2-4 p.m., and screening slots are limited.
This year’s festival is not just about the silver screen.
Author, journalist and educator Dick Lehr — a former Boston Globe reporter who was part of the publication’s investigative reporting unit. He will be on hand to talk about the making of the film “Black Mass,” based on his heralded book about mobster Whitey Bulger.
MNFF attendees will get a chance to see some films from a legend of the craft. A scheduled tribute to 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 M. Emmet Walsh, a Vermont resident. Walsh’s 118 film credits include “Midnight Cowboy,” “Raising Arizona” and “Blood Simple.” Both actors will be on hand.
MNFF will offer a series of 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.
Attendees can buy festival passes for $80 that allow access to any film screened at any of the venues for the entire four-week event. Day passes cost $32, and individual tickets go for $12.
College and high school students can purchase festival passes for $50, for day passes for $20. Middfilmfest.org offers purchasing details.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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