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Record number of films and fans flock to Middlebury film festival

MIDDLEBURY — “I think this is the best audience we’ve ever had!” said Joan Kron after the screening of her film “Take My Nose… Please,” a documentary about plastic surgery and comedy. The 89-year-old, first-time filmmaker’s work sparked non-stop applause and laughter in the crowd, who gathered in the Town Hall Theater on Aug. 24 for the Opening Night of this year’s Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival.
The audience’s appreciation of and enthusiasm for the film continued during the on-stage conversation among Kron, executive-producer Bill Scheft and MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven following the film.
“Why isn’t everybody leaving? They are all still here,” said Kron, midway through the conversation. “In every other city, they start leaving.”
Kron’s film is simultaneously funny and serious, offering a truthful and insightful exploration of people’s relationship with plastic surgery. As a journalist covering plastic surgery for “Allure” magazine for 35 years, Kron has a keen understanding of the subject. Disagreeing with the stereotypical depiction of plastic surgery in most films and on television, she set out to make something different.
“They always show the extreme,” she said. “The real plastic surgery patient is somebody who’s a little dissatisfied in one or two things and wants it fixed.”
The film centers on two women comedians of different times, who both opt for plastic surgery with varying degrees of confidence and determination. When the energetic improv performer from Pittsburgh Emily Askin and the experienced actress and stand-up comedian Jackie Hoffman are introduced to each other, the two engage in an entertaining yet deeply honest and powerful conversation about the meaning of plastic surgery.
Aside from sitting down and talking with different characters, such as experts and researchers, Kron didn’t want a conventional documentary, and tried to avoid any cliché.
“One of the things I wanted was variety,” she said. So she filmed Emily’s wedding, Jackie’s costume fitting and, of course, their performances. For the last part, Kron and her team needed to negotiate with different companies for film clips and music, which are usually very expensive.
“Everybody warned me you have to give these things up… And I said was we will find a way, that’s all,” she said. All the components, including clips of interviews with celebrities that have had plastic surgery and Hoffman’s performance of her song “Pulled, Tucked and Lifted,” proved beyond effective.
As ninety-percent of people that undergo plastic surgery are women, Kron’s film is essentially about the historic and current “pressure on women to be self-conscious about their appearance.”
The film is one of the 94 featured at this year’s MNFF, and within that, Kron is also part of the 50 percent of women filmmakers at the festival’s third year.
“The average number of Hollywood movies made by women filmmakers is 7 percent; for independent filmmakers it’s a little better, like 22 to 23 percent,” said Craven, who points out one of MNFF’s many unique qualities.
More than 40 of the filmmakers were in Middlebury for various panels and gatherings throughout the four days, as well as exclusive Q&As after the screening of their films. “I think the festival remains intimate,” Craven said at the festival’s kick-off Thursday night. “Go have coffee, talk to them on the street. This is the important thing we try to create here.”   THE MIDDLEBURY NEW Filmmakers Festival rolled out the red carpet at Town Hall Theater for an opening night celebration last Thursday. The festival closed Sunday night.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
“We want to focus here on films that demonstrate aesthetic qualities, mastery of craft, ambition and accomplishment,” Craven said. “We also want to show films that reflect issues that are contemporary in our world, and to show international films that open up a window on how other people live.”
Gianmarco D’Agostino is one of the 16 international filmmakers whose films were screened at the festival. At the Opening Night Party at the Swift House Inn, the Italian filmmaker found himself sharing his experiences with fellow festival filmmakers and many local Vermonters. D’Agostino comes with his first feature-length documentary, “Walking on Water,” which rediscovers the 1966 flood of Florence, his hometown.
The film was shown Friday morning, and D’Agostino was pleasantly surprised by the audiences’ response, along with the simple fact that so many people showed up for the 10:30 a.m. screening, which would usually be too early in Italy.
“Then, I really felt that my film was very well received,” D’Agostino said. “You could feel (the audience) was very focused on the film and enjoyed it,” he said. “Even after the Q&A, we were outside in the lobby and they were continuing speaking and talking about it.”
What prompted a filmmaker from Italy to submit his film to the MNFF? He said the reason was simple: He saw some photos of last year’s events, where people were laughing, and thought he would have a good time here too.
And he has. During the festival, he stayed with a local family in the Marble Works area and said he has thoroughly enjoyed the warm welcome offered by the community.
“People are so generous. Maybe because I’m coming from Italy, from so far, but I think they are really fond of the festival. I loved it,” he said. “The community is responding to the festival, so this mix is a glorious mix.”

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