Middlebury film fest celebrates Vermont connections

The 4th Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival will roll out this Aug. 23-26 and will feature more than 86 films from around the world at venues throughout downtown Middlebury and on the Middlebury College campus — all the work of first and second-time filmmakers. This year there are more than a dozen films with ties to Vermont and Middlebury College.
“We are proud to support and champion the impressive efforts of first and second-time filmmakers from around the world,” said MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven. “It is a happy bonus that many of these filmmakers hail from our home state. These filmmakers’ superior creativity and storytelling is evident in the caliber of filmmaking, and their dedication to the craft.”
“MNFF draws real strength from its commitment to showcasing the outstanding work of Vermont-based filmmakers or films that are Vermont-centric in their focus,” noted Lloyd Komesar, MNFF Festival Producer. “And we share the enjoyment that our audiences feel when these films are presented.”
The Vermont Collection of this year’s MNFF are listed below by length and genre:
Personal Statement
Karline, Christine and Enoch are high school students who are determined to get their entire senior class to college, even though they aren’t even sure they will make it there themselves. Working as as college counselors in their Brooklyn schools, these extraordinary teens become sources of support and compassion for many of their peers and friends who have nowhere else to turn.
Producer Beth Levison graduated from Middlebury College and screened her film, “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide” at MNFF in 2017.
Filmmaker Juliane Dressner, Producer Beth Levison and members of the film team will attend the opening night screening on Aug. 23 at the Town Hall Theater.
Burned: Are Trees the New Coal?
Filmmakers Alan Dater and Lisa Merton, of Marlboro, take an unwavering look at the latest energy industry solution to climate change. The film tells the story of how woody biomass has become the fossil-fuel industry’s renewable, green savior. And it explores the people and parties who are both fighting against and promoting its adoption and use. Through interviews with activists, experts and citizens, the film interweaves the science of climate change, the escalating energy-policy disputes, biomass industry practices, and the actions of activists and citizens who are working to protect their own health, their communities, the forest, and the planet’s climate.
MNFF will present Dater and Merton with a VTeddy Award for Sustained Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking at the closing night ceremonies on Aug. 26 at Town Hall Theater.
Break the Silence
This powerful documentary features raw, powerful, intimate interviews with 18 Southern Vermont women about their personal sexual and reproductive health histories.
Filmmaker Willow O’Feral, of Brattleboro, is a filmmaker, artist and community organizer. She is a co-founder of the Women’s Action Team, a feminist collective working to advance reproductive justice and fight misogyny in southern Vermont.
Man Made
This extraordinary film follows the lives of four transgender men as they compete at TransFitCon, the only all-trans bodybuilding competition in the world. Their personal and diverse journeys take them on the path of self-identity and empowerment, with their stories told through the intimate and authentic lens of trans filmmaker T Cooper.
Filmmaker T Cooper is a graduate of Middlebury College.
Vermont Fancy
“Vermont Fancy” is the story of Doug Densmore, a subsistence farmer in bucolic Chelsea, Vt. Doug grew up next door to his grandparents’ farm, and bought their farm when they died. As a young man, Densmore worked alongside his grandfather, Sabin, learning everything he had to teach about farming his small hilltop. Moving through the four seasons on his farm, Doug —a charming, often hilarious raconteur and natural philosopher — shares his concerns and dilemmas as he makes maple syrup, cuts his wood, operates his small sawmill, raises cattle and pigs, puts up hay and grows his vegetable garden.
Filmmaker Kathleen Huxley will attend the festival.
Wild And Precious
Filmed on the Cadwell family farm in Vermont, Steve Cadwell’s film is a musical, magical realist docu-drama, a memoir that presents one man’s narrative of 60 years of gay liberation.
Filmmaker Steve Caldwell was raised in Pittsford.
Moroni for President
Moroni Benally runs for the presidency of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American nation in the United States. Young, gay, Mormon and armed with a degree in public policy, he wants to shake up the status quo and kick out old leadership. Contrasting Moroni’s story with those of two other campaigns led by central LGBTQ characters, this is an eye-opening and humorous portrait of a political race that runs surprisingly parallel to the current political landscape of the U.S. at large.
Filmmaker Saila Huusko is a graduate of Middlebury College.
MNFF is proud to honor the dynamic Oscar winning production design team of David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco with screenings of “La La Land” and “Molly’s Game” followed by on-stage events featuring the Wascos. The Wasco’s other design credits include Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums;” Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown” and “Inglourious Basterds;” and David Mamet’s “Heist.” And, at the start of it all, they worked on Jay Craven’s first feature film, “Where the Rivers Flow North.”
David Wasco hails from Bennington. Both he and Sandy will attend the Festival.
West Glover
Nina and Alex are married with their toddler Elsie. Nina’s had enough. Heimlich is a story of a woman who slowly comes to realize that the life she thinks she’s leading is entirely separate from her reality.
Filmmaker Lisanne Sartor has deep familial ties to West Glover.
Cooper reconsiders his life plans after his wife Lily convinces him to go on a tour of the local nursing home.
Director Danilo Hererra is a Middlebury College graduate.
A delightful animated short, Rodney follows a young penguin who tries to make it in the human world.
Director Will Lupica is a Middlebury College graduate.
Talking to Tony: Five Attempts
“In 2011 my best friend from college committed suicide at the age of 26, leaving behind an unfinished novel,” writes filmmaker Mojo Lorwin. “‘Talking to Tony’ is a narrative/doc hybrid film which attempts to make sense of his death. At the same time, it is an exploration of the differences between memory, dreams, fiction and video.”
Director Mojo Lorwin directed the film with the support of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in completion of his thesis.
For the Love of Mary (pictured)
The first time 97-year-old runner George Etzweiler completed the race up the northeast’s tallest peak, Mount Washington, he was 69 years old. Despite having a pacemaker, the State College, Pennsylvania resident continues to compete in the grueling 7.6-mile race up nearly 4,700 feet of paved road, breaking his own record each year for oldest finisher. In addition to his ancient, lucky, green running shorts, Etzweiler carries something else special with him: the memory of his late wife of 68 years, Mary.
Director Simon Perkins is a Middlebury College graduate and lives in Manchester.
Four Keys
Faced with possible separation from her daughter, Rosa decides to give up the life that she has built for them in the US and self-deport to Canada. Since January 2017, roughly 25,000 undocumented immigrants have crossed into Canada seeking asylum from arrest and deportation in America.
Director Israel Brooks was raised in Vermont and South America and currently resides in Stowe.
Hidden Blueprints – The Story of Mikey
Jeremy Lee McKenzie began drafting an intricate art collection while incarcerated in a Kentucky prison. Now living in Burlington, McKenzie has since carved those designs into a rich, impressive mahogany tapestry. The designs tell the story of Mikey, a praying mantis originally captured for prison entertainment in mantis fights. The film seeks to illustrate the inner life of prisoners through ancient themes and creative storytelling, and offers a non-traditional, non-fiction hybrid short film.
Director Jeremy Lee McKenzie lives and works in Burlington.
Lake Effect
Lake Effect is a 30-minute documentary produced by father-daughter filmmakers, Jackie and Jim Heltz. Amidst the rising threat of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, blooms in the water bodies of Vermont and New Hampshire, the team sets out to investigate the possible link between exposure to neurotoxins found in cyanobacteria and the onset of sporadic cases of the terminal disease, ALS. Through interviews and interactions with neurologists, researchers, politicians and more, the film explores the concerns and challenges surrounding this nascent and very serious public health concern that has dominated local news coverage.
Directors Jackie and Jim Heltz reside in Williston.
Meeting George
This heartfelt short auto-documentary follows filmmaker Matt Lennon’s search to reconnect with his father after his sudden death in 2006.
Director Matt Lennon is a graduate of Middlebury College.
Raising Son
A story of mentorship anchored around building hot air balloons in Vermont, this delightful short film follows Brian, a 67-year-old man who takes on Jordan, 21, as his apprentice. Unbeknownst to Jordan, Brian looks at him more as a son than someone who is learning the art of building airships.
Director Ben Bishop directed this film at Post Mills, Thetford.
For tickets and more info visit middfilmfest.org.

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