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Oscar winners, 100 films jazz up Midd Film Festival

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury on Thursday will reprise its unofficial role as “Hollywood East” as it plays host to around 60 budding filmmakers and celebrates some of the best talent the movie industry has to offer.
It’s the fourth annual New Middlebury Filmmakers Festival (MNFF), a four-day extravaganza that will include the screening of more than 100 films and events to recognize the courage and accomplishments of some very talented people.
And for the first time, the festival will offer a special day of films and events for children, slated for Wednesday, Aug. 22 at the Marquis Theater. The MNFF will officially kick off the following day with its initial salvo of films, an opening event at the Town Hall Theater at 6:30 p.m., followed by a sold-out party.
“We have put together a truly excellent program of films and special events this year that we believe will really engage our audiences,” MNFF Producer Lloyd Komesar said. “Every single time-slot over the four days of screenings is packed with outstanding films that take us all over the world and inside the mind. We are confident that whatever someone’s tastes or interests, ‘MNFF4’ will bring them satisfaction.”
The 106 chosen films — culled from almost 500 submissions from around the world — will be screened at four separate venues: Town Hall Theater, the Marquis Theater, and Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium and Twilight Hall. A complete screening schedule and more festival details — including ticket prices — can be found at middfilmfest.org.
The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival is a juried competition and winning filmmakers will receive prestigious VTeddy Awards in the categories of “best Feature narrative,” “best short narrative,” “best feature documentary,” “best short documentary,” and “Audience Awards” in the “feature” and “short subject” categories. MNFF also offers multiple cash prizes and in-kind awards to feature and short film directors, such as the Hernandez/Bayliss Prize ($1,000), to the feature film director whose work best captures the triumph of the human spirit.
MNFF also offers an annual winter series of films at Town Hall Theater, screens short films for students, and tours an annual curated program of festival favorites to Vermont towns and cities.
“We had a record number of films submitted this year, just shy of 500 — and based on the strength of this pool, we will screen more films than in previous years with a greater overall diversity, as well,” said MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven. “The goal at MNFF remains constant — to present the outstanding work of first and second time filmmakers with distinctive points of view whose films serve to illuminate underrepresented or little known communities.”
The festival will also boast a series of special parties, ceremonies and panel discussions with movie industry stars and insiders. This year, the MNFF’s list of honorees will include production designers David and Sandy Wasco, who recently received the Academy Award for their work on Damien Chazelle’s popular 2017 musical, “La La Land.”
THE HUSBAND-AND-WIFE film production design team of David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, who won a 2017 Academy Award for “La La Land,” will speak at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival later this week.
Courtesy photo
David Wasco grew up in Bennington, Vermont where his father taught art at Mount Anthony Union High School. He and Sandy worked with Craven on his first feature film, “Where the Rivers Flow North.” They went on to design many other distinguished films — among them Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket, “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”; Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill,” and “Inglorious Bastards,” and other recent pictures, including “Collateral” and “Molly’s Game” that will be shown at the festival.
Other honorees this year will include:
•  Two-time Academy Award nominee Steve James, whose documentary film credits include “Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters,” and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” The Festival will also offer a Vermont premier of the first two episodes of James’ recent project, “America To Me,” a much-anticipated series that will debut on the Starz cable network later this year.
James will receive the MNFF’s “Sustained Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking Award.”
•  Two-time Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple, who returns to MNFF this year to show her newest film, “A Murder in Mansfield.” It tells the story of Collier Boyle who, after nearly 30 years, returns to his Ohio hometown where, as a 12-year-old, he served as a prosecution witness in the trial of his father, John Boyle, who was convicted of murdering his wife and Collier’s mother.
•  Oscar-winner Peter Davis, who will show his epic documentary film, “Hearts and Minds,” which changed the conversation about the Vietnam War. Davis and other filmmakers will participate in several MNFF public discussions including one that explores how documentary filmmaking serves as a potent form of investigative journalism.
•  Pakistani filmmaker, Mo Naqvi, who will receive the festival’s “Courage in Filmmaking Award.” His film “Among the Believers” was a hit at MNFF several years ago for its depiction of Pakistani jihad schools. He’ll show two films this year, including “Shame,” which details a miscarriage of feudal and patriarchal justice in a small Pakistani village that leads to a surprising and transformative outcome.
Participants at this year’s festival should give a nice financial bump for local lodgers and merchants.
This year’s festival will also feature a bonus day, Aug. 22, devoted to children’s themes and films at the Marquis Theater on Main Street. MNFF will screen three family friendly films that day: The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales” at 10 a.m., “Through The Windmill” at 1 p.m., and “Science Fair” at 4 p.m. And attention young science enthusiasts: Burlington’s Starbase will be at the Marquis at 3 p.m. to present some cool science gadgets and experiments.
Along with the films, families will enjoy a host of fun activities throughout the day in the Marquis Cafe, including a variety of games donated by the Game Store. The Marquis Cafe will also present a special Kids Menu in addition to its featured Southwestern fare.
“We are so thrilled to be bringing this wonderful new component of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to the local community,” said Komesar. “Our goal is to convey the excitement and the spirit of the Festival to families with children in a more concentrated way — a day devoted just to them. We really appreciate the partnership we have formed with Ben Wells and his team at the Marquis for this new event at MNFF.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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