Jay Craven offers his take on the Middlebury film fest

This year’s edition of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival unfolds from Aug. 23-26 and it’s shaping up to provide even more of what we’ve enjoyed presenting during our first three years. We’ll screen 106 films by first- and second-time filmmakers from Vermont and around the world.
Several of this year’s films communicate themes that especially resonate now. “Yasuni Man” takes us into Amazonian Ecuador, the world’s most bio-diverse forest, where the Waorani, an indigenous Amazonian tribe are plagued by deception, exploitation and murder. In today’s accelerated world of mass media and consumption, it’s nothing short of stunning to see people living isolated and disconnected from technology.
Tom Herman’s “Dateline: Saigon” (pictured, right) reaches back to the Vietnam era, focusing on the work of five daring journalists whose reports and photographs challenged Washington’s official narrative. We’ve also programmed a retrospective look at the Academy Award-winning Vietnam documentary, “Hearts and Minds,” that included startling revelations through filmmaker Peter Davis’ penetrating interviews with LBJ advisor, Walt Rostow, former defense secretary Clark Clifford, General William Westmoreland and others.
We’ll carry this focus into a featured dialogue on documentary filmmaking as investigative journalism with Davis, Herman, two-time Academy Award nominee, Steve James, two-time Academy Award winner, Barbara Kopple and noted Pakistani documentary filmmaker Mo Naqvi.
On a lighter note, Dava Whisenant’s “Bathtubs Over Broadway” provides a hilarious look into the largely unknown world of the “corporate musical” where talented songwriters and choreographers plied their talents to stage all singing and dancing shows for companies like General Electric, Ford and Xerox. These spectacles boasted titles like “Lipton on the Move,” “Lucite, You and ’72” and “The Bathrooms are Coming.”
A SCENE FROM “Bathtubs over Broadway.” We’ll continue our tradition of paying tribute to special guests who have made a substantial impact on American and international film culture. Among this year’s honorees are the production designers, David and Sandy Wasco, who worked with me as designers for “Where the Rivers Flow North” and received the 2017 Academy Award for their work on Damien Chazelle’s popular musical, “La La Land” (pictured below).
David Wasco grew up in Bennington. I remain grateful for David and Sandy’s fertile imaginations and immense contribution to “Rivers.” When people remark about how fabulous a film looks, they usually mention the cinematography or the costumes. We rarely credit the production design that is responsible for everything we see on screen, from the color of the walls and wallpaper to the largest or tiniest prop, vehicle or animal.
Following the special “La La Land” screening, I’ll join David and Sandy on-stage to review their design plans and decisions for the film. They’ll show dozens of drawings and photos that take us behind-the-scenes on how this hugely ambitious picture developed.
The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival promises something for nearly everyone. The festival also provides a rare chance to get the inside scoop on what it takes to follow a dream to its realization, despite and maybe even because of all of the challenges that crop up along the way.
More information and ticket details are available at middfilmfest.org.

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