Midd film fest to kick off this week
MIDDLEBURY — The red carpet will be rolled out not only for the first- or second-time filmmakers screening their creations at the fifth annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) this week, but also for some well-established luminaries of the industry.
The festival is expected to draw big crowds of cinema creators and enthusiasts from throughout the world to Addison County’s shire town for four days of screenings at multiple venues, Aug. 22 to 25.
Organizers whittled down 340 film submissions to what they deemed the 75-85 best entries (to go along with around 20 curated films) that will vie for “VTeddy” awards in several categories, including Best Feature Narrative, Best Short Narrative, Best Feature Documentary, Best Short Documentary, Audience Award Feature and Audience Award Short categories.
Festival Producer Lloyd Komesar and Artistic Director Jay Craven have attracted some big names to laud and share with festivalgoers. They include celebrated writer/director Paul Schrader, whose work can be seen in such classic films as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”; and actor Bruce Greenwood, whose credits include roles in “Star Trek,” “Thirteen Days” and “Capote.”
Schrader’s latest film, “First Reformed,” will screen on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 1:30 p.m. at Town Hall Theater. Craven will conduct a Q&A with Schrader onstage from 4-5 p.m., after which he’ll be presented with MNFF’s “Sustained Excellence in Cutting Edge Filmmaking Award.”
Greenwood will receive MNFF’s “Sustained Excellence in Acting Award.” The festival will screen two of his movies: “The Sweet Hereafter” on Aug. 24 and “Wildlike” on Aug. 25. Craven will publicly converse with Greenwood following both screenings.
Wonderful movies created by a variety of budding filmmakers will be shown throughout the festival at the Marquis Theater, Town Hall Theater, and Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium and Twilight Hall. Organizers now have a home base for MNFF operations: the former Diner restaurant on Merchants Row, now owned by THT. Plans call for the alley between the Diner and THT to be decorated and feature tables and seats for moviegoers to take a rest and perhaps purchase food and drink from the Evolution Kitchen food van that will be parked in the alley.
Detailed information on film times, venues, special appearances and all things MNFF can all be found at middfilmfest.org and in the official program that ran in last Thursday’s Independent. Festival passes for $95 and $35 day passes are available at the website; tickets for individual shows are $12 on the day of show at the venues if available. The closing night screening and awards ceremony is free.
As was the case last year, MNFF organizers will share the festival experience a day early for the community’s youngest film enthusiasts. “Kids & Family Day” will take center stage at the Marquis Theater from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Three family friendly films will be shown during that timeframe, including “Storm Boy,” “Liyana,” and “Tito and the Birds.”
As an added bonus during the lunch hour, Middlebury Community Television Director Kurt Broderson will teach children what it takes to make a dynamic and exciting chase scene. Kids can check out a camera from MCTV at the nearby Ilsley Library and film a 30- to 60-second chase scene, which will play on the Marquis’ cafe screen. The winning entry will be broadcast on MCTV and its creators will receive four passes to an upcoming movie at the theater.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Komesar said of the event. “Kids & Family Day is our way of offering a part of the MNFF to the community. It’s a different demographic than we usually get at the festival, and we want to make sure we are offering something of quality. The films this year are exceptional.”
MNFF5 will kick off in earnest with a Vermont Film Showcase on Thursday. The Vermont Showcase will present four feature films directed, acted and produced by Vermont artists. The Showcase will include the films “One Town at a Time,” “Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Rise of Broadcasting,” “The Witch in the Window” and “Major Arcana.”
In July 2018, the Addison Independent published a story on the making of the “The Witch in the Window,” a supernatural thriller shot in Middlebury that stars Middlebury College theater professor Alexander Draper and was directed by Middlebury alum Andy Mitton.
MNFF opening night at the Town Hall Theater is always a hot ticket, and this year’s soiree — which includes an after-party at the Swift House Inn — is sold out (though there is a waitlist at Town Hall Theater). The featured film, screening at 7 p.m., will be an inspiring documentary titled “The Dog Doc,” directed by Cindy Meehl. It tells the story of Dr. Marty Goldstein, a maverick integrative veterinarian. Goldstein develops alternative treatments for dogs that other vets have given up for dead, according to Komesar.
Meehl and one of Goldstein’s partners, Dr. Jacqueline Ruskin, will talk about the film following the screening at THT.
The festival will also welcome back a recent honoree — multiple Emmy-nominated director, writer and producer Ricki Stern. She will showcase her newest documentary, “Reversing Roe,” co-directed by Anne Sundberg. The documentary explores the hot-button topic of abortion and the current assault on the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized that procedure. Dr. Colleen McNicholas — sole remaining abortion provider in the state of Missouri — is the primary subject in the film, to be shown Friday, Aug. 23 at 7:15 p.m. at Town Hall Theater. McNicholas will be present for an onstage event after the screening. Also part of that event: Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski, a Burlington Democrat and a former vice president at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Other special events planned for this year’s MNFF include:
• “Coffee with Outstanding Working Actors,” at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, featuring Bruce Greenwood, Polly Draper and Addison County’s own Jeremy Holm.
• A panel discussion at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Middlebury Inn titled, “Navigating the PBS Programming World — Producers and Acquirers Tell All,” featuring producers Beth Levison and Michael Rosenfeld and PBS Programmers Ron Bachman and Eric Ford.
• A discussion at 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, at Town Hall Theater titled: “Independent Film Distribution — Where Is the Business Headed?” featuring Marc Mauceri, vice president of First Run Features, and Jay Craven.
• A special Female Biopic Block on Sunday, Aug. 25, at Dana Auditorium on the Middlebury College campus. The series will include “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” at 10 a.m., followed by “Be Natural: The Story of Alice Guy-Blaché,” and “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins.” Each film highlights a distinctive, towering female figure, according to Komesar.
• The world premier of Vermont Symphony Orchestra Awardee Jeremy Lee Mackenzie’s new short film, “The Greatest Night,” with an original score composed by Middlebury College Music Professor Matthew Evan Taylor. The VSO will play Taylor’s composition during the screening, at the college’s Mahaney Arts Center at 72 Porter Field Road.
New at MNFF this year: “Late Night at The Marquis,” a screening of the original animated film “Ruben Brandt,” on Friday, Aug. 23, at 11 p.m. Geared to audiences age 18 and older, this wildly colorful film follows Ruben Brandt, a psychotherapist forced to steal masterpiece paintings to cure his horrific nightmares.
Closing out the festival on Sunday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m. at Town Hall Theater will be the documentary “Ernie & Joe,” which follows two San Antonio, Texas, police officers who are changing the way law enforcement responds to those struggling with mental health issues. Director Jenifer McShane will attend the Closing Night screening and participate in a post-film Q&A mediated by Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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