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MNFF is off, but virtual film festival is planned

MIDDLEBURY — The sixth annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) won’t take place in Addison County’s shire town this August.
But the show will go on.
Organizers told the Addison Independent on Tuesday they’re taking the festival online in an effort to replicate the multi-day event as best they can during the COVID-19 pandemic. Festival Producer Lloyd Komesar and Artistic Director Jay Craven are negotiating with a company that has experience staging online film festivals. The online edition will be held during the second half of August; organizers are still sorting out details.
Komesar and Craven had hoped to offer a scaled-down version of the festival this year, with social distancing protocols that would have, among other things, limited attendance at theaters and eliminated many of the social trappings. No sipping of cocktails at a grand opening soiree, and no hobnobbing at special seminars/talks headlined by industry luminaries — things that MNFF fans converge upon Middlebury each year to do.
“The pieces that needed to all come together were many, and in the end, they did not come together,” Komesar said during a Zoom conference with Craven and the Independent.
While there could have been sparse gatherings in theaters, there would have been no parties, no happy hours and likely no filmmakers, due to virus-related travel restrictions.
“That part of the festival, as much as we’d like it to happen, cannot happen,” Craven said of the socialization. “In this pandemic, everybody is being individualized and put in their own space — if they are cooperating with the mandates to get through this. Apart from the feel of the films, the other essence of the festival is the way it brings people together, for great moments of shared community, of sharing film culture that we curate. And that, unfortunately, proved beyond our ability to make happen.”
Craven has high hopes for MNFF6, but is looking forward to when MNFF returns to four days of community activities in Middlebury.
“When all is said and done … there is nothing that compares to people in a room sharing an experience in film or the performing arts,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it. Unfortunately, we’re seeing how fragile that is.”
Komesar noted most other film festivals are in the same boat as MNFF, with cancellations aplenty.
“In the end, this was the most prudent approach we could take,” Komesar said. “But we believe the online festival will be fabulous.”
They’re trying to preserve as much of the MNFF experience as possible. For example, interactive seminars and talks can still be held online. Travel won’t be a barrier; people will be able to plug into the films and special Zoom meetings from anywhere they have Wi-Fi and a viewing device.
And there will still be great feature-length films and shorts, submitted by some of the most talented new filmmakers in the world. Only instead of having them screened as usual at the Marquis Theater, the Town Hall theater, as well as Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium and Twilight Hall, they’ll be made available through your computer or big-screen TV.
MNFF enthusiasts will be able to purchase festival passes and see films from the comfort of their own living rooms. The online platform will also give viewers opportunities to weigh in on the films they’ve viewed, and perhaps even vote on a “viewer’s choice” candidate.
Organizers are thrilled to have received 327 film submissions for this year’s festival. The festival draws approximately 375–400 film submissions during a “normal” year, Komesar noted.
“We were stunned,” Komesar said of the participation level. “This is in a year that saw filmmakers under a lot of stress, to just get their films done and get them to festivals, many of which have now been canceled. I think it’s an amazing testament to the appeal of our festival that these films continued to come in, all the way to the close of our window on May 28.”
The loss of customary, in-person MNFF activities this year will include the VTeddy Awards that bring the MNFF to a close. Nonetheless, the festival will recognize several categories of winners, including best feature, best documentary, best short documentary, best feature narrative and best short narrative.
Craven and Komesar are considering offering viewers “packages” of 30 or more short films. The duo have yet to finalize pricing for online festival passes. They want prices to be reasonable and at the same time cover costs of putting on the event.
Having a virtual festival is likely to give organizers new ideas on how to spread MNFF’s offerings.
“We’re excited about doing this, because it’s all new,” Komesar said. “And I think in the aftermath, there may be some takeaways from the online (version) that will allow us to have some programming going forward. It’s unclear to us when we’ll go back to traditional screening of movies in theaters. We prefer not to disappear, even after the online festival is over. There could be some nice learnings that come out of this that make our ongoing programming kind of fun.”
Meanwhile, MNFF continues to stay in the spotlight with a series of online interviews conducted by Craven. They’re called “The Craven Conversations.” And Middlebury-area residents have an extra reason to log on to Craven’s next interview, slated for Wednesday, June 10, at 7 p.m.: Sarah Beers. Beers is an Emmy-winning costume designer and longtime Middlebury resident and MUHS grad. On Wednesday, she’ll walk viewers through her process of imagination and execution of film, theater and TV costumes, particularly for how this work informs and enlarges consideration of character. She will show research photos and sketches along with pictures of actors in costume for the film and television work she does.
To join the upcoming free June 10 interview with Sarah Beers, contact Phoebe Lewis at [email protected] — or visit the MNFF Facebook page for a free link to the registration page.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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