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The View From BIFF 2016: World Facing And Local Focus

A Year By The Sea

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

One of the most delicious preludes to summer’s high season around here is the Berkshire International Film Festival, which reliably fills downtown Great Barrington (and a busy bubble around Pittsfield’s Beacon Cinema) with happily dazed festival warriors, walking around town in search of somewhere to duck in for a meal between screenings or buzzing about one of the evening events that give us all a chance to break out those white party clothes for a dose of late-spring glam.

This year’s edition includes 26 narrative features, an equal number of documentary features and 17 short films. As usual, the selections come from all over the world— from 26 countries, but who’s counting?—but there’s also plenty of particular concern to the Rural Intelligence region. Things get rolling on June 2 at Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, with the doc “Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble,” with the Berkshires’ (and world’s) favorite cellist on hand for a Q & A afterward.

Festival fave Karen Allen is at the center of what is likely to be a crowd-pleaser this year—“A Year By the Sea,” based on Joan Anderson’s much-loved memoir of the same name. Allen plays the author, who responded to her husband’s upcoming transfer to Wichita, Kansas by renting a house on Cape Cod and venturing on a journey of self-discovery that has proven inspirational to untold readers.

When the opportunity came along, the role was a very pleasant surprise.

“I’m 64, and I have to say, around the time I came into my early to mid-50s, the quality of the roles that are written for women falls off. You get to play the annoying mother,” she says. “I come from a wonderful generation of actresses, and there’s not that much for us to do. I could reel off 25 names of actresses who I think are just brilliant, and we never see them in films,” she says.

As the bold, questing protagonist, Allen has some real meat to dig into here, she says — and it helps, too, that the story is so inspirational.

“It’s about the classic questions,” director/screenwriter Alexander Janko says. “Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I go from here? I think we live in a culture now where it’s harder and harder to take the time to ponder those questions and seek those answers.”

Forgotten Farms

Farms and food are on our minds a lot in the RI region, of course, and “Forgotten Farms” (June 4 at Triplex Cinema) takes a close look at a sometimes-overlooked part of the local food scene.

New England’s dairy farmers are an integral piece of the region’s agricultural infrastructure, but the amount of farmland devoted to that pursuit has plummeted, while much of the attention and energy surrounding the local food movement has centered on startup farms that keep our farmers’ markets stocked with kale and heirloom tomatoes.

“Dairy farms get very little attention, especially compared to the sort of boutique farms that are getting an overwhelming amount of attention in the press,” says producer Sarah Gardner, who is the associate director of Williams College’s Center for Environmental Studies. “Yet those farms produce a relatively small proportion of the food that we consume, while the traditional dairy farms produce almost all of the milk that’s consumed in New England.”

Other festival highlights include a tribute to actor Bruce Dern on June 4, a closing-night screening of the biographical doc “De Palma” (directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, who will be around for a Q & A) on June 5, and “How To Let Go Of The World And Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change” also on June 5, directed by Josh Fox and featuring a panel discussion with Fox, author Benjamin Barber, and anti-fracking activist Rosemary Wessel.

But as always, the BIFF has much too much going on to summarize it quickly. Your best bet is to examine the website, or pick up a copy of the festival program and browse with a Sharpie behind your ear to circle your top choices. You’ll need a fresh marker.

Berkshire International Film Festival 2016
June 2-5
Great Barrington and Pittsfield, MA
(413) 528-8030

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/23/16 at 03:51 PM • Permalink

Something Old And A Whole Lot New At Wind-Up Fest

By Amy Krzanik

Some people find it difficult to cultivate the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy most big-budget films. Luckily, the recent and explosive popularity of memoirs, reality TV shows and documentary films has filled in the entertainment gap. Their popularity can be attributed, in part, to the ease in which viewers can see themselves in the subjects: most people don’t look like leading men or own million-dollar mansions, and neither do the subjects of documentaries. Instead, we know these people, we are these people, and perhaps someday we’ll also get the chance to tell our story. After all, the truth is stranger than fiction, and a lot of it is funnier, braver and more engaging, too.

The brains behind the Wind-Up Fest (formerly known as The Williamstown Film Festival) have already figured this out. In its 17th year, the WFF—which runs from Thursday, October 15 to Sunday, October 18—has donned a new name and been re-imagined as a celebration of all things nonfiction. Following the retirement of the festival’s founding artistic director Steve Lawson earlier this year, the organization tapped Paul Sturtz, the director of Columbia, Missouri’s True/False Film Fest, to be its new creative director.

Why a purely non-fiction festival? Sturtz explains, “What we learned at True/False was that documentaries in general are much more approachable; there are less layers of pretension when you’re not dealing with the apparatus of Hollywood. My philosophy around film festivals is that it’s a lot more satisfying when you have great films and interesting people who you want to spend time with, rather than focusing a lot of energy and resources on getting ‘stars.’” Having big names at an event can create a distance between the viewers and a film’s directors and stars. Instead, Sturtz was looking for a more “up close and personal, intimate experience” for Wind-Up.

That’s why, along with managing director Sandra Thomas, Sturtz designed the four-day event to be even more interactive than in years past, adding more talkbacks with actors and directors, performance pieces, after-parties featuring live bands, and something he calls “show and tell.”

Instead of simply watching a film quietly in the dark, which anyone can do at home, guests are invited to attend a variety show of sorts, like the one on Friday afternoon at MASS MoCA. Hosted by humorist David Rees, known for his National Geographic show “Going Deep with David Rees” and the comic strip Get Your War On, the event also will include archivist Rich Remsberg who will bring his “History Jukebox,” an interactive game show; photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally who will reveal “The Boys of Troy” (NY); and musicologist David Rothenberg who will play new songs of the humpback whale. You’ll get all of this, plus three short films, at one event. Talk about bang for your buck.

Another “show and tell” occurs on Saturday at the ’62 Center at Williams College in the form of RADIO 1-2-3, when Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass recreate their 3 Acts, 2 Dancers & 1 (Missing) Radio Host performance which opened this year’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Barnes and Bass will appear live and Ira Glass will be there in spirit (or, in the form in which he usually appears, as a recorded voice). This American Life’s Scott Carrier will give a guided tour of his unlikely radio career. And Nick van der Kolk will premiere the October episode of his popular podcast Love + Radio.

The inclusion of radio shows and a podcast in the festival showcases the resurgence in popularity of this new/old art form, and Sturtz doesn’t think it’s just a fad. “Radio has an ability to fit into people’s lives more easily than other mediums, and podcasts fit into people’s everyday lives in a beautiful way,” he says. “Everyone thought radio was dead 10 years ago; who would have guessed this would have happened?”

One thing that will return to the festival this year is its annual benefit dinner, which will be held on Friday evening at Gramercy Bistro on the MASS MoCA campus and be followed by a screening of Very Semi-Serious. The film is a behind-the-scenes look at the New Yorker, its iconic cartoons and the process by which both well-known illustrators like Roz Chast and yet-to-be-published hopefuls prepare their work to be viewed by the magazine’s cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. A “show and tell” with longtime New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan (known to the magazine’s fans as BEK) and Liana Finck will follow the screening.

On Sunday, after a Bloody Mary brunch (you heard that right—full schedule here), a talk by cinematographer and director Kirsten Johnson (CitizenFour, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Pray the Devil Back to Hell) will touch on a subject that all Wind-Up participants have pondered at some point in their careers. At Williams College’s Goodrich Hall, Johnson will share the ethical struggles that come with filming the lives of others, bringing the spirit of the festival and its events full circle.

Wind-Up Fest
Thursday, October 15—Sunday, October 18
Williamstown and North Adams, Mass.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/28/15 at 12:23 PM • Permalink

New Movie, ‘Look Away,’ Stars Hudson

Look Away Shoot 1By Jamie Larson

When Location Manager Matthew Chamberlin needed to find small town backdrops with texture, character and some “authentic grit” for the setting of the dark comedy Look Away, starring Matthew Broderick and Chloe Sevigny, he said he found everything he could have hoped for in the always handsome and sometimes darkly comic city of Hudson, New York.

While Hudson is being used more and more as a location for scenes in movies and fashion shoots, the production of Look Away used more of the city than any before, filming all over town, closing down sections of Hudson’s main business artery, Warren Street, putting false fronts on businesses, and one day littering wood and debris across the street as though a building had exploded. Scenes were also shot at the (now closed) Iron Horse Bar, which has served as a dive bar set for numerous films. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep shot scenes for Iron Weed in the Iron Horse and Paul Newman and Melanie Griffith spent time there for Nobody’s Fool.

Look Away Shoot 2Chamberlain no doubt saw the same potential his predecessors did in the attractiveness of the area. Look Away, set for a 2016 release, is almost entirely shot in Hudson, with sojourns to a cottage and tree in Germantown and the Hyde Park Drive-In.

“When I came on the project, they were narrowing it down between Beacon and Hudson,” says Chamberlin, who’s worked on everything from Armageddon and Spiderman 3 to Must Love Dogs and episodes of Modern Family. “It’s an amazing town with a real sense of history. I’ve spent 20 years in locations in Los Angeles, so coming out here has been a real treat for me.” 

Look Away Shoot 3A production of Locomotive Media, Look Away casts Broderick and Sevigny as the parents of teenager Bess Kraft, played by up-and-coming actress Shannon Tarbet. (Yes, we know what you’re thinking: There’s some strange Hollywood age rejiggering happening here, but there are also actors cast as young versions of Broderick and Sevigny, so maybe all will be explained.)

The movie, directed by Andy Delaney and Monty Whitebloom, follows Bess, “a strong, off-beat, thoughtful young woman” who is literally unable see her mother due to a fictional affliction called selective blindness.

“With such a high caliber of talent in front of the camera, in conjunction with Delaney and Whitebloom’s unique visual storytelling style, we are excited to be bringing Look Away to a wide audience” says producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Alexandra Kerry. “Matthew, Chloe and Shannon are perfect to complete our inventive vision for this project.”

Look Away Shoot 4Though he may have a selective bias, Chamberlin said another star of the film is Hudson. There was an emphasis in Look Away on settings that make an impact on the storytelling, more so than may happen in other films.

“I feel the locations in this project are characters in the movie. They set the tone and the feel,” he says, adding that city officials and police were extremely helpful and accommodating, which is key for future productions. “I sense the Hudson Valley is growing as a location. It has a variety of looks that are very appealing.”

But we already knew that.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/27/15 at 10:45 AM • Permalink

‘Dog Down’ Pairs Man And Beast For Mutual Benefit

By Amy Krzanik

“I’ve always been crazy about dogs, but when I was younger, my parents wouldn’t let me have one and it made me furious,” says Candide Jones. “As an adult, I’ve had as many as five dogs at a time, but my veterinarian says you don’t need to worry until you get into the double digits,” she says and laughs.

The dog lover, who grew up in North Adams, MA, is the catalyst behind the documentary Dog Down, which will be shown at Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema on Wednesday, July 15 at 7 p.m. Jones, who now lives in Winston-Salem, NC, will be on hand after the screening to answer questions from the audience.

Dog Down follows a handful of inmates at the Forsyth Correctional Center, a men’s minimum security prison in Winston-Salem, as they train unadoptable shelter dogs to become sociable and well-behaved pets. The state-wide program, A New Leash on Life, was created to give a second chance to both canines and their prison companions.

A longtime community volunteer, Jones won an award for her service in 2007 and it came with a $10,000 stipend for a nonprofit of her choice. She used the money to start the Forsyth program, which, like other programs in the state and around the country, partners animal welfare organizations with inmates who dedicate 10 weeks to training dogs in obedience, socialization, crate-training and agility.

Jones, along with two professional trainers, have been working with the program since 2009, taking dogs that have been deemed too rambunctious or too shy and turning them into loving companions. Part of Jones’ job at the prison is encouraging the men to keep a journal, which serves two purposes: the journals are given as a keepsake to those who adopt the dogs, and it allows the inmates a chance to write down their feelings about the process — frustration, confusion, delight. “Often, they’ve never done that before and it’s really good for them psychologically,” Jones says.

The film came about because Jones wanted to promote the good work the program was doing and let people know about the exceptional dogs waiting to be adopted. “People can go to the Humane Society or a shelter and point to a dog and say ‘I want that dog,’” she says, “but it’s not easy to get people out to the prison.” Jones approached filmmakers about making a 30-second PSA to air on TV, but interest in the subject was so high that many offered to produce a full documentary. The film that director/producer John Le Blanc and editor/producer Steve Childs ending up creating has been shown in 15 film festivals so far and has received many awards.

Jones is hopeful that those who see the film will be inspired to start their own program where they live, as the experience is beneficial for both inmates and dogs. “The recidivism rate is unbelievably low,” she says. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved in.”

Dog Down Screening & Talk with Candide Jones
Wednesday, July 15 at 7 p.m.
The Little Cinema at Berkshire Museum
39 South Street (Rt. 7), Pittsfield, MA
(413) 443-7171

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/06/15 at 03:24 PM • Permalink

The Good Life: Documentary Finds True Happiness In The Shire

By Nichole Dupont

The longer we live, the more essential it is to continue to drink from the elusive goblet of happiness. But where does the elixir come from? Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll (executive producer of “Born into Brothels” and director of “Who Does She Think She Is?”) may have found the answer right in our own backyard. “A Small, Good Thing,” her most recent endeavor, chronicles the life of six very different folks living in the Berkshires who have ‘gone rogue’ from the American dream in order to live the best life possible.

“I’m a slow filmmaker,” Boll [right] laughs. “It took me about two years spending time with the questions. What makes a good life? How can we live in a way that doesn’t destroy the earth? I have travelled an awful lot and I wanted to do a small film that was local.”

Jen and Peter Salinetti of Woven Roots Farm.

“A Small, Good Thing” is returning to its Berkshire roots on Sunday, May 31 as part of the tenth anniversary of the Berkshire International Film Festival at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. The film has already won Best Indie Documentary at the Boston International Film Festival and will no doubt continue to receive accolades for its simple, powerful message.

Happy 10th BIFF Day

Hitting double digits is always a big deal. The Berkshire International Film Festival is celebrating its decade marker from humble beginnings. It began as a two-day, one-room marathon of screenings at the Triplex in Great Barrington. Nowadays, it is a witty, star-studded staple on the region’s cultural roster. According to Kelley Vickery, BIFF’s founder and executive director, the festival “first opened on a warm Spring evening in May with the film ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’”

“That weekend, BIFF showcased 40 premieres of independent films over a two-day weekend,” she writes in a welcome letter. “The Mahaiwe was not open, the Beacon was not open, the Triplex had not built the Screening Room and Deval Patrick was running for governor!”

Since then, the festival has morphed into a multi-venue movie extravaganza, now stretching into four very full days of documentaries, indie newbies, poignant shorts and rare Q&A opportunities with directors, actors, writers, producers and activists. BIFF also extends beyond its “regular”’ season and sponsors/hosts/inspires a year-round cornucopia of screenings running the gamut from docudrama to notable shorts. Recently, Muriel Hemingway was in town to talk about the stigma of suicide after a screening of “Running from Crazy.”

There is always something going on at BIFF. The 10th anniversary main event, from May 28-31, promises to be an international fanfare with film premieres hailing from California to Kyrgyzstan. And of course, BIFF always takes pride in presenting local talent, so there will be a selection of familiar (famous) faces onscreen and in the flesh. The parties, too, have multiplied, taking on a life of their own, and we at Rural Intelligence have been honored to document those events through the years.

So, what does it take to live a good life? According to the film and the people in it, fulfillment requires some simple, yet not-so-simple elements; having a relationship with nature, being part of a community and the old Shakespeare adage of being true to oneself. Not necessarily in that order, says Boll, but certainly each with the same magnitude.

“The whole film comes down to compassion, about living a compassionate life,” says Boll. “All of these characters have had to learn that we are not here alone.”

“It’s hard work, having a good life,” says Jen Salinetti. She and her husband Peter and their two young children are ‘cast’ members. Jen and Pete own and operate Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham. They are young farmers. They’re not in it for the money.

“The rewards of this life aren’t as tactile, they’re coming through on a soul level. I know that sounds corny but it’s just true,” she says.

During the course of filming three years ago, the Salinettis traveled to Rwanda to help farmers there establish a workable composting system. The trip, says Jen, was “the most transformative experience of my life.”

“The happiness level is striking in Africa. There is a tremendous care and understanding of where their place is, their home. There is a simplicity of lifestyle there but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with hard work.”

There’s no shortage of hard work depicted in the film, whether it’s the business of getting your hands dirty with farming or the reflective reconstruction that occurs inside the consciousness. Either way it’s got to happen, and it’s not a picnic at Tanglewood when it does. During the process of filming, yoga teacher Mark Gerow was struggling with losing his beloved sister while raising his two young boys as a single parent. It was not an “ideal” time to be filming a documentary about fulfillment.

“Everything took a huge turn that year. My sister was dying and I had to confront that,” he says. “I was kind of wallowing around in all of it, in my role as a parent and as someone who was recovering from addiction. I had to use the tools I learned to do the work on myself. Then I realized, maybe this is part of my calling.”

Shortly after the cameras stopped rolling, and after he laid his sister to rest, something of a miracle happened. Gerow got a call from a drug and alcohol rehab facility where he had been doing part-time work. They offered him a job, full time, with benefits, as the coordinator of a newly minted Mind Body Spirit program.

“I felt like I had walked into my tribe,” he recalls. “This is how I could give back to people.”

Going all in with your community is a pillar to contentment, even the experts in the film (and all over the world) say so. So does Shirley Edgerton [below], founder of the Pittsfield-based Youth Alive Step Team and also the region’s Women of Color Giving Circle. Her approach is very straightforward: You’ve gotta give some to get some.

“I thought this [film] may be an opportunity to share my story with the hope that others, particularly young women, would know that the circumstances that you are born into don’t determine the outcome of your life,” she says. “As a professional, I had opportunities to access employment that would increase my income, but those positions would either lessen my time with my children or decrease the time I could spend being involved in the community.”

Now that she is retired, Edgerton spends even more time with her community as the Cultural Proficiency coach for the Pittsfield School District. She is also enjoying the very simple pleasure of watching her granddaughter, now a year old, explore the great wide world.

“Of course, she is perfect in my eyes,” she says.

A Small, Good Thing, double feature with “Autumnal”
Sunday, May 31, 11 a.m.
Mahaiwe Center for the Performing Arts
14 Castle Street, Great Barrington
Check the website for more information on the Berkshire International Film Festival.


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Posted by Nichole on 05/18/15 at 02:23 PM • Permalink