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.”
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
Great Barrington and Pittsfield, MA