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.
Thursday, October 15 -- Sunday, October 18
Williamstown and North Adams, Mass.
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