“These filmmakers who have the courage to approach these subjects, to enter into their family or their situation, it is as if they were committing an act of redemption with their cinema; it’s not totally observational.
MIDDLEBURY – Organizers of the 8th annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF8) will soon lift the curtain on what is being billed as the most exciting crop of films to ever fill the five-day celluloid celebration.
The festival, which runs from August 24-28, will screen over 140 features and shorts across all genres, shown on six screens in five venues in and around Middlebury town centre.
But that’s only part of the extravagance; MNFF8 will feature other attractions for moviegoers including interviews with filmmakers, a celebration of some industry giants, a special performance by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra (see related article), gala opening and closing events and parties galore.
“I would say the range of movies we’ve had this year is the widest – from totally fabulous cutting-edge animation…to original documentaries that have a lot of relevance,” said acclaimed filmmaker Jay Craven, artistic director of MNFF8. . “I think the movie selection is strong and I think the special guests are a powerhouse.”
Both Craven and MNFF8 Executive Producer Lloyd Komesar have worked tirelessly to assess over 500 film submissions from new and emerging filmmakers around the world. Additionally, Komesar and his team have spent months laying the groundwork for a festival that is expected to attract dozens of moviegoers, filmmakers, and guests of honor to the festival.
The films will be screened at the Town Hall Theatre, Marquis Theatre, Dana Auditorium and Twilight Hall at Middlebury College, and outside under a tent at the Swift House Inn.
MNFF8 attendees will take occasional breaks between film viewing to socialize and pay tribute to several luminaries of the film industry. They include actor/director Maggie Gyllenhaal (Outstanding Achievement on Both Sides of the Camera), Mark Levin (Sustained Excellence in Independent Filmmaking), Tyler Davidson (Sustained Excellence in Film Production), Nora Jacobson (Sustained Excellence in Independent Filmmaking), Lindsay Crouse (Pioneer in Pursuing Film as Journalism), and Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus (Sustained Excellence in Film Scoring).
The festival will also welcome special guests Katie McCullough and Ian Bignell (founders of Festival Formula) and honored returning actress Karen Allen of “Indiana Jones” and “Animal House” fame.
“I think the level of dialogue we’ll experience — especially with special guests — will be the most dynamic we’ve seen,” said Craven, who will lead Q&A with the honorees.
For all things MNFF8 – including MNFF8 guest information, filmmakers, film lineups, ticket ordering and prices, venues, special events, and opening/closing festivities – log on check out middfilmfest.org.
While some film festivals solicit and organize entries based on a theme, the MNFF does not.
Instead, “we kind of listen to what the movies are telling us,” Craven said.
Yet several films convey a similar underlying message.
“We started to see, especially with the feature film (category), that many filmmakers who were family members or part of a closely related organization were taking cameras and documenting the families they lived in – the struggles emotional,” Komesar said. .
“There’s also a quality to ‘film as redemption’; ‘the film as atonement’; ‘film as a way to heal.’ And I have the very strong feeling that these filmmakers who have the courage to approach these subjects, to enter into their family or their situation, it is as if they were committing an act of redemption with their cinema; it’s not totally observational.
He cited specific examples of MNFF8 entries that embrace the film’s theme as redemption:
• “Charm Circle,” in which filmmaker Nira Burstein attempts to heal the fractured relationships between her and her family.
• “Anonymous Sister,” Emmy-winning director Jamie Boyle’s chronicle of his family’s descent into opioid addiction.
• ‘Silent Beauty’, a personal documentary that follows director Jasmin López as she works to heal from the child sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her grandfather nearly 30 years ago.
“It’s good for them to have had the courage to do it,” Komesar said of the family soul-searching theme. “You don’t know when you start making a movie like this what’s going to happen, when you start stirring the bones of a family.”
Other festival offerings, according to Craven and Komesar, speak deeply to tragedy, racism and/or inequality. They understand:
• “Bad Axe,” which documents an Asian-American family’s struggle in rural Michigan to keep their restaurant alive in the face of COVID-19, neo-Nazis and the generational scars of Cambodia’s killing fields.
• “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” in which Abigail Disney (yes, that Disney family) examines America’s dysfunctional and unequal economy and asks why the “American Dream” worked for the wealthy, but is a nightmare for people born with less.
• “Clouds of Chernobyl”, which tells the story of a young woman subjected to extreme pressure from her stepmother to have an abortion following children born dead or malformed following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
• “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America”, in which lawyer Jeffery Robinson weaves together lectures, personal anecdotes, interviews and shocking revelations to trace a brutal timeline of anti-black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America.
“We have never branded ourselves as a social justice festival, but we welcome films of this quality and significance that we believe our audience would enjoy being exposed to,” Komesar said.
Then there are MNFF8 entries that are just plain fun and entertaining. Among them, according to Komesar and Craven:
• “The High Rock”, a documentary about a unique summer camp in the Sierra Mountains of California and the landscape of childhood. No spoilers given here, but know that “The High Rock” won “Best Documentary Feature” at this year’s festival.
“It’s one of the happiest movies I’ve ever seen,” Craven said. “It’s based on (the premise) of ‘You give the kids as much rope as you can and see what they do with it. “”
• “Anais in Love”, which follows the fiery and romantic thirty-year-old Anaïs in her maniacal search for stability.
The organizers of the MNFF8 also strongly recommend that festival-goers consult this year’s collection of stories and short stories. Unlike the expensive and complex process of making feature films, a dedicated and focused filmmaker can pick up a camera and single-handedly craft a short narrative, according to Craven.
“We were blown away by a lot of narrative shorts that were great,” he said. “Filmmakers who can’t afford to put together these bigger, more ambitious and expensive productions are working on a smaller canvas and doing a fabulous job.”
Komesar and Craven are particular fans of stories titled “The Unknown Country” (named MNFF8 Best Narrative Feature), “Take Shelter”, “Rose”, “Olga”, and “The Novice”.
As has been the case since 2020, MNFF organizers want to make sure COVID-19, a perennial bad actor, doesn’t make an appearance at the festival. To this end, the MNFF8 team will require all attendees, including visiting filmmakers, to be vaccinated and present proof of their COVID vaccination when first picking up their passes or attending their first festival. .
At this point, attendees will receive a personalized MNFF8 proof of vaccination bracelet that can be worn throughout the festival. Proof of vaccination will be at least proof of two previous vaccine injections and can be displayed either on the participant’s phone or with a printed copy of their COVID vaccination record.
All five MNFF venues have announced a mask-optional policy at this time, but the MNFF nonetheless encourages viewers to wear masks inside theaters to promote a safer environment.
MNFF8 will conclude on Sunday, August 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater with the presentation of the VTeddy Awards to the selected filmmakers and winners.
After the awards ceremony, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a screening of the closing film of the festival, “The Real Charlie Chaplin”, directed by James Spinney and Peter Middleton.
John Flowers is at [email protected]