Addison Independent: Film festival launches tour; entries for 2016 are up
By John Flowers
Staff Writer | April 28, 2016
The second annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) is still four months away, but anticipation for the event is already starting to build with what have been an increasing number of film submissions and the kickoff of a New England tour featuring last year’s winners.
“We are absolutely delighted with the quality of work that has come in,” said Lloyd Komesar, chairman of the MNFF Board of Directors. “The word has gotten out in a positive way about our festival and our support of new filmmakers.”
New filmmakers have until the end of May to submit their work, which can be a feature or short film. The submission must be the entrant’s first or second film, as the intent of MNFF is to view and celebrate new, exciting work.
“We are in the film gathering stage now,” Komesar said. “Last year, we received 320 total (films), which was surprising to us. We thought we would have 125. This year, we’re on track to get 400 films. We are just running real hot with films coming in right now. That will give us plenty of remarkable material to choose from and we anticipate screening roughly the same number of films as last year — 90 to 95 films.”
This year’s MNFF will run Aug. 25-28. Komesar is also pleased with the caliber of work that he’s seen in the early going.
And he expects the MNFF-related buzz will get even louder during the coming months as last year’s winners show their work in venues throughout New England. It’s called the “Best of the Fest New England Tour,” which kicked off on Tuesday, April 26, and will continue through late May. During those five weeks, the MNFF’s 2015 award-winning films will screen in all six New England states, providing their filmmakers valuable exposure before appreciative audiences around the larger region, according to Komesar.
The 11 films set to screen each earned a VTeddy Award as a top feature or short at the inaugural festival last August. They include “OMO Child: The River and the Bush” (documentary feature), “Romeo Is Bleeding” (documentary feature), “The Sound and the Shadow” (narrative drama feature) and “John the Baptist,” a documentary short from Brazil that was given a standing ovation at its screening last summer.
Filmmakers may accompany their films to speak about their work following the screenings. Komesar was in Brattleboro on Tuesday for the first stop on the tour — the Latchis Theater. The Latchis screened the entire MNFF program over two days, April 26-27. Other theaters will do it in one day. Renowned Vermont filmmaker and MNFF board member Jay Craven was also scheduled to provide support for the films at some of the venues, which will include Wellfleet Preservation Hall in Wellfleet, Mass., on April 30 and May 1; Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine, on May 4; Frontier Cinema in Brunswick, Maine, on May 6; Lyric Hall Theater in New Haven, Conn., on May 11; the Music Hall Loft in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 16; Avon Cinema in Providence, R.I., on May 18 and 19; and the Amherst Cinema in Amherst, Mass., on May 22.
All of the theaters, Komesar said, have experience showing independent films and are shaping up as “excellent partners.”
Komesar noted the MNFF is compensating the filmmakers for their expenses and film screenings during Best of the Fest.
“Promises made and promises kept,” he said of the MNFF commitment to reward the filmmakers and showcase their work throughout New England.
“It is a privilege for us to take what we have created here and export it around New England in a way that brings attention to the festival, this town and our efforts,” Komesar added. “It really has been a beautiful endeavor.”
The New England Tour is expected to enhance MNFF’s reputation and in turn result in even better film submissions in the future, Komesar believes.
“This is part of the building process,” Komesar said. “As you find and fulfill your mission, word gets out that you are being true and delivering to filmmakers. The tour has the potential to really solidify our reputation.”
Komesar said some of last year’s winning filmmakers have found distributors for their films, some of which are being released as DVDs/Blu-ray discs or through video-on-demand services. MNFF films that have made the leap to distribution include “OMO Child: The River and the Bush” and “Romeo Is Bleeding.”
“To see some of these (films) move on to the next stage is great,” Komesar said.
Festival organizers are also reaching out to the next generation of filmmakers. To that end, the MNFF is collaborating with Middlebury Union High School and Town Hall Theater to offer “Seeing in the Dark,” a May 12 event at THT that will give an estimated 200-plus students special insights into the filmmaking process.
Moderated by Craven, “Seeing in the Dark” will include screenings of six short films. The two-hour event will include a question-and-answer session. MUHS English teacher Tim O’Leary is a key co-organizer of the event, according to Komesar.
“It will give students a sense of how films are made, and give them a chance to react to the films we are showing and a sense of what the festival is all about,” Komesar said. “It’s been a terrific new initiative for us … and we will continue to do it on a regular basis.”
Meanwhile, the stage is quietly being set for year two of the MNFF. Tickets are already available for purchase through the THT. Individual ticket prices have increased slightly to $12 for one show, up from the $11. But day passes ($28) and festival passes ($75) cost the same as last year.
Last year, MNFF sold or distributed a combined total of 1,000 tickets and passes, according to Komesar. He projects 1,250 to 1,300 will make their way to festivalgoers this year.
“I think this year, we are on the radar to a greater extent, as opposed to being a brand new event,” Komesar said. “That should enhance attendance.”
Middlebury College will make Dana Auditorium available to the MNFF for Sunday screenings this year. Last year, Dana was only available for Friday and Saturday screenings, Komesar noted. This year’s MNFF will wrap up during the evening of Sunday, Aug. 28, with a closing film and the VTeddy Awards presentations.
Along with Dana Auditorium, the Marquis Theater and Town Hall Theater will reprise their roles as primary venues for seeing MNFF submissions. And the Swift House Inn will again host the MNFF opening party on Thursday, Aug. 25.
“It’s still a little unbelievable to me that Lloyd and Jay have brought this world-class festival to Town Hall Theater and the community,” said THT Executive Director Doug Anderson. “It couldn’t happen at a better time. This end-of-summer weekend would normally be a slow time for downtown, but the festival energizes everything, drawing people from across the state, filling bars and restaurants and inns, as well as bringing people into THT and the Marquis Theater. Everybody wins.”
John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org