Article By: Phoebe Lewis, Addison Independent, Published July 10, 2014
MIDDLEBURY — If all goes according to plan, in August of 2015 Middlebury will host the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival — a project that promises to be an exciting addition to Middlebury’s cultural scene as well as a significant opportunity for budding filmmakers across the country.
Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven and recently retired Disney executive Lloyd Komesar have joined forces to help create a unique opportunity for moviegoers and directors alike with a three-day festival that could preview as many as 60 films, including shorts, full-length features and documentaries.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival will be its focus on giving new filmmakers the opportunity to gain exposure. Top winners will be guaranteed six screenings throughout New England, a prize both Craven and Komesar hope will better help launch filmmakers’ careers than a monetary prize.
“The circuit of showings will distinguish the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival,” Komesar said. “We are more interested in screenings than monetary prizes. We really want to build film culture.”
Craven will be the artistic director for the festival and will field submissions, while Komesar, who spends his time between southern California and his Lake Dunmore home in Leicester, will produce the event.
The festival is currently set to span four days, including an opening night as well as three days of film viewing. While they’re currently unsure about the ticket prices, Komesar stressed that they will be affordable and flexible. Craven and Komesar have also secured a partnership with the Town Hall Theater, which has agreed to manage ticketing and will provide a screening venue during the festival.
“The Town Hall Theater is a cultural touchstone (of Middlebury),” Komesar said. “Doug Anderson (artistic director of the theater) has been so supportive.”
CREATING A PARTNERSHIP
Craven, an acclaimed film director and Professor of Film at Marlboro College in Southern Vermont, makes an effort to show his films throughout Vermont and surrounding states. His award-winning films, such as “High Water” (1989), are primarily focused on the New England landscape and the people in it. His film “A Stranger in the Kingdom” won the New England Spirit Award in 1999.
He is particularly interested in sharing his films in unusual venues — town halls, theaters and church basements are all possibilities.
“I still believe in the film experience,” Craven said, stressing the importance of exploring newer spaces to share and view film. Newer mediums are shifting the way we watch film, he explained, so it is important that the communal experience of moviegoing should not be entirely abandoned.
Last October, Komesar and his wife attended a screening in Brandon of Craven’s film, “Northern Borders.” After the screening, Komesar approached Craven and they chatted about their mutual interests in film. Komesar asked if they could keep in touch, Craven said yes, and they went their separate ways.
The following winter, Komesar was volunteering as the press liaison for the inaugural Pasadena International Film Festival in California, working to get the new festival on its feet. The experience got him thinking of how other great festivals got their start — he had also long admired the Telluride Film Festival, a well-established festival in the small town of Telluride, Colo. The Telluride festival draws the likes of Meryl Streep and Jane Campion and is open to unsolicited film submissions, with the only criteria being quality.
He thought, if the Telluride festival was established 40 years ago in a small mountain town, why not try the same in Middlebury? But Komesar wasn’t simply interested in recreating what he saw in Pasadena and Telluride; he was curious about the newer filmmakers who didn’t get as much screen time as more established artists.
After the Pasadena Festival concluded, Komesar picked up the phone and called Craven. Would he be interested in working with Komesar to create a film festival for newer filmmakers and base it in Middlebury?
Craven was indeed interested, and thus began the partnership to create the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival.
‘DISCOVER AND BE DISCOVERED’
Craven said he’s excited the thrust of the festival is dedicated to newer filmmakers as much of his career has focused on smaller, independent projects. One of the challenges facing smaller films, he said, is ticketing costs — what he characterized as “gourmet foods for the price of fast food.” That is, films with smaller budgets must charge the same amount for tickets as mega-million-dollar-budgeted films to break even.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, making smaller films is often more financially strenuous than producing an enormous project. In order to find sustainability for film, “we need to encourage young talent,” he said, stressing that in order to cultivate younger audiences, filmmakers “must recognize talent, and see who are worth supporting and watching.”
First films, in particular, are often dynamic and full of energy, Craven said, making an exciting experience for artists having their films seen for the first time, and for audiences seeking fresher films.
“First times are impressive, because they give it all they’ve got,” he said, noting established film directors Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarentino’s own first films as prime examples.
“Discover and be discovered” is the main focus of the Middlebury festival, Komesar added. Short and long films, high and low budget — the only requirement will be that all films submitted must be the director’s first or second film. This creates an “equal playing field,” Komesar said, so that while age and education may fluctuate, the directors will have similar levels of experience.
“Hopefully people will follow these filmmakers’ careers and say, ‘I saw this person’s film first in Middlebury,’” Craven said.
The focus on newer talent, he said, is an “unspoken hope for New England films.”
BASED IN MIDDLEBURY
In focusing on Middlebury as well as the films themselves, Craven and Komesar hope to draw on the town’s long established history of literary excellence. Craven noted Middlebury College’s “strong cultural community,” looking to the Bread Loaf School of English and the college’s long-term relationship with celebrated poet Robert Frost.
“Film is a story-telling tradition, and Middlebury has such a rich history of storytellers,” Craven said.
Craven and Komesar expect to receive about 600 films for roughly 60 slots in the festival — they can estimate the number thanks to Withoutabox, a site that helps connect filmmakers with festivals — and they say they would even accept international applications. Once films start coming in, Craven will whittle submissions down to a manageable number, and of those films, two or three will be chosen to tour the six yet-undecided New England venues.
“The core is film, but the festival is a community event,” Komesar said. He and Craven have been speaking to several local venues for screening options and have secured venues with the Town Hall Theater and the Marquis Theater, and are currently in talks with another possible location.
Beyond film screenings, Craven and Komesar hope to integrate the surrounding community into the three days of the festival with other activities. Komesar is particularly interested in inviting Middlebury’s restaurants to cater for the three days so that festival-goers can grab a bite to eat between films.
While there still remains an impressive amount of planning before the festival becomes a reality, Komesar and Craven remain optimistic and excited for the year to come. Above all, Craven stressed, the festival is about promoting a community that centers on film, while also drawing newer faces into the film community to create an exciting and dynamic experience for everyone involved.
“The goal in film is to take the viewer into another world,” he said. “We’re confident this festival will deliver on that front, as well as many others.”