Article By: John Flowers, Addison Independent, Published January 8, 2015
MIDDLEBURY — Organizers of the first annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) on Tuesday confirmed they have secured a lead sponsor for the four-day event and they’ve launched a new website that will assist those wanting to enter and/or attend the event, expected to draw upwards of 1,000 people to Addison County’s shire town on Aug. 27-30.
It was last July that MNFF co-organizers Lloyd Komesar and Jay Craven announced their preliminary plans for a festival that they hope will become a signature Middlebury event while affording aspiring filmmakers an outlet for their work.
Craven and Komesar need little introduction. The former is one of Vermont’s most renowned filmmakers and a professor of film studies at Marlboro College; the latter is a former Disney senior executive for film and television distribution who resides part-time in the Leicester-Salisbury area.
Komesar retired from Disney two years ago and had been looking for a creative outlet. He and Craven last year decided to create the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, designed specifically for filmmakers completing their first or second project in the categories of feature (at least 60 minutes long) or short film (three to 30 minutes). Komesar noted that young filmmakers often don’t have a forum through which to screen their work before an appreciative audience and a panel of judges that could provide constructive criticism. The Middlebury festival will fit that bill and will give six lucky filmmakers judged to have submitted the best work the added exposure of having their films screened in six New England communities, including Portland, Maine; Concord, N.H.; and Brattleboro, Vt.
“In the long run, our goal is to have the festival become a top destination for young filmmakers,” Komesar said.
Details of the MNFF are quickly coming together and are being posted on the new website, middfilmfest.org. Craven has assumed the role of artistic director, with responsibilities that will include assembling a committee to review an anticipated 300 film submissions and whittling that number down to 60 for the festival. Craven will then form a second committee that will judge the 60 films and pick the six winners (three features and three shorts) that will be more widely screened in New England. Those winners will also be offered a stipend to travel with their work and hopefully make some good professional and artistic connections along the way.
“It will be an opportunity for the (winners) to promote their films in a personal way,” Komesar said.
Komesar, meanwhile, is taking the lead in organizing the logistics of the festival. And he had some good news to share on that score this week. One of the headlines: Middlebury-based Woodchuck Hard Cider has agreed to be the lead sponsor of the festival, giving it a stable financial footing as well as a foothold in the company’s well-respected publicity machine. Komesar explained that Woodchuck has a sophisticated website that reaches a client base that is in the much-coveted 20s to 40s demographic.
“Woodchuck Hard Cider is honored to support this film festival and encouraged that Lloyd Komesar and Jay Craven have selected Middlebury as the home base for the festival,” said Bridget Blacklock, marketing director of Vermont Hard Cider Co. “These new filmmakers are in the early stages of their careers and we want to support this kind of creativity and innovation.”
Other businesses that have signed on as festival sponsors include the National Bank of Middlebury, Greenhaven Gardens & Nursery, Danforth Pewter, Middlebury College, the Addison Independent, IPJ Real Estate, Woodware, Cabot, Edgewater Gallery, Swift House Inn, Two Brothers Tavern, Naylor and Breen and The Storm Café.
Komesar also confirmed three venues at which the 60 films will be screened during three days of the festival: Town Hall Theater, Marquis Theater and Middlebury College’s Dana Auditorium. The THT will be the lead presenting venue, according to Komesar.
The MNFF is collaborating with Withoutabox, a division of IMDb.com, in reaching out to filmmakers who might be interested in entering the festival. Withoutabox is a website founded in January of 2000 that allows independent filmmakers to self-distribute their films.
“I would encourage filmmakers to register with Withoutabox, if they are not already a member,” Komesar said.
Filmmakers can submit to the MNFF from Jan. 15 through June 15. The cost for submitting ranges from $45 per feature and $30 per short (through the “early bird” window) to $65 per feature and $50 per short for those who need an extended window. The MNFF is a nonprofit venture, so all proceeds will be used to help stage the event and provide stipends for the winning filmmakers.
Those wishing to take in one or multiple films will have several ticket options. A viewer can purchase a pass for the entire festival for $75; a day pass will cost $28; and a ticket to see an individual film will cost $11. There will be reduced rates for students.
The MNFF will open on Aug. 27 with a screening of one of the top films at 7 p.m. at Town Hall Theater, followed by an after party at the Swift House Inn. The closing ceremony and awards presentation will take place at Town Hall Theater on Sunday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m.
While the MNFF is still a ways away, organizers are already noticing a buzz.
“We’re seeing people already book lodging,” Komesar said, noting the positive economic impact the festival is likely to have on local merchants, restaurateurs and lodgers. “All of this will create a critical mass of people here for the films.”
The festival will also occur at a customarily low-key time near summer’s end, but before Labor Day, the apple harvest and fall foliage.
“We are calling it ‘summer sweet finale,’” Komesar said.