Monday November 5, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Cannes ... Sundance ... Brattleboro.

Organizers of the brand new Brattleboro Film Festival, have high hopes for the event, daring to dream that one day our town and this festival will become inextricably linked, reflective and complementary of each other, like Sundance and Cannes.

It’s off to a good start. The inaugural Brattleboro Film Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Latchis Theatre, features 12 films with diverse subjects and styles, united by a common thread -- they seem to be a good fit for our community.

"There are a lot of film festivals out there, but the thing that makes this one unique is the town of Brattleboro," said Lissa Weinmann, one of the festival organizers. "There was not a lot of discussion about what the name of the festival should be."

Though the Brattleboro Film Festival is new, the people behind it aren’t. The all-volunteer crew putting the festival together is the same group that organized the popular Women’s Film Festival in Brattleboro for years. Last April, philosophical differences between festival organizers and the Women’s Freedom Center, the beneficiary of the Women’s Film Festival, prompted the volunteers to move on and start this new festival.

The volunteers’ expertise -- and their passion for high-quality, meaningful films -- enabled them to pull this new festival together in just about six months. It also gives them confidence that they’ve put together a strong first festival.

"It is a powerful thing that happened. It feels so good to be able to be ourselves," said Merry Elder, who selected films for the Women’s Film Festival for 21 years before launching BFF as an independent, volunteer-run, non-profit organization. "We were looking for films that would of interest to Brattleboro audiences, as we know them."

From budding starlets to nursing home escapees, dissident artists to down-and-out dogs, elevating animation to jaw-dropping cinematography, this year’s festival offers something for everyone, including special events and expert-led Q&As with community partners. Festival organizers seek to inspire a dialogue in the community around films of all lengths, genres and national origins.

The festival gets under way with an opening reception with refreshments and previews during Gallery Walk on Friday at 5 p.m., at the Latchis 4 Gallery, along with an exhibition of art works by BFF adviser Marilyn Buhlmann and BFF volunteer Bronna Zlochiver.

The opening film, shown at 6:30 p.m., on Friday, is a good reflection of the affirming, hopeful spirit that accompanies the launch of the festival. "Once in a Lullabye" is a critically acclaimed, family-appropriate, uplifting documentary about a New York City Public School chorus’ unlikely journey to a standing ovation at the 2011 Academy Awards.

Equally affirming is the closing film, "A Simple Life," a warm, engaging, film that tells the story of an aging servant and her relationship with the young man she raised. This is China’s entry to the 2012 Academy Awards and will be shown on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. The Latchis will extend the showing of this film through Thursday, Nov. 8.

"It makes you think nice things about humanity," said Elder.

Another film with a connection to China follows Friday’s opener. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," Alison Klayman’s fascinating portrait of one of China’s most compelling public figures and dissident artists screens Friday at 8:30 p.m.

Films continue at noon, 2, 4, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for students and seniors and $5 for children 12 and under and at the door of the Latchis Theater. Full film descriptions, trailers, events calendar and an audience blog are at www.brattleborofilmfestival.org.

BFF volunteers lead audience discussions following films when time allows, but the following special events with BFF community partners have been arranged:

* "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography" is an exciting, coming-of age skateboard documentary directed by Stacy Peralta. Come see how Tony Hawk and other legendary skateboarders got their starts and changed the sport. It plays at noon on Saturday. Working with the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro and Vermont Skateboards, BFF will host a skateboarding demonstration and give away decks and T-shirts to some lucky filmgoers at the Boys & Girls Club, 17 Flat St., at 2 p.m., right after the film.

* On Saturday at 4 p.m., the festival features "Chasing Ice," a stunning film made over the course of many years that tells the story of how one courageous scientist-photographer-adventurer breaks "the biggest story in the history of the world" -- the effects of climate change. The screening is followed by a Q&A with Brattleboro Climate Protection’s Paul Cameron. "It’s really an important film," said Elder. "It’s our most gorgeous, breathtakingly visual film."

The connections between cinema and causes continue on Sunday.

* First, there will be a Q&A and presentation with Windham County Humane Society representatives (both canine and human) following the 2 p.m. screening on Sunday of "One Nation Under Dog," a heartfelt documentary that explores the passionate and complex relationship America has with dogs.

* Following the screening of "Atomic States of America" Sunday at 4 p.m., special guest Kelly McMasters, author of "Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town," a key character in the film and upon whose book the film was inspired, will take Q&A. "It sort of gives Brattleboro a sense of what’s happening nationally. ... It puts Vermont Yankee in a national context," said Weinmann. McMasters’ connections to the area extend beyond relevance to VY. Her aunt, Kathy "Stretch" McMasters was a writer for the Reformer.

"Starlet" continues the BFF’s interest in intergenerational themes. The film debuts 21-year-old Dree Hemingway (great granddaughter of Ernest) as well as 85-year-old Besedka Johnson in a sweet, while highly provocative, NC 17 film not yet released and not one for the kids. "Starlet" screens on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Films dealing with themes of sexual identity include two crowd-pleasing narratives.

"Cloudburst" takes audiences on a Canadian road trip with Olympia Dukakis and and Brenda Fricker as an old lesbian couple who escape a nursing home to get married in this quirky dramedy, which Weinmann describes as " ‘Thelma and Louise, 40 years later, only now they’re trying to get married." It screens on Sunday 6:30 p.m.

"Any Day Now" tells a 1970s tale about a most unlikely gay couple who care for an abandoned boy with Down Syndrome and take on society’s idea of what a real family is. The film garnered numerous awards including audience award for best feature and actor at the last Seattle International Film Festival. It will be shown on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

BFF’s family selection (ages 6 and older but great for all) is "Mia and the Migoo," playing noon on Sunday. A breathtaking animated family adventure created from an astounding 500,000 hand-painted frames, it is about a young girl’s search for her father in a tropical paradise threatened by the construction of a gigantic hotel resort. The film won the European Film Award for Best Animated Feature at the 22 European Film Voices include Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn and James Woods.

An animated feature for adults that will also wow lovers of jazz and all things Latino is "Chico and Rita," a love story set in 1950s Havana which shows Saturday, at 8:30 p.m. Eugene Uman, director of the Vermont Jazz Center urged people to see the film, stating, "It’s a beaytiful Spanish-language piece, with extraordinary music and characters who breathe. The rich history of Cuban music is celebrated, as are its influence in the music of bebop and modern jazz."

The public is invited to a screening of the 2012 audience-chosen "Best in Fest" on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 p.m., at the Latchis proceeded at 6 p.m., by a festival-feedback gathering for the public, including information on how to get involved with the 2013 BFF.

Details can be found at www.brattleborofilmfestival.org and on the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com /pages/Brattleboro-Film-Festival.