BRATTLEBORO -- You can say one thing about the organizers of the Brattleboro Film Festival: They sure know how to keep a promise.
Launched last year by a core group of volunteers from the Women's Film Festival, the inaugural BFF featured 12 films over one weekend in an encouraging debut. Organizers pledged that the second annual Brattleboro Film Festival would be even bigger and better.
It looks like they were right.
Blasting off Friday with the award-winning Australian film, "The Rocket," this year's Brattleboro Film Festival features 30 films in all genres, for diverse audiences and tastes, and stays aloft until Nov. 14 when it comes to a happy landing with a screening of the audience-selected Best in the Fest. In between, the festival shows films which reflect BFF's mission to present independent films from here at home and around the world that reflect viewpoints and voices often underplayed by mainstream media. In addition, the festival welcomes guest speakers and discussions to accompany many screenings and hosts filmmaking talks and workshops. Details can be found at www.brattleborofilmfestival.org, but this we do know: The organizers of the BFF promised to expand on last year's successful start, and they sure have.
"We were kind of busting out at the seams last year," said Lissa Weinmann, festival committee member.
The centerpiece of the festival this year is the Southern Vermont premiere of "Freedom & Unity: The Vermont Movie," director Nora Jacobson's exhaustive six-part look at the history and present realities of Vermont and what makes us tick. It was done in collaboration with dozens of other Vermont filmmakers, The first episode of "Freedom & Unity" screens on Sunday, Nov. 10, following BFF's "Green Carpet Gala which runs from 4 to 6 p.m., at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden; screenings of the first two episodes are Nov. 10 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre. Subsequent episodes of "Freedom & Unity" will be shown on Monday to Thursday, Nov. 11-14, at 6:30 p.m., at the Latchis.
Jacobson's film is already being hailed as a landmark achievement and festival organizers are proud to give it its Southern Vermont premiere.
"She's tried to penetrate ‘What are those Vermont values?'" said Weinmann said.
"I felt so proud watching it," added festival committee member Merry Elder. "It's not strictly chronological. She's kind of separated it by themes. There are a lot of surprises things you didn't know about Vermont."
Among the local filmmakers Jacobson collaborated with are Alan Dater and Lisa Merton, Michael Hamish, Kate Purdie and Andy Reichsman.
"Freedom & Unity" was a natural choice for a festival which took its hometown as its namesake and tries to "think of the kind of films that Brattleboro will be interested in," according to Elder.
Turns out, that's a pretty fun job to have. This year's festival spans the globe and covers issues from art to the environment, coming-of-age to aging with dignity, hopes and dreams to bitter truths. And it presents films in styles that range from drama to documentary to animation, quirky comedy and gut-level brutal honesty. Festival screenings are at the Latchis Theatre, with a couple of exceptions noted.
The festival opens Friday with a free wine and cheese reception in the Latchis lobby from 5 to 7:30 p.m., during Gallery Walk. A loop of festival film trailers will be shown. The first official festival screening follows at 6:30 p.m., with "The Rocket," a stunning drama which is Australia's entry at the Academy Awards.
Opening night continues at 8:30 p.m., with "Gregory Crewsdon," a fascinating documentary about the renowned fine art photographer who spends a lot of his time working in old Massachusetts mill towns. Opening night concludes at 10 p.m., with "It's Such a Beautiful Day," a funny, existential cult animation film by Don Herschfeld.
"It's something that should appeal to a younger crowd ... or a hip older crowd," Weinmann said.
"The Rocket" heads a strong list of feature films at this year's festival.
"We have more dramas than in the past ... dramas that are beautifully made," said Elder.
Among the dramas are "Short Term 12," an emotional story of a young staffer at a group home for at-risk teens; "Middle of Nowhere," for Ava Duvernay won Best Director at Sundance, the first time an African-American woman had been so honored. Hollywood comes to Brattleboro for "English Vinglish," a hilarious and sensitive film about cultural assimilation which marks Indian filmmaker Gauri Shinde's dramatic film debut and features Sridevi, India's biggest star. "The Angel's Share," an off-kilter working-class comedy from Scotland and Jury Prize-winner at Cannes, screens Monday, Nov. 4, at 8:30 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 9, at 6:30 p.m.
Not shying away from issues, BFF presents films with environmental, food and health themes, including "Hot Water," which screens this Saturday at 4 p.m., and explores uranium mining's impact on drinking water in the Southwest. Director Lizabeth Rogers will be on hand to discuss her film. "Bottled Life: Nestle's Business With Water" documents one small town in Maine and its efforts to stand up to the most powerful food and beverage company on the planet. "More Than Honey" is Oscar-winning filmmaker Marcus Imhoof's look at the lives of bees. There will be a post-film discussion with beekeeper Jodi Turner on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6:30 p.m. Foodies will be particularly drawn to "The Fruit Hunters," which screens Sunday at 2 p.m., and is a documentary which follows scientists, adventurers and food detectives as they traverse the globe looking for exotic and rare fruits in our monocultural age.
Two festival films are important for their portrayal and examination of the darker side of human nature. Oscar contender "The Act of Killing" is a powerful, surreal documentary which deals unflinchingly with perpetrators of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia. It screens Nov. 9 at 4 p.m.
"It's courageous for us to show it," said Elder. "You see them as human beings, but also as monsters."
"Hannah Arendt" is a feature film based on Arendt's controversial New Yorker coverage of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The screening on Nov. 9 at 2 p.m., will be followed by a discussion with Keene State College philosophy professor Sander Lee.
The Brattleboro Film Festival presents several profiles of interesting artists, thinkers and creative souls. "Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia" screens Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 8:30 p.m. "Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth"screens Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 6:30 p.m. "Muscle Shoals" documents legendary record producer Rick Hall, who brought together black and white musicians in segregated Alabama to create a signature sound. It features interviews with Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin and others and will be shown on Monday, Nov. 4, at 6:30 p.m.
Other inspiring documentary profiles include "Maidentrip" (Sunday at noon) about a 14-year-old's attempt to sail alone around the world; and "Desert Runners" (Sunday at 2 p.m., Nov. 10 at noon) about ultra-marathoners who try to race across the world's most unforgiving deserts.
Family-friendly films include "The Painting," a magical animated tale of love, wonder and revelation set in a painting hanging in a painter's home. It pairs with the animated short "The Boy in the Bubble" on Saturday at noon and Nov. 10 at 2 p.m.
An animated film for adults is "Wrinkles," which depicts a friendship between two older gentlemen in a nursing home and their plot to keep one of them who has Alzheimer's, from being shunted to the home's top floor.
BFF's commitment to representing voices of and for the LGBTQ community is expressed in the films "Reaching for the Moon," a lush drama which portrays the romance that blooms between writer Elizabeth Bishop and her Brazilian lover. It shows Sunday at 8:30 p.m., and Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m. "Test" is a drama set in 1985 among dancers in a San Francisco dance company whose lives our touched by the AIDS epidemic. It shows Saturday and Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 8:30 p.m.
New this year are screenings on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 4 and 5, at 3 p.m., at Brooks Memorial Library of film noir classics that explore greed at the psychology of dependency in abusive relationships. The screenings of "Scarlet Street" with Edward G. Robinson, and "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers," which marks Kirk Douglas' debut, are followed by discussions with BFF advisor John Loggia.
BFF's outreach and education efforts also include screenings and discussions for students at Brattleboro Area Middle School and a workship titled "So You Want to Write a Screenplay? Scriptwriting Essentials" with Hollywood veteran and Brattleboro resident Tim Metcalfe on Sundays, Nov. 3 and 10. Seats are limited and reservations are required at 802-490-0714. On Saturday, Nov. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., filmmaker Jay Craven offers a talk titled "From Dream to Reality: Getting Movies Made" at the Brattleboro Co-op's Community Room.
For the BFF, these outreach and education efforts "are part of our social good. Our interest is always to provide social good," said Weinmann.
Single tickets are $9 per show time, $7 for students, seniors and children under 12, and are sold at the Latchis Theatre before screenings. BFF passes are available at Everyone's Books (cash or check only) and during screenings in the Latchis lobby. An All-Festival pass is $175; Gala passes are $30; a five-screening pass is $40. Advance pass holders enjoy VIP entry.
For more information, visit www.brattleborofilmfestival.org.