MIDDLEBURY >> The 2 nd Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival recently announced its opening night film, the feature documentary "Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J Keith."

The film will screen on Thursday, August 25, at 7pm at Middlebury's Town Hall Theater. Director Jesse Nesser will speak with MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven following the screening.

"It wasn't planned this way — but I'm pleased to say that Jesse Nesser was a recent student of mine at Marlboro College," said Craven. "I'm very proud of him and his ambitious, moving, and compassionate film that so finely captures the animating spirit of Judge Damon J. Keith, a pioneering figure in the epic journey to advance civil rights in the United States."

In characterizing the significance of opening night, MNFF Producer Lloyd Komesar said "A stirring kick off film sets the tone for the entire festival. With the remarkable Judge Keith, who now into his 90s continues to sit on the United States Court of Appeals, at the heart of this documentary, 'Walk With Me' offers our audiences a rich and powerful film experience and something to savor and talk about. We are fortunate to have this terrific film to lead off this year's fest."

"We are incredibly excited to have our New England premiere of 'Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith' at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival," said Nesser. "After attending the festival last year as an audience member, I wanted badly to play there one day. A huge thank you to Jay Craven, Lloyd Komesar and the MNFF team for not only making that a reality, but giving us the honor of opening the festival."


An opening night after party will follow at the gracious Swift House Inn, where ticket holders can enjoy live music from Dayve Huckett and Art DeQuaisie and meet attending filmmakers.

Opening night tickets are sold separately from festival passes and can be purchased at middfilmfest.org/ticket-sales or at the Town Hall Theater box office in Middlebury.

"Walk With Me" sheds light on the life and legacy of 94-year- old Damon J Keith, who has served as a Detroit federal judge and U.S. Circuit Court judge for over 45 years and has established a compelling legacy as a life-long civil rights advocate.

Keith was first appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on Eastern District of Michigan's United States District Court. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Keith to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he continues to serve.

Keith's decisions have desegregated public schools, prohibited President Nixon from warrantless wiretapping, and addressed systemic racism. He has received over 40 honorary degrees, including the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award.

"I really look forward to introducing Judge Keith's story to audiences in Vermont, a state that I love and where I chose to attend college" said Nesser. "It feels simply great to come back to share my work at this particular festival, to audiences who enthusiastically support the work of new filmmakers, and where festival organizers embrace these with a respect typically shown to veteran directors. There are a great many good new films out there, and I am proud and humbled that mine was chosen by MNFF. I look forward to the festival, and enjoying the eclectic variety of other films by filmmakers whose company I'm honored to be in."

More than 40 films have been accepted, from feature documentaries to narrative and animated shorts to experimental films. The festival plans to release the official 2016 lineup in August, but will release teasers for accepted films on the MNFF website and social media accounts over the next few weeks.