Festival to honor new films

The Berkshires have long been home to high culture, be it the Clark Art Institute, the Jazz Festival or the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Missing amongst the culturally abundant Berkshires, however, has been the art form still considered the “new kid on the block”: film. That all changed in 1999 when Williamstown hosted its first film festival. Held that summer, it showcased three films and a tribute to John Frankenheimer, director of The Manchurian Candidate.

“Film has long been a kind of missing link in the Berkshires, so we’re trying to fill that artistic gap,” said Steve Lawson ’71, Williamstown Film Festival (WFF) director. This year the WFF is looking towards one thing: expansion. To avoid the summer cultural crunch, the film festival has moved to September and will take place over the weekends of Sept. 21 and 28, with movies featuring Sigourney Weaver showing during the week between.

Lawson explained the other key component of the move. “The big plus of the fall is there’s less going on; we can team up with Williams, Bennington and MCLA,” he said. “There are thousands of students, waiting to be seduced into attending.” In order to further encourage the students to attend, all events will be half price for Williams students.

It also helps that word has quickly gotten around. In 1999, the directors of WFF had to scramble to find three films worth screening. Last year they chose half a dozen from 17 films. This year the numbers increased dramatically, as the seven chosen films came from an available pool of 65 entries – all of which are premiers in one way or another. The Festival begins on Friday, Sept. 21 with a screening of Super Troopers at Images Cinema. The film was a hit at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Among the other films being screened are Way Past Cool, Lisa Picard is Famous, and Sleep Easy, Hutch Rimes. The last film will have a joint event with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), as will the screening of Richard Linklater’s Tape, a digital film starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard.

“When we showed Shadow of the Vampire at MASS MoCA last Halloween, a solid half of the audience was students… which seemed like a fabulous omen for this season,” Lawson said. “Hope I was right about that!” Of note is the fact that all screening will be followed by a discussion session with one or more of the artists involved in the production of the film.

Two films that will be of particular interest are Ten Hundred Kings and Drop Back Ten, both directed by alumni from the Purple Valley. The former was directed by D.W. Maze ’94, and the latter by Stacy Cochran ’81, who is praised for her previous work on My New Gun. Together they will hold the first of two seminars brought by the Film Festival. Over lunch at Water Street Grill on Sept. 22, they will discuss the work it takes to bring an indie film to life, from writing to producing and, finally, selling their work.

No film festival is complete without an honoree. This year’s guest of honor will be Academy Award nominated star of the Alien films, Gorillas in the Mist and Ghostbusters: Sigourney Weaver.

“Having Sigourney as this year’s Honoree is terrific,” Lawson said. “She’s got an appeal that spans generations.” She will be the center of the busiest day in the Festival’s schedule, Saturday, Sept. 29. She will hold the second lunch seminar that day entitled The Player’s the Thing followed by a screening of one of her favorite but lesser known works, Map of the World. Later that evening she will be saluted at a champagne-dessert Gala at the Clark Art Institute that will include a film reel being put together by Lawson and Jim Shepard, professor of English.

Lawson is nothing short of excited about this project. “One of the pleasures of honoring a Sigourney is that you get to watch every film she’s made in order to make a clips reel, which audiences really love,” he said. This will not be Weaver’s first association with Williamstown; she worked as a charter member of the WTF’s touring Second Company.

This year’s WFF promises to be a tremendous opportunity for all those involved, especially for theWilliams students who will get a chance to celebrate an art form that has been lacking for the most part in the Purple Valley. “We’ll know for sure when it’s all over,” Lawson said. “But WFF’s third season strikes me – on paper, at least – as a breakthrough.”