In its first season in 1999, the Williamstown Film Festival (WFF) ran only one weekend and showed a paltry five films. By this year, its fourth season, the festival has come a long way. Taking place over a 10 day period from Oct. 18-27, the festival has moved from its September spot last year to make it easier to include more student participation. The festival now boasts 25 films, seminars, parties and an honoree event. This season also allows for some new innovations like the inclusion of documentaries, a trivia contest and an evening of short films.
“This looks like our best season yet,” Steve Lawson, a ’71 Williams grad and executive director of the WFF, said grinning. “Besides an East Coast premiere (‘The Perfect You’) and two New England premieres (‘Spellbound’ and ‘Rocks with Wings’), we’re getting the last pre-release festival screenings of ‘Roger Dodger’ and ‘Love in the Time of Money.’ Not to mention a couple of features that got great press at Sundance and Toronto – ‘XX/XY’ and ‘The Safety of Objects’ – and will be in theaters next year.”
The festival will begin on Oct. 18 with the film “Roger Dodger,” directed by Dylan Kidd, which won a screenplay award in the Tribeca Film Festival. This dark comedy centers on a teenager seeking advice on women from his playboy uncle. Saturday’s events feature the WFF’s first documentary screening, “Rocks with Wings,” about a Navajo high school’s all-girls basketball team and their intense black coach. Water Street Grill will host a breakfast seminar that morning with three documentary directors: Rick Derby (“Rocks with Wings”), Jeff Blitz and Sean Welch (both of “Spellbound”).
Saturday afternoon highlights a showing of “Love in the Time of Money,” a modern-day version of Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” starring Steve Buscemi and Carol Kane. The evening culminates with the east coast premiere of “The Perfect You,” director Matt Miller’s clever story of an unorthodox romance in the big city, starring Chris Eigeman and Jenny McCarthy.
For many of the films, the artists will be present for the screenings. “The artists coming up are fantastic,” Lawson adds. “If everything works out right, each feature will have at least one director, actor, writer or producer here for Q&As after their movies.”
Lawson is pleased that even though the WFF doesn’t cover travel for the creators of short films, several directors were so excited to be part of the festival that they’re planning to come to the Berkshires – some all the way from L.A. – at their own expense. Oct. 20 will continue the festivities with “Spellbound,” a humorous look at the National Spelling Bee, and the First Annual Tinseltown Trivia Contest in the evening, complete with an all-student Williams team.
Between the two weekends, there will be free-of-charge screenings, the schedule for which will be announced shortly, and the second weekend will pick up with Austin Chick’s smart and sexy debut feature entitled “XX/XY.” Coming from Sundance, this film, starring Mark Ruffalo (“You Can Count on Me”), is about a dangerous power of attraction between three college friends that resurfaces from the past.
The morning of Oct. 26 will be the All Shorts slot, a new addition to the WFF lineup that will screen short films back-to-back. Short films can usually only be seen at larger film festivals, so this screening has the potential to be a huge draw for student filmmakers, whose work primarily focuses on the production of short films.
The WFF will sponsor a second seminar on Sunday, as well as the Honoree Film and Tribute. In the past three years, honorees have included John Frankenhiemer, David Strathairn and Sigourney Weaver. Each honoree has been asked to select a favorite title from their career, which is aired at the festival, followed by the artist’s comments. This year’s honoree has yet to be announced.
The festival will end Oct. 27 with the much talked about film, “The Safety of Objects,” starring Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney and Joshua Jackson. The film, in the tradition of “American Beauty,” takes a look at the suburban experience. Lawson stressed that students will receive significant discounts off regular admission to all events during the WFF. “I know students usually don’t reserve for movies ahead of time,” Lawson acknowledged. “But, hey – several events last fall sold out. It wouldn’t hurt to book tickets you really want in advance – or at least get to the theater early!”