Burgeoning local film festival is haven for array of artists

‘Making the Boys,’ showing at the WFF on Saturday afternoon, ana- lyzes the treatment of homosexuality in the U.S. in recent history.
‘Making the Boys,’ showing at the WFF on Saturday afternoon, ana- lyzes the treatment of homosexuality in the U.S. in recent history.

From stories of a dead dog in a suitcase to a victim of a life-long prank to the creation of a genuinely “home-cooked” meal, guests at Saturday’s first All-Shorts Slot got a sense of the alternative vibe of the Williamstown Film Festival (WFF). Now in its 11th season, the WFF has eased into its second decade with an impressive array of well-known sponsors and supporters, a diversified collection of films that ranges from shorts to feature-lengths, culturally poignant documentaries to modern slapstick comedies and WFF Director Stephen Lawson, who, between a vision for gradual growth and a past working on everything from Jeopardy to the TV drama St. Elsewhere, has successfully provided an intimate outlet for both newborn talents and time-tested stars.

My own difficulty finding a seat at last Saturday’s sold-out show was a testament to the festival’s popularity in town. Now boasting 39 works, along with the opening weekend’s benefit and various panels and parties, the Festival offers a taste of current trends and traditional styles. The variety of genres presented attracts an audience of many ages, genders and interests. Likewise, a combination of shorts (each usually less than 10 minutes long), full-length films, seminars and even a costume contest appeal to a variety of artistic preferences.

Originally created as a supplement to the thriving arts scene in the Berkshires, which provided a wealth of visual and musical arts and but little in terms of film media, the WFF quickly grew from a small volunteer-directed showing to a sponsored, two-weekend event. Made possible by the cooperation of Images Cinema, the Clark, MASS MoCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the WFF now has an advisory board and a board of directors, on which Williams students Zoe Jenkins ’12 and Jonathan Draxton ’12 serve. The advisory board includes more widely known names including Peter Gallagher, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meryl Streep.

Despite its growth in size and scope, the Festival has not lost its intimacy and charm. Befitting the town in which it’s held, WFF focuses on the personal experience between producer and viewer. Pieces are only shown once, eliciting keen attentiveness on the part of both the audience and the visiting artists, whose role during Q&A sessions and seminars with directors further deepens this relationship. WFF often receives praise for how well it treats its artists, and filmmakers often return after their first year.

“One thing that’s very unusual about this Festival is the fact that each film is only screened once. And that’s become a kind of virtue – it makes it really easy for artists to come,” Lawson said. “Being a writer, an artist – once [the crew] has your work, you don’t matter so much, since they have what they want. So we make sure to treat our artists very well.”

This year, the winner of first annual Student Shorts Contest, Cole Christine of Bennington College, answered questions about his piece, Brian’s Life, after a screening last Saturday. When asked by an audience member if the slight pulsing of the visual recording was supposed to reflect an old man’s failing heart, he responded nonchalantly, “Tech accident.” Those conversations are part of what gives the Festival its well-appreciated quirkiness.

This upcoming weekend at the Festival promises a number of much-awaited features that include historical works of current political relevance and hilarious monster-mash horror films from Mexico. An exploration of the late John Cazale’s tragically brief but star-studded career premiers Thursday night at 8 p.m.; I Knew It Was You praises the actor, whose five performances, each in a film nominated for Best Picture, go unnoticed. The following evening at MASS MoCA combines an on-screen film, La Nave de Los Monstruos, with a performance by rock-infused string quartet Ethel that will give the movie a live score. After the second All-Shorts Slot on Saturday, Oscar-nominated director James Ivory (A Room with a View, The Bostonians, Howards End) will host a lunch seminar at 12:30 p.m. at The Orchards.

Making the Boys, showing at 2:45 p.m. at Images on Saturday, changes the tone of the WFF with its examination of American society’s treatment of homosexuality over the past decades. Later that evening, Barry Levinson, Academy-Award winning director of films like Diner, Tin Men, Bugsy and Rain Man, will attend the showing of his documentary Poliwood, which uses the 2008 presidential conventions as a medium for analyzing political corruption in Hollywood.

On Saturday, the winner of the All-Shorts contest for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Award, chosen based on audiences’ ratings of each piece, will be announced, and the traditional “death by chocolate” party will follow the presentation of Poliwood at the Clark.

Sunday’s 11 a.m. showing of Lynn Shelton’s Sundance prize-winner, Humpday, concludes the Festival with a final note of comic relief.

For a more complete list of events, including times and locations, visit www.williamstownfilmfest.com/films.shtml.
ing times and locations, visit www.williamstownfilmfest.com/films.shtml