Film festival ushers indie cinema into Williamstown

The Williamstown Film Festival (WFF) is celebrating its “Lucky 13th” season with a series of films and events spanning from Oct. 21 to 29. The WFF began in 1998 when over 24 community members and graduates of the College realized that film was the only artistic medium unrepresented in the Berkshires. This year’s films, which began showing last Friday at Images Cinema, cover a broad array of styles and subject matter ranging from serious features to silly shorts and everything in between. Executive Director Steve Lawson says on the WFF website, “Obviously it’s a banner year for documentaries. The narrative features are distinctive, and we have new family and strange behavior slots. And – as always – every title will screen just once to maximize interaction between guest artists and audiences.”

I attended the opening night of WFF, where I was able to see two short films and one feature. The first short, entitled The Heist, was directed by Irishman Thomas Hefferon, who has been featured at WFF in past years with other films. The film began with suspenseful music and shots of a man sitting alone in a car outside of a bank, immediately reminding me of many crime movies I have seen before. But just when I thought the movie would be generic, the two other main characters entered the car, and a unique and hysterical story of amateur criminals ensued. The dialogue-driven script kept the audience laughing for the entire nine minutes and certainly left an impression that no one will soon forget.

The second short film was called Be Like a Duck, and was very different from the first. Essentially a music video for a song written by director Sandra Boynton, Be Like a Duck followed three adults as they attempted to do just what the title implies. Employing irony and a side story of a film noir radio host, Boynton was able to create this very strange and yet oddly entertaining film. Phrasing is a little backward Boynton, who is a well know children’s author of books including Barnyard Dance, explained that the film was made over the course of a mere six days as a part of the project “12 films 12 weeks.”

The feature film that night was The Lie, which was directed by Joshua Leonard, who also played the lead role. Leonard and his co-star Jess Weixler both flew to Williamstown for the showing of the film, which was an official selection at Sundance Film Festival 2011. A little over an hour long, the film follows the life of a young couple with an infant. When they were married in the opening credits of the film, the couple had idealistic dreams of the world and their part in it. An unexpected pregnancy then led them to suburban life with unfulfilling day jobs. Leonard’s character as Lonnie struggled with his unfulfilling life he took time off of work to think. As an excuse, he told his boss a terrible lie and the rest of the movie he deals with the consequences. Both stars were fantastic actors, and the film had a poignant and heartfelt message that is very appropriate in today’s political and economic world.

When “Lucky 13” continues next weekend, one of the most exciting events will be Friday night’s Strange Behavior slot at 11:30 p.m. As described online, the Strange Behavior slot will show “a spectrum of shorts ideally suited to late at night and fans of the way out.” One of the films, Die with Me, was directed by and stars Drew Murray ’11. Described by Murray as a “black dramody,” Die with Me is just under 12 minutes long and follows the story of a young, depressed man who has been recently dumped and wants to commit suicide. However, he is too afraid to die alone. He puts out a morbid personal advertisement looking for a companion in death, rather than life.

In speaking to Murray about the film, he told me that he had originally written the screenplay in the summer of 2010, simply to have a piece for himself that reflected writing and acting skills. “It’s better to create your own work rather than waiting for something to come to you,” Murray said. He registered the project as a Winter Study 99, which gave him the time and funds to put the film together. “The planning took the most time,” Murray said. “We only actually spent two days shooting.” Murray worked with John Towse as a co-director as well as other talented actors. “I got really lucky and was able to work with SAG [Screen Actors Guild] actors for next to nothing,” Murray said.

Murray is currently working between New York City and Los Angeles and is in the process of writing a feature-length screenplay for the film. Despite graduating as an economics major and leadership studies concentrator, Murray has found his niche in the film world. “No one has disliked [Die with Me] yet,” said Murray. “The ending is ambiguous, leaving it open for conversations once the movie is done. When you have less than 12 minutes to make an impression, you want to evoke some sort of strong emotional response whether it’s good or bad.” The film is sure to be warmly welcomed, along with the remainder of the films, until the WFF comes to a close this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Bess Hochstein Director and star of ‘The Lie’ Joshua Leonard speaks at Images with co-star Jess Weixler (left) on Friday. Over two weeks WFF is screening a series of films, including ‘The Lie’ (top right) and ‘The Heist’ (bottom right), as part of its “Lucky 13th” season.