The Berkshire International Film Festival, which kicks off its seventh season on May 31, is now a well-established event in Great Barrington -- and it’s getting there in Pittsfield. For the third year, films will be screened in Pittsfield, where the festival is beginning to put down roots.
"When we first went to Pittsfield I was tentative but hopeful," recalls BIFF founder and executive director Kelley Vickery. "We started off modestly, and even if some of the audiences were small they were re spon sive and created a really great vibe that the film makers in attendance responded to."
Attendance doubled in Pitts field last year, said Vickery, and another high turnout is expected for the films to be screened at the Beacon Cinema on North Street. About two weeks before opening night, Vickery reported that ticket sales for the festival as a whole were running about 20 percent ahead of last year. This year’s festival will offer 70 new films, a mix of features, documentaries and shorts, as well as special events that should keep downtown Great Barrington, and increasingly downtown Pittsfield, bustling through Sunday, June 3.
The opening night film on Thursday the 31st at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington is "Ethel," a feature-length documentary about the wife of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1968, directed by the Emmy Award-winning film-maker Rory Kennedy, the last of Robert and Ethel’s 11 children. Rory Kennedy un earthed remarkable family footage and elicited insightful comments from her mother and siblings in her portrayal of a strong, personable wo man who helped shape her husband’s political philosophy and has maintained his legacy for more than 40 years.
"We think we know everything by now about the Kennedys," said Vickery, who saw the film in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. "But we don’t really know Ethel and her side of the story at all."
The opening film at the Bea con Friday, June 1 at 7 is "Lib er al Arts," a comedy-drama about a young college professor who falls for a sophomore played by Elizabeth Olson, fresh off rave notices for her performance in last year’s "Martha Marcy May Mar lene." Zac Efron and character actors Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney are also in the cast of a film that arrives with positive film festival buzz.
BIFF always includes a few films that go on to make a splash at the box office and/or with critics once they are released to general audiences, and "Liberal Arts" could be one. Among the other feature films with break-out potential are "Farewell, My Queen," a closing night film at the Triplex June 3, with Diane Krager as Marie Antoinette during the critical days of the French Re volution; Sun dance hit "Hello I Must Be Going," starring Melanie Lynskey as a young divorcée who returns to the Connec ticut home of her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein), and "Your Sis ter’s Sister," starring Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt as quarreling half-sisters.
"It’s fun for our audiences when a film is a hit in general release and they can say, ‘I saw it at the BIFF,’" said Vickery of the festival releases that break out wide. "They feel like they got the inside scoop."
BIFF traditionally offers a slate of timely documentaries, and "AI Weiwei: Never Sorry," which chronicles the battle of China’s most fa m ous artist against government censorship and propaganda is certainly ripped from today’s headlines. In "Chasing Ice," National Geographic photographer and global-warming skeptic James Balog goes to the Arctic to capture images of melting glaciers and comes back with his eyes opened. "We’re Not Broke" exposes the success giant corporations have had in hiding trillions of dollars in taxes overseas while financially troubled communities lay off teachers, police and firefighters.
Two documentaries provide what Vickery sees as an artistic theme to this year’s BIFF. Per formance artist Marina Abra m ovic will be present for the Friday night screening of "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present." Berkshire-based photographer Greg ory Crewd son, acclaimed for his elaborate and inventively staged productions, will be on hand for "Gre gory Crewd son: Brief Encoun ters," a closing night screening.
"These artists are iconic people that are well known but we don’t know that well," said Vickery. "The films are intimate and very poignant."
The festival will offer three packages of short films and Berkshire Bank is again sponsoring the third annual "Next Great Filmmaker" competition among short films (to vote, go to biffma.com/nextGREAT). Also for the third time, a Juried Prize Award will be given to one of nine films -- five documentaries and four features -- screened at the festival. Actres ses Karen Allen, a Berkshire resident, and Mary Kay Place are among the jurors.
While putting the festival to gether never gets easier, said Vickery, the festival’s success has brought tangible advantages.
"Audiences know that we put out a good product each year so they want to come," she ex plains. "Distribution companies and filmmakers know us now so we don’t have to beg and plead to get films Š not as a rule."