WILLIAMSTOWN - Five days, four nights, seven parties, 30 films ... oh yes, and John Irving. That summarizes this year's Williamstown Film Festival, the 15th annual edition of the event, which begins Wednesday evening and runs through Nov. 3, at Images Cinema, Mass MoCA, Williams College, and a few other choice spots in Northern Berkshire County.
With FilmColumbia in nearby Chatham, N.Y. ending this Sunday, this is the first time in several years the two film festivals will not overlap.
"I'm sure the Chatham folks were happy about the change," Williamstown Film Festival director Steve Lawson said in a telephone interview, adding that the change also avoids Williams College's parent-visiting weekend and the demands that weekend places on the area's hotels, motels, inns and B&Bs.
Irving, the author of 13 novels -- five of them emerging on the big screen -- will enjoy Williamstown's opening-night spotlight, Wednesday at 7 in the ‘62 Center for Theatre & Dance at Williams College, in an evening that festival director Steve Lawson suitably has titled "John Irving on Adaptation."
"We're concentrating on ‘Cider House Rules,' " Lawson explained. "Irving did his own adaptation on that and won the Oscar. One of our board members, Jim Shepard, who will moderate the session, is an old friend of John's and persuaded him to come down and do this whole evening about adaptation. It will be fun to illustrate adaptation from one movie in particular." said Lawson, adding that the opening-night party will take place at Hops and Vines.
Lawson is especially delighted about his latest acquisition for the festival, the new documentary, "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia," which will be screened Nov. 2, at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute.
"Vidal was a remarkable man," said Lawson. "He scored in so many aspects of American life, culturally speaking. He wrote plays, he worked for MGM., he wrote several movies for television, he ran for Congress, and he was an ongoing observer, and sometimes critic, of American government and politics.
"He was ahead of his time in that respect. He talked about the concentration of corporate wealth, the erosion of personal liberties -- all of which are very much with us today."
The annual "Saturday Night at the Clark" party is not possible this year, said Lawson, due to the construction at the museum, "but the film is a meal in itself."
And speaking of meals, Lawson cited a double bill comprising what he calls "The Food Film Night," 7:30 Thursday at Images. In "Diner en Blanc," directors Jennifer Ash Rudick and Hugues Hariche explore haut cuisine and a custom in Europe of large numbers of dinners gathering, dressed in white, and boarding buses with food, beverages and chairs to reassemble at a monument, in this case Notre Dame Cathedral.
The contrasting companion short feature film, Matt Reynolds' "The Great Chicken Wing Hunt" also follows diners getting on buses, in this case, to sample and rate Upstate New York chicken wings.
"Both directors will be here, and there's going to be a wings-tasting party afterward at the Purple Pub," said Lawson.
Later that evening, at 11, Peter Strickland's award-winning "Berberian Sound Studios," a film Lawson calls "the perfect spine-tingling way to celebrate Halloween," will be screened at Images. "An English sound engineer (Toby Jones) takes a job with an Italian horror studio and before long realizes he is in over his head in a ghoulish web of life imitating art," explained Lawson.
The annual benefit dinner Saturday at Gramercy Bistro at Mass MoCA in North Adams will be followed in the Hunter Center by "A Birder's Guide to Everything," the first feature film of two festival alumni, Rob Meyer, its director, and Luke Matheny, whose short films were screened here. Matheny's "God of Love" won the 2010 Reeve Award for best short film, and subsequently, an Oscar.
"Their new film is about teenage birdwatchers in Connecticut, and one thinks he has spotted a duck believed to be extinct, so they go on this wild duck hunt in a really quirky movie," said Lawson. Following the screening, Meyer and Matheny will discuss the film, and Lickety Split will cater the post-film party.
Other films cited by Lawson include
• "Good Old Freda," Ryan White's documentary about a 17-year-old girl who became secretary to the Beatles and stayed for 11 years, but kept the job a secret, even to her family.
• "Skating to New York," an American premiere from Charles Minsky about five friends, Canadian teenagers, hockey players who decide one winter day to skate across from Lake Ontario, which is 22 miles wide, "And that's a skate," exclaimed Lawson. "Of course, what starts as a lark, turns out to be an endurance contest, and a test of friendship."
• "At Middleton," Adam Rodgers' comedy concerning two parents, a father (Andy Garcia), a buttoned-up heart surgeon, and a mother (Vera Farmiga), strong-willed and free-spirited, checking out a college campus with their respective son and daughter, and the relationship, if not romantic, certainly interesting, the two develop while escaping the customary tour.
• "A Case of You," Lawson's annual Saturday morning "bagel movie," Kat Coiro's quirky romantic comedy about a writer (Justin Long) who creates a fictional alter ego to win the affection of a barista (Evan Rachel Wood) after viewing her Facebook profile, with notable cameos from Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Siena Miller , Brendan Fraser and Vince Vaughan.
• "Cherry Cottage," a documentary by Dave Simonds of Williamstown focusing on a house in Stockbridge, while examining America over two centuries, is among five films made in the Berkshires.
Simond's film and the other four Berkshires-made festival entries will be discussed at the Nov. 2 luncheon seminar at Gala, the restaurant at The Orchards hotel-- "Making Movies in the Berkshires." Aaron Taylor ("AmorX") and Joe Cacaci ("Halftime") are among the panelists. Diane Pearlman, director of Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, is panel moderator.
The Festival at a Glance
(All programs at Images Cinema in Williamstown, unless otherwise noted)
• John Irving: Screen Adaptations. 7 p.m. ’62 Center for Theater & Dance
• Opening night party. Hops and Vines (ticketed). 9 p.m.
• Food Film Night: “The Great Chicken Wing Hunt” and “Diner en Blanc.” 7:30 p.m. Wings and things after party. Purple Pub.
• “Berberian Sound Studio.” 11 p.m.
• “At Middleton.” 11:45 a.m.
• All Shorts Slot I. 2:30 p.m.
• Benefit Dinner. Gramercy Bistro at Mass MoCA. 5:30 p.m.
• “A Birder’s Guide to Everything.” Hunter Center, Mass MoCA. 8 p.m.
• Post-film party. Catered by Lickety Split. Mass MoCA. 10 p.m.
• “Good Ol’ Freda.” 10 a.m.
• Lunch Seminar: Making Movies in the Berkshires. Gala at The Orchards. 12:15 p.m.
• All-Shorts Slot II. 2:30 p.m.
• “Skating to New York.” 4:30 p.m.
• “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.” 8 p.m.
• “A Case of You.” 11 a.m. • “Cherry Cottage.” 2 p.m.
• Closing party. The Log. 4 p.m.