GREAT BARRINGTON -- Seventy-five indie films -- narratives and documentaries, shorts and full-length -- will be screened at this year's Berkshire International Film Festival, May 30 through June 2, in Great Barrington and Pittsfield.
BIFF's eighth season opens in rocking fashion May 30 with a performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love following a screening at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center of "Twenty Feet From Stardom," a documentary by Morgan Neville that looks at the world of backup singers.
Love, who figures prominently in the film, began her career with The Blossoms, a sessions circuit backup group, before emerging as a solo artist for producer Phil Spector. She will perform at a post-screening dance party and dinner.
Among other highlights:
• "Frances Ha." A new film from Noah Baumbach, director of "The Squid and the Whale," who will attend the screening, along with actress Greta Gerwig, and do a Q&A with audiences afterward, moderated by Gregory Crewdson. Closing night, Sunday, June 2, Mahaiwe.
• Pittsfield opening, Friday, May 31: "The Spectacular Now," a Sundance Festival audience favorite about an unlikely high school romance. Beacon Cinema.
• Special event screening and panel: "Girl Rising," a documentary by Richard Robbins that examines the lives of nine girls from nine countries, written by nine writers and narrated by nine renowned actresses, among them Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Frieda Pinto. Benjamin Barber will moderate a post-screening discussion with panelists Tom Yellin, Carol Gilligan and Shabana Badij-Rasikh. among others to be announced. June 1, Mahaiwe.
• Special advance screening with CATA (Community Access to the Arts) of "Cinemability," a documentary examining the evolution of "disability" in entertainment. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by John Whalen of Black Ice Entertainment. May 31, Triplex Cinema.
Individual tickets go on sale today. Complete ticket and program information is available online at www.biffma.org; by telephone at (1-866) 811-4111 or directly at Mahaiwe box office and Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington and Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield.
The festival's 75 films were culled by BIFF executive director Kelly Vickery and a selection committee from more than 700 submissions from filmmakers and distributors in the United States and overseas, and films spotted by Vickery at various film festivals, chief among them Sundance.
"Our (selection) team works pretty well," Vickery said during a recent lunch interview.
"Our programming is bold. Seventy-five films. We have a lot of screens (the Mahaiwe and Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington; Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield). My concern is overprogramming."
Selection, Vickery says, is a constant challenge, year to year.
"We want to strike the right balance for our audiences. We want to keep (the festival) from being depressing," she said with a laugh.
There are always challenges in finding films, Vickery said, more so, perhaps, this year.
"For one thing," she said, "the distribution pattern for independent films is changing. For another, there was the up-and-down nature of the films at Sundance," where Vickery does a lot of BIFF's shopping.
Landing "Twenty Feet From Stardom" for opening night was particularly difficult, Vickery said without elaboration. Still, she said, the demanding negotiations were worth it.
"It's an intimate story about these largely unheralded talented backup singers who, quite literally, perform 20 feet away from stardom, behind singers like Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen. It's a real-showstopper opening night film," she said.
In only its eighth year, BIFF is the new kid on the block compared to Williamstown Film Festival, which celebrates 15 years this October, and FilmColumbia in neighboring Chatham, N.Y., which turns 14 also in October. But in many ways, BIFF seems to make the most noise.
Last year's festival drew 3,000 moviegoers, an increase over 2011 of 25 percent in both Great Barrington and Pittsfield. BIFF's $150 passes sold out last week, "one month ahead of last year," Vickery said.
It's not at all uncommon, Vickery noted, for friends to get together, coordinate their schedules, mix and match, as they plan their BIFF moviegoing.
"Part of it is the timing," Vickery said of BIFF's increasing popularity. "It comes just ahead of the summer season. We're coming out of winter; people are coming up to open their houses. And we're getting top films, pre-release."
The turning point, Vickery said, was year five.
"Making year five impressed me," she said candidly. "Year five felt to me like a real change from something we were doing to something that became part of the fabric."