Film festival nears launch

Friday October 12, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Year 14 has arrived for the Williamstown Film Festival, which unveils its wares in feature-length movie premieres, short subjects, celebrity talks and Q&As, and the customary parties, along with a few new festival touches, beginning Wednesday at Images Cinema.

This year’s edition will take place on one extended weekend, running through Oct. 21, rather than over two weekends as has been the custom for several years. But, according to Steve Lawson, the festival’s director, it will be more concentrated, tendering a total of nine feature-length films and 28 short subjects, compared with eight features and 21 shorts in 2011.

"We’ll focus the energy a little more, bring it closer to the community," said Lawson in a chat last week, noting that performances by live bands, yoga instruction for relaxation between screenings, the encouragement of bicycling as a mode of transportation and circus acts are among those festival innovations.

Film buffs will notice, and perhaps be frustrated again by, the presence of both the Williamstown festival and FilmColumbia on the same weekend.

"We came this close to having it the weekend before," said Lawson. "Then I realized that Wood stock (N.Y.) was going on that weekend, and Woodstock and Williamstown have films, and filmmakers, in common -- its director and I have similar tastes. The week after is Family Day at Williams [College]. There is no perfect weekend. One hopes that if someone is caught between, they will enjoy each festival."

In Williamstown, activities begin at 7 Wednesday evening with Shorts Night, a medley of old favorite short subjects and new films. The short subject, which has become increasingly popular at film festivals everywhere, has been a steadfast tradition for more than a decade at Williamstown, where shorts generally precede feature showings.

"I’ve always thought shorts were very important," said Lawson. "I think people like the smorgasbord of [all-shorts programs.] You tend to re spond to a feature in some way -- you like it or you hate it. If you have a buffet of short films, it is likely that you will find something you like -- love this one, hate that one."

The New England premiere of "Dreamscapes," Wolfram Hissen’s documentary about the internationally-known at mo spheric artist Stephen Han nock, a Williamstown resident and festival friend, is the official opening-night attraction. Hissen and Hannock will be in attendance, along with Tom Collicchio, the restaurateur and television’s Top Chef, who is shown in the film. From Images, everyone will move on to a tasting party at Mezze Bistro.

"Knuckleball," the centerpiece of a heavy schedule on Oct. 19, focuses on baseball pitchers -- Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey, Jim Bouton, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough. The film’s two makers, Christine Schofar and Annie Sundberg, will be guests, joined by Bouton.

The screening, at 8 p.m., followed by a party at Mass MoCA, will be preceded by the annual benefit dinner at the Gramercy Bistro.

Richard Russo, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, will address the often elusive pro cess of transposing book to screen in the festival’s annual gathering at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute. This year the talk, embellished with screen clips of novels set to film, begins at 8 p.m., Oct. 20, preceded by the annual party.

"Usually we have the party afterwards, but it gets late, and people don’t eat as much," Lawson explained, adding that Brad Levinson, the film director who brought Russo to the festival, will be on the interviewing panel, along with James Shepard, professor of creative writing and film at Williams College and also an author. Russo will sign copies of his latest volume, "Interventions."

Filmmakers from previous years often return to the festival, which delights Lawson. This year, Olivia Silver, a Williams graduate, returns with "Arcadia," a full-length film first seen at the festival three years ago as a short, "Little Canyon." It’s about a father and his children relocating to Los Angeles. John Hawkes ("Winter’s Bone") -- an actor, to watch, says Lawson -- plays the father. Stone will attend the showing. "She hasn’t seen it on the big screen," said Lawson, "so this will be her first chance."

Among other highlights:

n "Gayby," Jonathan Lis ecki’s comedy about two former college friends, Jenn, a straight yoga teacher, and Matt, a gay would-be graphic artist, who fulfill an old pledge to make a child - the traditional way.

n "Supporting Characters," Daniel Schechter’s buddy film about two film editors attempting to complete an assignment while dealing with a temperamental director and personal romantic entanglements, the festival’s annual Sunday-morning bagel screening with Schechter in attendance

n "Circus Dreams," Signe Taylor’s documentary pursuing teenagers who join Circus Smirkus, America’s only traveling youth circus, to perform as well as execute required "grunt" work. In this, the festival’s concluding event, the director will introduce two Smith College students, Grey lin Nielsen and Anna Part ridge, Circus Smirkus alumnae, who will share big top talents.

Aside from the circus acts, Lawson has other off-screen novelties reserved for festivalgoers. Goodgood, an ensemble of two singers with three instruments -- guitar, ukulele, bass -- will perform prior to the Wednesday-evening shorts program, and a quintet from Wil liamstown, Wandering Rocks, a group that Lawson said was founded around kitchen tables, will make music Thursday, prior to "Dreamscapes."

Between screenings, Tasha Yoga, located across Spring Street from Images, will provide complementary introductions to its art of relaxation "so people can get supple after sitting in the theater for two hours," Lawson said.

And in another perquisite for filmgoers, Bike North Berk shire is encouraging everyone to ride bicycles around the village and to the festival. Those who produce a bike helmet at participating businesses will receive discounts on merchandise or food.

Lawson ascribed many of these special festival enhancements to work by his board, and to Images director Sandra Thomas.

"She is working with me as a programming consultant for WFF," Lawson said. "I felt, and so did the board, that it would be good to have another voice. She runs the theater 365 days a year, her pulse complements mine. She knows what counts, what people are looking for in a film."


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