Filmmakers follow Silk Road to the Berkshires for BIFF 11

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The Silk Road is winding through the Berkshires this year and Academy Award-nominated actor Bruce Dern will be on its trail when Berkshire International Film Festival — BIFF — launches its 11th season on June 2.

"Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble" will open BIFF with a 7 p.m. screening at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Two nights later, on June 4, also at the Mahaiwe, Academy Award-nominated actor Bruce Dern will be honored at a special event in which Dern, who turns 80 on the 4th, will reminisce about his life and career with filmmaker Doug Trumbull. Earlier in the day, at 4, "Silent Running," a sci-fi film Dern made with Trumbull in 1972, will be shown at the Mahaiwe.

Dern is the latest filmmaker to receive BIFF's Achievement in Film Award.

"It will be such fun for us to have a Hollywood legend and Academy Award-nominee with us," BIFF founder and executive director, Kelley Vickery, said during a luncheon interview in Lenox. "The stories he tells are just wonderful. And all this comes at a time when he is as busy as ever. He has three films coming up."

BIFF's Pittsfield opening at 7 p.m. June 3 will be "Life, Animated," a jury winner at 2016 Sundance Film Festival that also was shown at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

BIFF will close on June 5 with "De Palma," a documentary about the idiosyncratic Hollywood director, co-directed by Noah Baumbach — whose "Frances Ha" was screened at BIFF in 2013 — and Jake Paltrow.

Baumbach and Paltrow will talk about "De Palma" in a post-screening Q&A led by artist Gregory Crewdson.

All in all, BIFF will screen 26 documentaries, 26 narratives, and 17 short films over four days in Great Barrington at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Triplex Cinema, and in Pittsfield at Beacon Cinema.

Among other highlights:

• "A Year By the Sea," starring Karen Allen in a drama based on the popular novel by Joan Anderson (12:30 p.m., June 4, Mahaiwe).

• "Becoming Mike Nichols," a filmed conversation between the notable film and theater director and theater director Jack O'Brien, followed by a discussion led by Nichols' first assistant director, BIFF honoree Mike Haley (11 a.m., June 5, Mahaiwe).

• "Art and Heart: The World of Isaiah Sheffer," a documentary about the founder of Symphony Space in New York and its popular "Selected Shorts" series featured at Symphony Space, on tour and on national Public Radio, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers, moderated by Mahaiwe executive director Beryl Jolly (10:30 a.m., June 4, Mahaiwe).

• Kids Flix Mix, a free festival within the festival of short films from around the world, picked as audience and jury favorites from the 2015 New York Children's Film Festival, for youngsters between the ages of 4 and 8.

"I feel honored to open BIFF with ('Music of Strangers')," Vickery said. "This will be such a special evening."

Directed by Morgan Neville, who directed "Twenty Feet From Stardom," an Academy Award-winning feature-length documentary that opened BIFF's eighth festival in 2013, "Music of Strangers" follows the collective of instrumentalists, vocalists, composers, arrangers and visual artists who have been part of the project since its inception by Ma in 1998.

Ma will be in the audience for the screening and then participate in a post-screening Q&A with the audience.

Vickery said she's been after "Music of Strangers" ever since Neville mentioned he was working on the film — portions of which were shot at Tanglewood and at Ma's home in Tyringham — during a conversation at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

"We talked some more about it last year at Sundance when Neville mentioned he was coming to the Berkshires to shoot some additional footage," Vickery said.

"It's a remarkable film that opens a window on how cultures come together to make beautiful music."

"Music of Strangers" had its first screening at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. It will officially be released in June.

With regard to "De Palma," Vickery said "Noah and Jake both have grown up with De Palma's films (which include "Blow Out," "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "The Untouchables," "Carlito's Way," "Scarface" and "Mission: Impossible").

"Neither (Noah nor Jake) is a documentary filmmaker and yet," Vickery said, "they've made a wonderful and funny documentary about a legendary filmmaker, filled with an intensity that could come from only these two artists."

"Life, Animated," about an autistic boy named Owen and how he found a pathway to the world around him through Disney animated films, was a jury winner at the 2016 Sundance Festival. It also was screened at the recent Tribeca Film Festival earlier this month in New York.

"This is an inspiring, fascinating film, a movie lovers' film about the power of movies," Vickery said.

Overall, Vickery said, this year's BIFF reflects the annual festival's growing reputation within the film industry.

"That a Bruce Dern would say 'yes' to our invitation," Vickery said, "is an indication that our reputation is solid. But that's also due to the fact that we are here in the Berkshires and there are talented people who live and work here and whose work is known well beyond where we are. Word spreads."

"I'm excited. I think this BIFF is our best."

BIFF Highlights

• June 2 — Opening Night Film and Event (Great Barrington): "Music of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble." 7 p.m. Preceded at 5 p.m. by passholders-only cocktail party and dinner-by-the-bite. Screening followed by Q&A with Yo-Yo Ma

• June 3 — Pittsfield Opening Night Film and Event: "Life, Animated." 7 p.m. Beacon Cinema, 57 North St. Preceded at 5 p.m. by Opening Night Party at Hotel on North (297 North St.), including presentation of BIFF Next Great Filmmaker Award

• June 4 — Special Tribute Event, Film and Festivities (Great Barrington): Tribute to Academy Award-nominated actor Bruce Dern, featuring a conversation between Dern and Doug Trumbull and presentation of BIFF Achievement in Film Award. 7 p.m. Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Preceded at 5 p.m. by passholders cocktail party and dinner-by-the-bite

• June 5 — Closing Night Film (Great Barrington): "De Palma," co-directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. 7 p.m. Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, followed by Q&A with filmmakers, moderated by Gregory Crewdson. 7 p.m. Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

All events and screenings at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington, and Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield.

Tickets

Passes: $200, $300, $500

Single tickets: available now for REEL Friends Film Society members; general public, available beginning Sunday

How: online — biffma.org; phone — 1-866-8111-4111; in person — Mahaiwe, Triplex and Beacon box offices


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