12th annual Berkshire International Film Festival will honor Christopher Plummer

Festival rolling out record 80 films over four days in June

PITTSFIELD — With a lineup of 80 narrative and documentary films, the 12th annual Berkshire International Film Festival is the biggest ever, says its founding executive director Kelley Vickery.

"Typically, we keep the number of entries at around 73, 74, 75. I don't know whjat I was thinking," she said with a laugh as she discussed this year's BIFF over lunch at a Lenox eatery.

The festival opens June 1 with the documentary, "STEP," at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Cehter in Great Barrington, and ends June 4, also at the Mahaiwe, with "Lucky," one of the hits of the recent SXSW, starring Harry Dean Stanton as a 90-year-old atheist on a spiritual quest, with David Lynch and Tom Skerritt, and directed by actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch.

BIFF's Pittsfield opening on June 2 will feature the newest episode in Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden's "Trip" series, "The Trip to Spain."

All in all, BIFF will be screening 30 documentaries, 29 narrative features and 21 short films from 23 countries, among them India, Iraq, Chile, Afghanistan, Israel, Syria, Russia, Egypt, Cuba and Brazil.

The festival also is launching Tea Talks, a new series of mid-afternoon conversations with members of the film industry, enhanced by teas from Harney & Sons.. Sheila Nevins, head of HBO Documentary Films, who was profiled by Lesley Stahl on Sunday's edition of "CBS Sunday Morning," leads off the series at 3:30 p.m. on June 2 at St. James Place on Main Street. Poet and BIFF board member Mary Mott will moderate.

Karen Allen, who is making her film directing debut at BIFF with "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud," based on a Carson McCullers novella, will share a Tea Talk with filmmaker Kristi Zea, at 3:30 p.m. on June 3, following a screening of Allen's film and her own Carson McCullers adaptation, "Domestic Dilemma."

The third Tea Talk, at 2 p.m. on June 4 at the Mahaiwe, features New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman discussing "The State of Our Country" with WAMC's Alan Chartock, following a screening of the 1976 drama, "All the President's Men."

This year's BIFF honoree is Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Plummer, who is being recognized, Vickery said, for his lifetime achievements. The 87-year-old Toronto-born actor will be at the Mahaiwe on June 2 for a discussion of his career with New York Film Festival director Kent Jones, followed by a screening of Plummer's new film, "The Exception," which, Vickery said, will have its commercial release shortly after BIFF.

"This is such a beautifully shot film," Vickery said. "He plays a good guy," an exiled German count living a secluded life in a mansion in The Netherlands during World War II until the reality of the conflict closes in on him again.

The festival opener, "STEP," is a 2017 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize winner for best documentary. Directed by documentary filmmaker and Tony Award-winning producer Amanda Lipitz, "STEP" follows the senior year of a step dance team at an all-girl inner-city high school in Baltimore and their determination not only to win the competition but also to be accepted into college.

"She's young and incredible," Vickery said of Lipitz. "This is such an inspiring, really wonderful film. I think it will have everyone step dancing in the aisles."

Dance, music, the arts figure prominently this year. "The Paris Opera" (11 a.m. June 4, Mahaiwe) goes behind the scenes of the famous institution, bringing the work of its staff and personnel up close and personal; "The Score" (9 a.m. June 3, Mahaiwe) tracks the composing processes of some of Hollywood's leading composers; "Conduct! Every Move Counts" (TBA) travels to an intense, prestigious conducting competition in Germany; "Mr. Gaga,"shown in collaboration with Jacob's Pillow, looks at one of Israel's most influential choreographers, Ohad Naharin.

There also is plenty of comedy, best exemplified by "The Trip to Spain," the newest in a blithely irreverent series with Coogan and Bryden. This time, the two imitate Sean Connery, Mick Jagger and Roger Moore, among others, as they eat their way through Spain.

"I really didn't seek out a less intense festival this year," Vickery said, noting that there are a number of "tough, hard" films among this year's offerings.

"But, I've found so many of my friends, for example, people I've spoken to are feeling so burdened by what is happening all around us, they are looking for some lightness, some relief. So, I sought out films that are more uplifting."

"(These) films are," Vickery says in a news release, "vibrant, intriguing, authentic, rich in hue and full of life."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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