Ashfield Film Festival

Short films celebrate Berkshire hill towns

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ASHFIELD — With so many film festivals in existence, the Ashfield Film Festival has found that the best way to differentiate itself from any other is to localize its focus. The Ashfield Film Festival has traditionally been the only film festival in the country that is about Ashfield itself. Now, it's widening its scope to include some neighbors.

This year, the festival takes place Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 13-15.

Throughout its 12-year run, the highlight of the festival has been the final night featuring short locally made films, but this is the first year it will include entries from Buckland and Shelburne, as well as Ashfield. And that's not all.

"If you're not from these towns, you can still submit a film, but you have to include some minor reference to Ashfield," said Tamara Sloan, film festival co-organizer.

It's a chance to widen participation in the intimate film festival, while still keeping it centered on the town that hosts it. Awards will be handed out, as well as cash prizes.

"Many of the films are done by kids," Sloan said. "Pretty much the majority of the people are amateur filmmakers. And that's our goal — to encourage people to express themselves. Everybody is just so loving and warm, and cheer each other. We're a small-town community, but we sure know how to have a great time with it."

The film festival started in 2007, the creation of Tamsen Merrill and Harry Keramidas. Keramidas is a film editor best known for the "Back to the Future" films, but also titles like "Children of the Corn," "Judge Dredd" and many others.

The festival was created in honor of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille, who was born in Ashfield and lived there maybe three days. His mother was traveling and staying at an inn there when she went into labor. A plaque marks the spot now. In honor of DeMille's short stay in his hometown, the short film competition was born, with the winner given the Baby Cecil Trophy.

There is also an Audience Choice Award, decided following the screening of all the films.

The festival also shows feature-length films and this year concentrates on documentaries. The first night will screen "Weed The People," directed by Abby Epstein and edited by current festival co-organizer Christopher Seward, who's best known for his editing work on "Fahrenheit 9-11." The film, which was screened at the 2018 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, examines the prohibition of medical marijuana through the lens of children battling cancer.

The second night film is "The Donut Dollies," directed by Berkshire native Norman Anderson and focusing on a Red Cross group that was sent to Vietnam for the purpose of cheering up soldiers. Anderson's mother, Dorset, was a Dollie and is one of the subjects of the films. Both Anderson and his mom will be on a panel following the screening.

There's even some anticipation with the short film program, as Sloan said a couple sequels to popular previous award winners are going to be featured, such as a follow-up to "The Great Ashfield Pancaper."

"'Pancaper' was done by Gayle Kabaker," she said. "It's a really funny, goofy story about the pancake recipe at the famous Elmer's Restaurant and some guy coming in to steal that recipe. It's a spoof and it's really funny."

Kabaker is an illustrator and New Yorker cover artist, who lives in Ashfield.

Also featured is a sequel to the award-winning "Butter Man" by Noel Anderson, which won the Audience Choice Award in 2016.

"It's about the use of butter and how the characters loved butter," said Sloan. "Kind of like Superman only he was Butterman."

The subject matter of the short films tends to run the gamut from music videos to memoirs of loss, to goofy-kid sword-fighting adventures, an example of the variety of the Ashfield population and a chance to bring that to the forefront.

"It's a really great community-bonding event, a great chance to get together and celebrate the wonder and diversity of our hill towns," Sloan said.


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