Breakfast in the Berkshires: Sitting across from Kelley Vickery

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LENOX — Kelley Vickery, the founding executive director of Berkshire International Film Festival, readily acknowledges that breakfast is not her favorite meal.

"I hardly eat breakfast," she says. "Usually, I get up, have two cups of coffee, maybe a banana, and then I'm off."

Brunch, she says, is another matter. "I love brunch; anything in that range."

She loves eggs, "any which way — scrambled, over easy, frittata ..."

On a Monday morning at her favorite eatery, Haven Cafe, she settles for a white cheddar cheese omelet with added spinach. The fluffy, perfectly rolled omelet with flecks of green from the spinach, is served, as egg dishes are at Haven, with mesclun greens, roasted potatoes and baguette, which she left untouched. A latte accompanied her meal.

For Vickery, breakfast at Haven is a momentary respite before plunging into the whirlwind of final preparations for the opening on Thursday of the four-day Berkshire International Film Festival — BIFF. She started the annual event in 2006, after having moved to the Berkshires three years earlier with her family from Washington, D.C., where the University of Colorado graduate had been working as public relations manager for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts.

"I was a single mom with three kids. I needed a job," she says. "I had this entrepreneurial spirit. I love movies and I had vast experience planning special events. In the course of that work, I went to a lot of film festivals and met a lot of festival organizers."

While doing public relations for the Denver Symphony, Vickery had met the director of the Colorado Film Festival. She called him for advice. "He said, 'Just do it. Get a few elements in place, talk to your friends in film.'"

One of the first people she contacted was Great Barrington developer Richard Stanley, who owns the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington and now also Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. She took out two credit cards and off she went. BIFF's main attraction that first year was Robert Altman's "Prairie Home Companion." That was in May 2006.

The next year, she says, "We doubled the program and attendance and I was able to retire both credit cards."

This year's BIFF is offering 80 films — feature length and short; documentaries and narratives — from 23 countries. It's the biggest BIFF ever. Vickery regards that fact with mixed feelings.

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"We just had more good films to choose from this year," she says. "What's a girl to do?"

As programming has increased, so has attendance. "The BIFF has grown exponentially," Vickery says. "I am a bit surprised at how successful we've become."

Part of that is the result of year-round programming, chiefly under the auspices of REEL Friends, a BIFF support group that sponsors a variety of special programs — screenings, discussions — throughout the year.

Filmmakers also are attracted to BIFF in increasing numbers, according to Vickery.

"We've become a platform for indie filmmakers."

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The filmmakers also appreciate BIFF audiences; the give and take in the Q&A sessions that follow some of the screenings.

"It's an educated, knowledgeable audience."

The two weeks after the festival ends prove to be as intense a period for Vickery and her staff as are the weeks leading up to the opening. Films need to be returned. Accounts have to be squared. In October, the BIFF work starts again. January through March is the most active period in terms of actually viewing and selecting films.

There is rarely a moment when she isn't assessing BIFF. "There is always room for improvement, to do things better."

And when Vickery is not doing BIFF business, she is putting to use the real estate license she has had for five years.

"It helps pay the college bills," she says.

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The rewards for all that hard work are considerable. To begin with, there is life in the Berkshires, particularly at this time of year. Vickery loves hiking. She will take in performances at Jacob's Pillow and Shakespeare & Company.

"On any given Sunday, you can find me on the lawn at Tanglewood," she says. She also loves simply sitting on the back porch of her downtown Lenox house reading.

First and foremost, however, are her kids — Kaitlin, 23, who has just graduated from Northeastern University in Boston and will be in Greece working at a camp for Syrian refugees before returning to the United States for a job at NBC; Jack, 19, who is working at a local business until it's time to leave for Hobart; and Andrew, 21 (Drew, as he is referred to by his mom), who has an internship.

"My focus always has been on my kids," Vickery says. "It is a challenge to raise three kids, have a business, put dinner on the table, and make sure you get to their after-school (activities).

"You have no choice, You just make it happen."

It helps that she lives in a supportive community, she says.

It also helps that BIFF has become integral to her children's lives. "They just love it," Vickery says. "They each have a pride of ownership in BIFF."

Vickery's been in an increasingly reflective mood of late.

"I never thought we'd be here, but it feels good, especially to have my kids so wrapped up in BIFF," she says, sipping the last of her latte.

"I've just turned 50 and I feel more comfortable in my skin. I don't take things as personally as I did at the beginning. I've become more patient. With three kids and BIFF, I had to."


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