Cannes in Chatham

FilmColumbia touts impressive array of festival circuit favorites in 20th year

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CHATHAM, N.Y. — FilmColumbia is a festival for early adopters. While Sundance and Cannes are destinations for top-notch movie premieres, FilmColumbia has often been one of the next landing spots for those films.

"We are basically, in some ways — and I love this — a very modest, regional, local festival bringing to our neck of the woods films that might not otherwise play, and it doesn't matter to us if they've been shown at many other film festivals," said Laurence Kardish, co-artistic director of the Chatham, N.Y., festival. "In fact, that's where we make our discoveries."

Kardish, who is senior curator emeritus for film and media at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, visits the Toronto International Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival every year, in addition to the aforementioned screen hubs. For the past two decades, he and fellow artistic director Peter Biskind have worked their industry contacts to ensure that Crandell Theatre annually hosts acclaimed features and documentaries.

This year's edition of FilmColumbia will be no different. Running from Oct. 18 to 27 predominantly at the Crandell, the festival will be celebrating its 20th year by showing Cannes prize winners "Parasite," "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," "Young Ahmed" and "Les Miserables"; Noah Baumbach's Netflix film, "Marriage Story," that stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver; and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the Academy Award winner shown during the festival's earliest days thanks to James Schamus, the part-time Columbia County resident co-wrote the film. His leadership of distributor Focus Features also later guided "The Pianist" and "Brokeback Mountain" to Chatham. A tribute event on Saturday, Oct. 19, will honor his contributions.

"We're forever grateful," Kardish said of Schamus' support.

Kardish is also pleased to be screening the Bob Giraldi-directed "Dinner Rush," another throwback to the festival's beginnings. FilmColumbia was an outgrowth of the Chatham Film Club and a festival held by the Columbia County Council on the Arts. Managing director Calliope Nicholas, Kardish and Biskind, who is an author and film historian, have all been around from the start.

"We all enjoy doing this," Kardish said.

The Bong Joon-ho-directed "Parasite" is one of the films Kardish is most excited to watch again. The Palme d'Or winner at Cannes this year examines the entanglement of two families: the impoverished Kims and affluent Parks.

"It's about one family becoming another family, and I can't say anything more than that," Kardish said of the South Korean movie that will be shown at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21. "It's funny. It's sharp. It's nasty, but it's socially accurate."

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Other Cannes winners at FilmColumbia include Celine Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" (best screenplay), which will be screened at 8:30 p.m., Oct. 24; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "Young Ahmed" (best director), which will be screened at 4:15 p.m., Oct. 26; and "Les Miserables" (jury prize), which will be screened at 6:15 p.m., Oct. 26.

Domestic feature "Waves" (8 p.m., Oct. 23) and Peruvian film "Song Without a Name" (2:15 p.m., Oct. 26) are also highly recommended by Kardish.

"Extraordinary," he said of the former.

"Marriage Story" drew the same adjective from Kardish. Baumbach's latest project, which will be shown at 8 p.m., Oct. 25, captures the demands of the country-spanning divorce of an actress and director. Debuting on Netflix on Dec. 6, the film has already received a chorus of acclaim since its Venice Film Festival premiere.

"I think it's one of the films that's going to be around awards time, when we'll hear a lot about it," Kardish said. "We were very pleased to get it because it's funded by Netflix, and Netflix wants its films, basically, streamed. But there's such an interest in this movie that they did send it to a number of festivals, and it's done very, very, very well."

Baumbach has often visited the Berkshires; his late father, Jonathan, lived in Housatonic until his death this past spring. Local fans will have interest in a work that is "both very sad and somewhat funny," according to Kardish.

"I don't think the film will disappoint anybody," he said.

Other films with regional ties include "South Mountain" (2 p.m., Oct. 22), which was shot in the Catskills, and "Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack." The documentary was directed by Academy Award-winner Debra Shaffer, who has a home in the area, according to Kardish. She will partake in a Q&A after the 11 a.m. screening on Oct. 20.

"There are lots of good people who are in our neck of the woods, in and around Columbia County," Kardish said, "who are really significant figures in American cinema."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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