The Williamstown Film Festival – celebrating its 16th season from November 5 through 9 – was launched to bring independent cinema into the mix of great theater, art, music, and dance already in the Berkshires. From a tentative charter season of just five films in 1999, WFF has grown steadily and now screens from 30 to 40 features and shorts each year at its artistic partners Images Cinema, MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, and Williams College‘s ’62 Center for Theater and Dance..
Atypically for a film festival, every title at WFF screens just once. This makes it easy for filmmakers to attend, gives each title its moment in the sun, and guarantees everyone has the identical movie going experience. And the Festival has a high bar for the full-length movies it selects, according to executive director Steve Lawson: “Since our audiences are incredibly keen to hear about a film’s genesis and its backscreen stories, we only schedule a feature if someone connected with it can attend and do a Q&A.”
WFF’s focus is the artist. Short-form filmmakers get free lodging and tickets; feature filmmakers also receive round-trip travel and invitations to the annual Benefit dinner. The Festival encourages interaction between audiences and an eclectic mix of rising talent and established artists (among the latter who have attended WFF: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, David Strathairn, Sigourney Weaver, Campbell Scott, James Ivory, John Irving, Patricia Clarkson, and Alec Baldwin, the last of whom has participated twice and hailed WFF as “the best film festival in New England”).
Audience voting determines the winner of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Award for top short film each season. The prize is an original work by internationally-known luminist painter and WFF Board member Stephen Hannock. The Reeve Award has acquired quite a cachet in a short time, with 2010 and 2012 winners God of Love and Curfew going on to capture Academy Awards for live-action short.
Indie icons Jay and Mark Duplass’ first shorts and their debut feature The Puffy Chair all screened at WFF, as did the short and feature versions of Courtney Hunt’s acclaimed Frozen River. 2000 honoree David Strathairn went on to bag an Oscar nomination for Good Night, and Good Luck. Several screenplay readings that WFF has presented jointly with the Williamstown Theatre Festival have later become films (this past summer’s script, Behold My Heart, is shooting this fall with Marisa Tomei).
Tributes to WFF from artists have included: “The ideal environment to show films that mean a lot to me” (actor/director Campbell Scott); “A beautiful setting and one of the best audiences I’ve ever had” (animator Bill Plympton); “A feast for the imagination and the soul” (producer Anne Chaisson); and “Festivals like Williamstown are one of the reasons you make films in the first place” (shorts filmmaker Dave Wells).
Details of WFF’s 16th season will be posted in early October at www.williamstownfilmfest.com, and tickets and passes will be available for purchase. “There’s a lot of incredible stuff hovering for this fall,” notes WFF director Lawson. “We look forward to sharing it with everyone.”