Film Festivals

Festival Report: The Northampton Film Festival

1 Dec , 1997  

Written by Devon Damonte | Posted by:

Free from industry hype or the regional art house cookie-cutter lineup, the Northampton Film Festival is reminiscent of the experience that film festivals once were are all about.

The three-year old Northampton Film Festival on November 6-9, 1997 achieved a humble greatness in the cluttered landscape of regional festivals simply by asserting its basic strengths – bringing to a beautiful and friendly small community several unique indie films and videos (5 features and dozens of shorts) sprinkled with a few high-profile events over a long weekend. Free from industry hype or the regional art house cookie-cutter lineup, this is an event that reminds one of the experience that film festivals once were are all about. The audience begins to recognize each other from screening to screening, and strangers strike up conversations responding to the work seen.

Its idyllic setting is well-suited for a film festival. Primary screenings happen in the century-old Academy of Music theater, a beautiful historic building in the center of town with decor resembling an architectural layer cake. Other screenings are held in halls on the lovely Smith College campus. The area boasts five major colleges, including UMass Amherst, and consequently benefits from associated hip amenities.

The program kicked off with a full-day focus on Women in Cinema. The starting time was variously published as 8:30 am, 9:00 am, or 9:15 am, depending where one looked. The theater was locked and vacant at 8:30 am, and as it happened, the first film didn’t reach the screen from a makeshift 16mm setup on the balcony until 9:45 am. And then, instead of a short film Aurora as listed, the audience saw the beginning of a black comedy about seven virtues, which was stopped appropriately enough after a nasty illustration of "patience." At another festival, these proceedings might have caused riots, or at least angry outbursts. But in Northampton, the large crowd took it all extremely good-naturedly, enjoying time for free coffee and pleasant conversation.

Program standouts were two films of world-class quality that just happened to be hometown Northampton filmmaker productions. Flora Cohen and Benjamin Goldman led a local crew to the sublimely witty and charming 22-minute film Lemonade in October, telling a tale set in 1973 of pre-adolescent girls hatching schemes to help Israel during the Yom Kippur war. Lemonade’s style struck me as Charlie Chaplin filtered through a fine art photographer’s lens (Goldman’s camera work is reminiscent of Harry Callahan meets Ralph Eugene Meatyard meets Sally Mann) all unmistakably conjured through a woman’s eye. Lemonade was partially funded by Massachusetts Media Fellowship grant from BF•VF and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Another treat was Northampton animator Luke Yaeger’s tour de force romp Five Dreams. Set to a hilariously bantering soundtrack including a ditty called "If Winton Marsalis had a toy boat would it float?" Jaeger moves from a Robert Breer style visual barrage to a surrealistic crayon-colored odyssey through a pop culture stained subconscious.

Further highlights among the shorts included Best of Festival Award winner Chekhov’s Gun, from Victor Fanucchi and Matt Nix, What Became Known as. . .The Eleanor Affair, by Ginger Rinkenberger and Kathryn Pickford, and Best Short Film Award winner Parking, by James Morrison. Strong personal documentary showings included Poverty Outlaw, by Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy, and Cruize, by Anne-Lise Benning. Also excellent was a selection from distributor Women Make Movies in celebration of their 25th Anniversary, presented by WMM Director Debbie Zimmerman, who was also the keynote speaker for Thursday’s "Viewing Women: Celebration of Women in Film and Video."

Evening presentations paired unique combinations of disparate special programs: a tribute to Patricia Neal preceded a screening of Northampton local Maureen Foley’s acclaimed feature Home Before Dark (recent winner of a Hamptons Festival prize); the Awards ceremony came before the Alloy Orchestra’s performance with film; and a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklisting screened the documentary Hollywood on Trial followed by a featured live reading of a radio play on the subject with Edward Asner in person. Though these pairings weren’t always logical or justified, the featured events were excellent overall. Highlight among these was the Alloy Orchestra, a Cambridge, Massachusetts trio who have become something like the "house band" for the Telluride Film Festival (and in great demand worldwide from San Francisco to Pordenone, Italy). The Alloy boys wowed another lucky audience performing live their percussive pyrotechnics to a pristine new print of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr.

Also admirably included during the four-day event was a Film and Video Expo, which featured mostly regional exhibitors of production and post studios, effects and rental companies, production support groups and websites including Eastman Kodak Company (also a sponsor of the Festival), the Massachusetts Film Office and This further emphasized the focus on independent producers, and provided a valuable networking opportunity, essential in this non-localized region of media making.

All in all, the Northampton Film Festival is off to a great start. If they continue their focus on independent film and video, and avoid hyped attitude, this will emerge as a late fall gem on the festival calendar.

News and Updates from Boston Film * Video Foundation (BF*VF):
NEW WORKSHOP SCHEDULE! The schedule for Winter/ Spring 1998 workshops is being mailed out to all members in mid-December. If you are not a member but would like to take classes, call for a catalog. BF*VF is the largest non-profit media arts organization in New England, offering ongoing professional workshops, low-cost editing facilities and equipment access for independent producers, technical and financial assistance, and exhibition programs including the New England Film and Video Festival happening March 30-April 4, 1998 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. To find out more and to become a member of BF*VF, call 617-536-1540, or e-mail: or see their website at