Film Festivals | Massachusetts

25 Years of the New England Film & Video Festival

1 Mar , 2000  

Written by Devon Damonte | Posted by:

NEFVF Director Devon Damonte gives an inside look at this year's selection of films and the events to come.

Boston Film/Video Foundation’s 25th New England Film and Video Festival (NEFVF) provides the best place to see the entire spectrum of new award-winning work from this region all in one week. The 25th Anniversary NEFVF happens March 27 to April 1, 2000, at Coolidge Corner Theater and the Museum of Fine Arts (Monday through Thursday plus Friday midnight at the Coolidge, and Friday and Saturday at the MFA). 33 new award-winning works will be screened, selected by a jury of professionals including Richard Pena, director of the New York Film Festival. Pena, who lived in Boston for many years before moving to New York, observed from his experience:

"It was wonderful to be back in Boston," Pena said, "and to see through my work for the festival that New England remains an important source for fresh ideas and approaches to film and video art."

This year mostly short films were selected, and the most significant statistic is that 21 of the 33 films screening are directed by women. That’s 63% women directors, particularly notable in comparison with this year’s Sundance festival, where there was much press devoted to a 30-something percentage of screenings directed by women. Further proof that New England is ahead of the curve.

BF/VF’s New England Film and Video Festival doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a film festival as a glitzy Hollywood star-studded, red-carpet affair. First and foremost, to even enter a film or video in NEFVF, one must be a current resident of the New England states. Why is that important?

It’s important because especially now, among ever-increasing multinational merger mania and corporate homogenization of our culture, truly independent regional voices need to be heard. Unquestionably, film and video production is still and will likely always be centered around Los Angeles and New York and other world centers. But for the vitality of film/media culture as a whole, it is essential that work being produced outside those traditional centers — work made from the hearts of New Englanders without catering to the status quo stamp of approval — that films and videos from here in our communities have a forum to be seen and recognized for their merits. 

It’s also important because, as the number of film festivals sprouting up in every town increases at dizzying speed, many of those events are only a showcase for the latest coming-attraction products from studios, maybe supplemented by a scattershot sampling of mixed-quality independent work that happens to arrive at their doorstep. The New England Festival has a specific, devoted focus to showcase work from here, judged by a jury of professionals from this region and beyond. And this festival is also unique in presenting films and videos by new emerging talent right alongside established veteran professionals, so you see the broad scope of what’s being produced in this region. This brings it back to the initial concept of regional focus, and reinforces the underlying mission: There is a vital and sustained community of independent film and video artists in New England, and the work is worth celebrating. In turn, this is what creates the entirely unique ambience of the New England Festival, where every screening feels like you’re part of at least the friends and family, if not the cast and crew. Looking around the audience, you’re likely to see a who’s who of independent producers turning out to support their own.

Each year, since the festival is entirely dependent on what’s been submitted, it’s a difficult task to assess "how the crop of work stacks up this year." This year, early in sorting submissions, initially there was some concern with the lack of "heavy hitter" name-recognized veterans of the scene. But as the judging was completed and the work began to fall into place, the programs have emerged as very strong, solid collections of short works. Opening Night, March 27, at 7:00 p.m. at the Coolidge is a prime example of the diverse scope of festival offerings. From Andrew Mudge’s funny short narrative "Chicken Pox Pal" to Kelly Riley’s acclaimed documentary "Moonshine" (he deservedly won the $10,000 top prize in the Independent Feature Market Student showcase last fall) to fest veteran and nationally celebrated witty director Joe Gibbons’ latest, "Multiple Barbie," you get a sampling of genres and perspectives. Plus, in between those higher-profile works on that same program are gems like James Holland’s "Night on the Town," a Best Student winner from RISD with amazing performances from young actors, and "I Created Lancelot Link," which resurrects a particularly vivid ’70s moment indelibly etched on the collective subconscious. Nearly every festival program in the week presents a similarly rich diversity of works to entertain, challenge and broaden horizons.

Especially hot tickets this year are the premiere of Ellie Lee’s new film "Dog Days" on Friday, March 31, at 8:00 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts. Lee won Best of Festival at NEFVF in 1997 for her animated documentary short "Repetition Compulsion" and went on to numerous festival awards worldwide, and an unprecedented spot on the PBS series "P.O.V." "Dog Days," Lee’s live-action debut, won Lee this year’s Most Promising Filmmaker Award and includes in the cast Will Lyman in a powerfully poignant and beautifully photographed story.

Awards Night, Saturday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts is traditionally the most festive gathering, and this year is no exception. On that night, all of this year’s winning filmmakers will be recognized, and the program is indeed stellar and diverse. From Sandra Gibson’s engaging experimental Best Animation winner "Edgeways" to the big moment of the night, the screening of Best of Festival winner "Look Back, Don’t Look Back" by Randy Bell and Justin Rice, Awards Night provides a perfect culmination to a week’s celebration of independent film and video talent in our midst.

This year there are two special events happening during festival week that deserve mention. First is an event Friday, March 31, at midnight at the Coolidge featuring a performance by world-class sound artists/mixers/deejays extraordinaire Duotone, who will perform original sound collage to accompany a selection of New England-made films and videos. Visual artists in this program will include animator Pooh Kaye, this year’s winners Ann Steuernagel and Sandra Gibson, and more. Duotone recently performed a similar live sound with silent film (for dada and surrealist classics) event at Harvard Film Archive to great success, and this is a unique experience not-to-be-missed. Also, installation artist Bruce Bemis will create a special projected film environment at the Coolidge for the duration of the festival. Bemis conjures amazing magical worlds using found-footage film loops juxtaposed with surrealist sensibility, and motion detectors to give them life of their own. Bemis currently has an installation on display at the Revolving Museum’s "Revelation for Revolution" show, and he’s been seen at Mass Art and the Distillery in South Boston.

There are also several pre-festival events scheduled in celebration of NEFVF’s 25th Anniversary before this year’s week kicks off. Most notably, on the high end is the fancy Gala Dinner on Saturday, March 11, at the Castle at Park Plaza, which promises to be the comprehensive celebration of a lifetime for New England indies (call Anne Marie at 617-536-1540 ext. 14 or Toni at ext. 17 for ticket info: $125 general/$100 members including Mumm’s dinner and entertainment; proceeds support BF/VF & NEFVF ). And on the populist side is the first-ever Filmmakers’ Open Studios on Sunday, March 19, a free event with 21 independent directors, studios, animators, experimentalists and related folks open their facilities to the public. Also upcoming: Wednesday, March 8, at 7:00 p.m. at the Coolidge is a program of "Best of the Best of Festival Awards" from NEFVF’s past, with special guest Miguel Arteta ("Star Maps," "Chuck and Buck") from L.A. to show his past Fest winner "Every Day Is A Beautiful Day." Friday, March 24, is a free Panel Discussion with past fest winners on "Documentary at the Oscars and in New England" at Harvard Film Archive at 7:00 p.m. Also watch for screenings of all of this year’s Academy Award-nominated films coming very soon.

Over the past 25 years, independent film and video making has become defined and flourished in New England. There is no better way to experience where it’s been and the current state of the arts than by taking in a few screenings of the New England Film and Video Festival.

For tickets and information, visit http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/festival or call 617-536-1540 ext.18.