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2019 Berkshire International Film Festival ‘the best year yet’

Great Barrington — “This will be the best year yet,” Kelley Vickery, founder and artistic director of the Berkshire International Film Festival, stated during her recent chat on WAMC’s “The Roundtable.” […]

Great Barrington — “This will be the best year yet,” Kelley Vickery, founder and artistic director of the Berkshire International Film Festival, stated during her recent chat on WAMC’s “The Roundtable.” “We want to bring a light to independent films from near and far.” Just perusing the catalogue and reading about the different films we can enjoy during this 14th Berkshire International Film Festival, I have a strong belief that this will be the best festival yet. There are 30 narrative films; 30 documentaries; and 21 short films from 24 countries including Israel, France, Australia, Spain, Cuba and, of course, from our own backyard in the Berkshires.

The opening night documentary about Pauline Kael, “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael,” was widely anticipated. For younger cinephiles, Ms. Kael was perhaps the most influential and well-respected film critic who ever lived (according to Variety). When I read her first book, “I Lost it at the Movies,” I was totally in her thrall. Writing film reviews for a local newspaper, I read her reviews in the New Yorker as gospel. This film includes interviews with filmmakers and colleagues, letters, testimonials, and clips from films that she reviewed. Among those films are “Last Tango in Paris,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Easy Rider” and “Citizen Kane.” I was interested in the many testimonials from actors, film critics and directors such as Alec Baldwin, John Guare, Quentin Tarantino, David Edelstein, Paul Schrader, Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich, Dick Cavett, Francis Ford Coppola and many more. She was a controversial figure with an encyclopedic knowledge of film. And she made her home in Great Barrington!!! This film was a lot of fun! Gregory Crewdson, (director of Yale University graduate studies in photography and occasional Pauline Kael movie buddy), New Yorker Craig Seligman and writer Stephanie Zacharek were available for a question-and-answer session following this film.

Martin Scorses. Photo courtesy Berkshire International Film Festival

Another indication that BIFF has really arrived as an important film festival is the tribute on Saturday night to one of the greatest directors of all time: Martin Scorsese. His career has spanned five decades, and two of his films will be screened on Saturday: “Raging Bull” (supposedly his favorite film) and “Silence” (starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver). Having recently seen again “Taxi Driver,” I am in awe of his talent. If you haven’t seen “Taxi Driver” recently (or ever), you are in for a treat: A young Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and a very young Jodie Foster help to create a dystopian New York City. The film chronicled Mr. De Niro’s character’s (Travis Bickle) descent into insanity and garnered four Academy Award nominations (including one for 12-year-old Jodie Foster ). Sight and Sound Magazine named it the fifth greatest film of all time on its directors’ poll. Mr. Scorsese has eight Academy Award nominations and won the directing award for “The Departed.” Rumor has it that he will be bringing many interesting clips and will be discussing his career highlights with Kent Jones (a Berkshire native), director of “Diane” and the New York Film Festival director. Mr. Scorsese also has deep connections to the Berkshires, being a huge fan of Edith Wharton and the Mount.

What would the Berkshires be without important discussions on timely issues, which are encapsulated in the Tea Talks? This is the third year for this popular addition to the film festival. The first Tea Talk will follow the showing of “The Biggest Little Farm” about some city folk who imagine that owning a farm will be the stuff of daydreams. Whether paradise eludes them or not is the heart of this documentary. It has received glowing reviews and has been showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and Doc NYC. The panelists include filmmaker Bonnie Hawthorne; Margaret Moulton, director of Berkshire Grown; Will Conklin, farmer and founder of Greenagers; Jen Salinetti, farmer, Woven Roots Farm; Sean Stanton, farmer, North Plain Farm; Dicken Crane, farmer, Holiday Brook Farm; and Bobby Houston, moderator.

A still from ‘Weed the People.’ Image courtesy Westword

Friday night at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, the second Tea Talk is “Weed the People,” which is an amazing documentary about cannabis and its anti-cancer properties. Apparently the scientific community is not interested in researching this and there is little regulation in the industry. Up until the early 20th century, cannabis was a widely accepted remedy but has been shunned the past 70 years. Abby Epstein’s documentary follows five children and their families trying to use this alternative treatment to treat pediatric cancer. After the screening, the filmmaker will discuss these alternative therapies with Brandon Pollock, CEO of Theory Wellness in Great Barrington.

Meryl Streep in ‘This Changes Everything.’ Image courtesy imdb,com

Saturday afternoon, the third Tea Talk is very timely: a look at gender discrimination in Hollywood. “This Changes Everything,” directed by Tom Donahue, was begun before the inception of the #MeToo” movement. His timing was great! Geena Davis helped to produce this film and has questioned why the success of her film “Thelma & Louise” didn’t help to “change everything.” Several actors are featured in this film, which looks into the gender inequality in the film industry: Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett, Lena Dunham, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep. The director will discuss these issues with other film and television industry professionals. It should be an interesting Tea Talk!

Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty in ‘Echo in the Canyon.’ Image courtesy imdb.com

The last Tea Talk will be on Sunday and it will be an enjoyable film for those of us who are familiar with the mid-1960s music scene in Laurel Canyon. Featured in this documentary are bands like the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, and Buffalo Springfield. This concert film highlights performances by Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips and David Crosby. Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers is one of the executive producers and is the recipient of a lot of old time rock and roll stories. I’m really looking forward to this documentary. Director Andrew Slater and executive producer Dan Braun will be in attendance for a question-and-answer session following the film.

A still from ‘The Dog Doc.’ Image courtesy imdb.com

I would like to mention two documentaries that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially by animal lovers in our community. Friday night at the Mahaiwe is a film that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has as “the star” Dr. Marty Goldstein, an “integrative veterinarian.” His clinic in Westchester, New York, is a “mecca for dogs.” It is the vet hospital for owners looking for hope and last chances. He has come to his approach to healing through his own medical issues and believes that homeopathic remedies can help not only solve issues but prevent them. “The Dog Doc” is all about alternative therapies including acupuncture, but also Western medicine. The director, Cindy Meehl, spoke with me at length about how she found Dr. Marty due to her own “hopeless” dog. She believes that his work, which supports the patients’ immune systems, has helped many “last chance” animals survive for many years past their original terminal diagnoses. Ms. Meehl and Dr. Marty Goldstein will be in attendance after the screening.

“The Cat Rescuers” chronicles four humans who are helping to contain the 500,000 feral cats in New York City. The film won an award for “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2018.  What motivates these people to wake up in the early hours to save cats from the many perils in New York City that befall these animals? They all have their reasons and it is different for each one—they never intended to become so involved with abandoned cats but once they started, they couldn’t stop. The filmmakers, Robert Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence, feel that this is a political film, and they are urging the city to support the “trap, neuter and return” mantra of these caring humans. This is a problem that we don’t notice and they hope that this film will sensitize the viewers to this problem. The filmmakers will be present at this screening Saturday morning.

I hope this gives you a taste of the festival. Please peruse your catalogue and jump in! You won’t be disappointed!

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The Berkshire International Film Festival runs through Sunday, June 2, in venues in Great Barrington and Pittsfield. For rickets and more information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar.

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