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International Film Festival: The Berkshire County connection

"Cold Wallet" Production Manager Lizzy Aspenlieder Aspenlieder described the Berkshire International Film Festival as “a melting pot for some of the most talented artists in the world.” “There is something for everyone at this festival,” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Berkshire County — The 18th annual Berkshire International Festival will start on Thursday, May 30, and run until Sunday, June 2. This year’s festival will include 70 films.

Since its inception in 2006, the festival has brought filmmakers and their films from around the world and has honored members of the filmmaking industry.

The festival has also celebrates Berkshire County residents who are part of the international filmmaking community, including Dan Braun who grew up with his brother Josh in Stockbridge. Both co-founded the New York-based movie sales, production, and distribution company Submarine Entertainment. The company has been involved with many films and documentaries over the years, including “Blackfish,” “20 Feet From Stardom,” and “Love, Marylin.”

Dan Braun told The Berkshire Edge that both he and his brother have been on the festival’s jury many times over the years. “Many of the films that I’ve produced or executive produced have been in the film festival,” Braun said. “We have a very long-standing relationship with the festival.”

Braun said that both the festival and filmmaking as a whole are important to the culture of Berkshire County.

The festival has grown substantially over the years, with far fewer films featured in its early years. “Having the Berkshires represented in the world of filmmaking by the festival is important,” Braun said. “Most movie festivals start in a very humble way, but over the years they grow and, over time, people come from far away to have their movies at the festival. I think the festival has grown because of the consistency of its programming. Film festivals kind of live or die by the quality of their programming. This festival has done a great job of being focused consistently on quality, and I think that is one of the reasons why it has grown so much.”

Braun said that a festival like the Berkshire International Film Festival is important considering the current state of the film industry, which is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. “The industry has had challenges over the past few years due to the pandemic, but even before the pandemic, things were difficult,” Braun said. “There’s been a lot of company consolidations in the industry, which has hurt film sales. Because of these company consolidations, film sales are not as high as they once were. We are definitely in a down period. But having been in the business for nearly 25 years, we’ve seen valleys, and we’ve seen peaks. I think the industry is going to recover, but it’s a question of how filmmakers and producers are going to have to reinvent themselves. The film industry isn’t in the greatest of shape, but we are always optimists.”

Braun said that a “Plan B” for filmmakers and producers in terms of reinvention would entail taking more responsibility for the release of their films. “‘Plan B’ may involve self-distribution of their films,” Braun said. “Since Netflix came along, people had a dream of making a film for a certain amount and then selling it for three times as much to make a profit. But now I think people have to be a little more realistic, which means recouping your costs if you are disciplined enough to do that. The problem is that, when you do these big deals with streaming companies, you do get a lot of money, but you also don’t own the rights to your film anymore.”

The Braun brothers are executive producers for the documentary “This Is a Film About the Black Keys,” which will be shown in the festival.

The documentary traces the origins and the professional lives of musicians Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, who formed The Black Keys in Akron, Ohio, back in 2001. The documentary was directed by Jeff Dupre, who told The Berkshire Edge that he started working on the film with Auerbach and Carney during the pandemic. “During that time, everyone was twiddling their thumbs wondering what was going to happen next, so I figured it was a good time to start going through their archives,” Dupre said. “It’s cool that they decided to agree to a documentary now in their mid-career rather than wait another 20 years.”

Dupre said he first heard the duo’s music back in 2007. “I remember when the album ‘Brothers’ came out in 2010, and it was so phenomenal,” Dupre said. “Their music has a great sound, and I fell in love with it.”

Dupre said he learned a great deal about Auerbach and Carney through the making of the documentary. “They both have an incredible bond,” Dupre said. “They grew up in the same neighborhood together, but there’s this huge element of chance on how the band came to be. They were both very focused and they discovered this powerful alchemy between them.”

Dupre said that the origins and development of that alchemy are the basis for the documentary. “Both Dan and Patrick complement each other in so many ways,” Dupre said. “Creating this documentary was just like looking at Lennon and McCartney or any of the other great sort of duos in rock history. It’s fascinating to see a relationship and understand the relationship, a relationship that also yields this incredible—these incredible works of art.”

The drama is about “[a] team of Redditors [who] lose everything after a cryptocurrency scam leads them to plot to kidnap the ‘financial influencer’ who screwed them over.”

The film was made in Lenox and, while it may seem inspired by the story of Berkshire native Ryan Salame and what happened with cryptocurrency company FTX, movie unit Production Manager Lizzy Aspenlieder said the movie was not inspired by real-life events.
“The whole FTX situation was going on as we were shooting, and the script was written way before all of that happened,” Aspenlieder told The Berkshire Edge. “There’s nothing in our script that follows that story. But it certainly was, you know, current events. The parallel of current events was quite striking.”

Aspenlieder explained that the name of the movie, “Cold Wallet,” comes from a cryptocurrency term that means “your wallet is empty.” “In the movie, this cryptocurrency king took all of this money and faked his death,” Aspenlieder said. “There are these three vigilantes, these Redditors, who are all looking for him. They find out that he’s hiding out in the Berkshires, and the Redditors want to ‘Robin Hood’ it and get all of the money back and give it back to all the people that invested in the cryptocurrency.”

Aspenlieder said that she has been involved in the production of several feature films created in the Berkshires. “It’s a dream shooting here in Berkshire County,” Aspenlieder said. “All of the communities I’ve shot in, including Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Pittsfield, and Lenox, have all been supportive and helpful. When we make a film in the Berkshires, we are not only employing actors and a crew from Los Angeles or from wherever they are from, but we are also bringing business to the restaurants, transportation companies, and pretty much all of the surrounding businesses in the area.”

Aspenlieder described the Berkshire International Film Festival as “a melting pot for some of the most talented artists in the world.” “There is something for everyone at this festival,” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

For more information about The Berkshire International Film Festival, including the schedule of movies and events, visit its website.

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