wff-logoBy Lauren Zink

Celebrates 15 years Williamstown, MA October 30 – November 2

It’s no wonder Alec Baldwin (see IMAGINE April 1998) has praised the Williamstown Film Festival [WFF] as “the best film festival in New England.” Tucked within the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, the Festival offers all the charm of a small town with the finest in independent filmmaking. WFF doesn’t just give you the chance to see films, it guarantees you’ll meet the filmmakers – and who knows, maybe even share a glass or two of wine with them.

The Festival was founded in 1998 and is held in Williamstown, Massachusetts, home to Williams College, the Williamstown Theatre Festival and The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Museum.

At WFF, there are no velvet ropes or red carpets; everyone is part of the experience. Hear the story behind the story, learn about the process, and join in on conversation with filmmakers. “It is everything that’s great about living in a small town where you get to really know people,” says Joe Finnegan, WFF’s Board Chair and Vice Chair of the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

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Film critic Robert Osborne and actor Alec Baldwin at WFF in 2010.

Another special attribute of WFF is that no two films are screened at the same time. Often, artists of short films feel “out of the spotlight” because their film is shown simultaneously with a starry feature. At WFF, all eyes are on you, no matter what the length of your film.

Steve Lawson, WFF’s Executive Director, recalls one memorable short film screening, “When it ended I noticed the director was near tears. I went over to make sure she was okay and she said it was the first time she ever saw her movie on the big screen and could witness the audience’s reactions.”

Over the years, WFF has had many moments like this to remember. “So many remarkable people have been here, from the very well-known to the not as well-known.” says Lawson.

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Steve Lawson, WFF’s Executive Director, with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward after they discussed their film, MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE.

In 2003, Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, were shooting the HBO miniseries Empire Falls. They gave up their one day off to participate in a Q & A about their film MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE. “I remember the Newman’s stayed for an hour beyond when they were supposed to leave, and the discussion could have gone on for many more,” recalls Lawson.

Sandra Thomas, WFF’s programming consultant and Executive Director of Images Cinema (where many of WFF’s films screen) recalls one of her favorite memories. “I was volunteering at Images Cinema and walked in and saw Sigourney Weaver. She was next to Robert Redford, sitting there as a part of the audience like everyone else and I just thought, ‘where am I?’”

This year’s festival is a very special one, as WFF will be celebrating their 15th anniversary over the course of four nights and five days – from Wednesday, October 30th to Sunday, November 3rd. The festival will kick off with celebrated author John Irving showing clips from his Academy- Award winning film, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and participating in conversation with the audience. The exterior for St. Cloud’s Orphanage was filmed at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum in the nearby town of Lenox, MA.

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Celebrated author John Irving will be at WFF’s Opening Night to discuss his Academy- Award winning film, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, which filmed exteriors in the Berkshires. Photo Credit: Jane Sobel Klonsky

Another event to look forward to is the screening of A CASE OF YOU starring Justin Long. Long has performed in plays at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Kat Coiro, the film’s director, will be in attendance. In addition, a few years ago two filmmakers had their shorts screened at WFF, and have now collaborated to debut their first feature, A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING. The screenwriter, Luke Matheny, will be on hand to do a Q & A after the screening.

Thursday will be a special night of food and film. First to screen will be, DINER EN BLANC, about a very secretive, and very fancy, French dinner party. To follow is a film that couldn’t be more its opposite. THE GREAT CHICKEN WING HUNT is about a group of friends on a search for America’s best buffalo chicken wings. Both directors, Matt Reynolds and Jennifer Ash Rudick, will be in attendance and there will be delicious (and equally surprising) food to enjoy!

Another film screening, GOOD OL’ FREDA, is about the Beatles’ first secretary, who fifty years later talks about her close relationship with the Fab Four.

wff-landscapeThere will also be screenings of several locally made films. THE RIVER was filmed in Great Barrington, MA and directed by Sam Handel. Both he and the film’s star, Lauren Ambrose (Handel’s wife), will be in attendance. The documentary CHERRY COTTAGE, directed by David Simonds of Williamstown, is a saga of America seen through the prism of a Berkshire County house and the people who’ve lived there.

The 2013 Christopher and Dana Reeve Award winner will also be announced. This award was initiated in 2006 and named in memory of the actor and his wife – two loyal supporters of the Festival. It’s presented to the top short film as determined by audience vote. The winner receives an original artwork by internationally known artist, WFF board member, and Williamstown resident Stephen Hannock. The Reeve winners in 2010 and 2012 – Luke Matheny and Shawn Christensen – both went on to capture Academy Awards for their respective shorts.

wff-landscape2Film is truly a visceral experience – not many things have the power to affect someone the way a film can. “There is this electricity, and you can tell it’s specific to the audience – at some point everyone levitates off their seats and floats to the ceiling together,” says Lawson. The WFF staff and Board work hard to make sure that this electricity continues long after the film has ended. Congratulations, WFF, on celebrating your 15th anniversary. I personally can’t wait to see what the next fifteen years will bring.

For the complete schedule and to purchase tickets for the Williamstown Film Festival please visit, http://www.williamstownfilmfest.com or call 413 458-9900.

Lauren Zink is the Communications Manager for the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative. Reach her anytime at Lauren@berkshirefilm.com. To keep up-to-date with the western Massachusetts film scene, visit www.berkshirefilm.com