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Berkshire International Film Festival: An Orgy of Film and Style (and Food)

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

The most concentrated dose of entertainment and in-season chic to hit south Berkshire every year just may be the Berkshire International Film Festival. The entertainment comes courtesy of some 70-plus films crowding four venues; the in-season chic is served in large helpings at the assorted special events and parties throughout the long-but-not-long-enough weekend, eagerly attended by local film fans and scenesters, who take the cue to bring their indie-chic glad rags out for a spin ‘round the town, and the scores of industry types freshly arrived to promote their own films or just enjoy the work of their peers. (Parties and other events listed on page 10 of the 2013 program here.)

As usual, this year’s edition (the eighth) combines a few headlining events with a benevolently relentless stream of screenings, mostly at Great Barrington’s Triplex Cinema and the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield.
In addition to those venues, festival founder and executive director Kelley Vickery has long since learned to schedule the festival’s major, headlining events at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center as well, taking advantage of the theater’s sense of spectacle as well as increased seating capacity. There, you’ll find the opening night documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom; the Saturday event-screening of the much talked-about documentary Girl Rising (which tells the stories of nine extraordinary girls from nine countries, pictured at top); and Sunday night’s closing presentation of Noah Bambauch’s latest, Frances Ha, seen at right. (Like many filmmakers presenting work at the festival, Baumbach, director/writer of films such as The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg, and star Greta Gerwig will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.)

Although the eye of the festival ranges widely, with entrants from 20 different countries, food is a leitmotif throughout the schedule. One entry answers the question: What would cause famed Red Lion Inn chef Brian Alberg to serve squirrel chili and rabbit stew? For a private screening party this past winter, these off-menu items alluded to the shooting party at the heart of Texas Huntress, a stylish mash-up of foodie concerns, upturned gender roles and several dead pheasants.  The film (actually two 30-minute installments of a series) is the brainchild of Ashley Chiles, a citizen of Texas and of the world, who set out to combine some of her favorite things.

“We’ve got food, we’ve got fashion, we’ve got sex—because we’ve got sexy women—and gender role reversals,” she explains of the concept, wherein she journeys with fashionable ladies into the wild to shoot game and invites a talented chef to craft a special meal from their bounty. “Of course I’m going to bring my most fabulous, fierce, ballsy, gorgeous, brilliant, Texas female friends that I can find who are willing to go on this adventure.”

The second installment was shot, quite literally, at Punsit Valley Farm in Chatham, where Chiles led a team including Alberg, Barrington Coffee Roasting Company’s Gregg Charbonneau, and Berkshire-based epicurean advocate Torrey Oates on a pheasant hunt. The fruits of their labors were cooked and served on location at Chris Weld’s Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield. The first installment depicts a boar hunt in south Texas. (In the photo at left by Tai Power Seeff, Patrice Shackelford and Amy Esacove are seen with Chiles, center.)

“It was a natural progression of my life events,” Chiles explains, “having always been fascinated by the culture of food—from local street food and the tiniest of divest joints around the world to the finest of gourmet food.”

Texas Huntress is just one of a handful of documentaries looking at the politics of food and sustainable agriculture. After Winter, Spring looks at a French region of family farming on the brink of extinction, GMO OMG excoriates genetically modified crops, and in a special Sunday screening at the Mahaiwe, The Moo Man, the portrait of an English dairy farmer, is preceded by the short Longing For A Local Lunch, about Great Barrington students’ examination of the benefits of locally grown food.

Another short with a local, if not culinary, touch is Halftime, in another Mahaiwe event. (The proliferation of selections there may take a bit of pressure off the Triplex, which remains the epicenter of the festival, with three theaters humming along throughout each day and its finely choreographed chaos of bustling lines overseen by general manager John Valente and a staff of dedicated volunteers, the festival’s secret weapon.) Originally written as a monologue for last year’s playwrights’ gala, it’s directed by Joe Cacaci (co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, in addition to his many film and television credits) and produced with John Whalan’s Great Barrington-based production company Black Ice Entertainment, the short stars Treat Williams as an enthusiastic basketball coach. It was shot over Martin Luther King Day weekend at Berkshire School, with help from a group of local actors.

“We all immediately knew we had to make a film out of it,” he says. It has already spawned a sequel, to be unveiled at this year’s gala, and there may be more to come. “Treat really took a liking to this particular character, which we’re maybe going to try to turn into something else down the road.”

There’s some Berkshire history to be found in Cherry Cottage, the story of a Stockbridge house built in 1782, and The River, a locally made short by Sam Handel that depicts a character, portrayed by Lauren Ambrose, as she seeks some summer relief.

All-you-can-eat-and-view movie passes typically sell out shortly after they go on-sale the previous fall, but there are plenty of ways to take a spontaneous taste, including good old single-showing tickets. Some advance planning (ahem, ticket buying) does wonders by way of guaranteeing you a seat, but the emergence of word-of-mouth favorites—propelled by factors like the talent involved with the film, the topic of a documentary, or maybe just the buzz spreading quickly around Railroad Street afterhours—is unpredictable. So the best advice is to be flexible. And then enjoy the show.

Berkshire International Film Festival
May 30-June 2
At the Triplex Cinema, Beacon Cinema, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and The Mount (one event)
Special events throughout the weekend

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 05/25/13 at 09:42 PM • Permalink