White River Junction Indie Fest Adds Features

Friday, April 18, 2014
The event formerly known as the White River Indie Film Festival has lost one of its Fs: now celebrating its 10th year, it has been renamed the White River Indie Festival, in a nod to the variety of media that it attracts.

“The trans-media component is becoming more and more an important part of our focus,” said filmmaker Nora Jacobson of Norwich, who is one of the festival’s founders and is on the board of directors. In other words, film festivals ain’t just for films anymore; they also include music, photography, online media and audience collaboration in photo and digital projects.

While it’s obviously not the size of a multimedia festival such as SXSW in Austin, Texas, the White River Indie Festival, which runs from April 25 through April 28, has expanded significantly since it began showing movies in 2004.

It’s added more screenings of films by local filmmakers and a competitive Film Slam, in which teams of filmmakers scramble to make a short film in 48 hours. It’s added more venues in White River Junction: this year movies will be shown at Tupelo Music Hall, the Main Street Museum of Art and the Hotel Coolidge.

And for the first time in its history the festival is adding an extra night onto the schedule. On Monday, April 28, the documentary For the Love of the Music, about the folk music scene of the 1960s at Club 47 in Cambridge, Mass., will screen at Tupelo Music Hall. Previously unseen footage of the young Bob Dylan and Joan Baez is one of the draws of the film, Jacobson said. Well-known musicians, and Club 47 stalwarts, Tom Rush and Jim Rooney, both of whom live in the Upper Valley, will perform after the screening.

“The reason we’re doing it on Monday night is it’s a film about musicians, and musicians can’t go to film festivals on the weekends (because of their performance schedules),” said Jacobson.

This year’s theme, which emerged naturally as the directors of the festival sifted through the submissions, is Crossing Borders, said Michael Beahan, president of the WRIF Board. “We can find lots of ways to apply it,” he said, pointing to geographic and political borders, and lines of class, race and gender, that are explored in the movies selected for the festival.

The festival kicks off with The Forgotten Kingdom, a feature directed by Andrew Mudge, who has ties to Vermont. A young man in Johannesburg, South Africa, embarks on a journey to bring the remains of his estranged father back to their homeland Lesotho, and rediscovers the land and the people he’d tried to put behind him.

The slate of 20 films also includes the newest John Sayles movie, Go For Sisters, about human trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border; Inequality for All, a documentary in which former Labor Secretary Robert Reich talks about the rising wealth of the upper class while the middle and working classes face lost jobs and financial strain; and Wisconsin Rising, about Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts in 2011 to quash labor unions.

So what makes a festival transmedia? Beahan points to Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, a documentary by Thomas Allen Harris, who will attend the screening, that explores how photography by and about African Americans has shaped how all Americans view race and history.

It’s a remarkable film on its own, Beahan said, but after the screening audience members, who have been invited to upload some of their own family photos to the WRIF website, will participate in a panel discussion about photography and family history. “It’s one of the best examples we have where we can say what a transmedia program is. First you see the film and then you see another companion event,” Beahan said.

Another first this year: rather than show just clips from films by local movie makers, the festival is screening the films in their entirety, Jacobson said.

Douglas and Peter Harp, of Hanover, are represented by their two-minute short Spittle and Twigs. Stefan van Norden, also from Hanover, will show a shortened version of his documentary Hand of Brick, about Lebanon’s Densmore Brick Co., which had its premiere at the AVA Gallery last fall. Dartmouth film professor and documentary maker Jeff Ruoff will show Still Moving: Pilobolus at 40, his film about the dance troupe Pilobolus, which was founded in 1971 by Dartmouth students Moses Pendleton and Jonathan Wolk, and Dartmouth dance teacher Alison Becker Chase, among others.

Matt Bucy, the White River Junction filmmaker and cinematographer, will premiere Spooners, a short movie about two men’s quest for a comfortable bed. Woodstock filmmaker Anne Macksoud will screen an hour-long documentary The Wisdom to Survive, about the effects of climate change.

The film includes interviews with such noted environmentalists as Bill McKibben, Gus Speth and Roger Payne, who speak both to the urgency of acting on the threat of climate disruption, and the concrete steps people can take to address climate change on their own without falling into apathy or despair.

“It’s filmmaking with a very particular purpose of getting people to be more active,” said Macksoud. Audiences “have not felt hopless at the end of it; in fact, they feel inspired,” she added.

Brothers and film makers Bill Sharff and Aaron Sharff, from Cornish, will present their feature Before I Sleep, a drama about an older, reclusive writer in a small New England town, and his relationship with his estranged daughter.

Any relationship to J.D. Salinger is just coincidence, said Sharff. “What we’ve said and what we think is true that there’s a certain type of artist attracted to New England: Frost, Salinger and Kipling. We’re attracted to that type of person who’s sort of hiding from the world and is also trying to find his place in the world.” Although Before I Sleep has been seen at the Heartland and Orlando Film Festivals, this will be its premiere in the Upper Valley, Sharff said.

One of the long-term goals the festival’s board of directors hopes to achieve is to make it more of a year-round presence, Beahan said. They’re looking at doing screenings quarterly, rather than just once a year, and perhaps offering “foovies,” or food and a movie.

“It gives us a chance to show films that may come up that are really timely. If we wait six or nine months until festival, they’re not as timely,” Beahan said.

They’re also contemplating establishing memberships to solidify a year-round base of support. “Some of this actually grows out of the Vermont Office of Creative Economy. They’re interested in what we’re doing and in local filmmakers, and the impact they have on local economies,” Beahan said.

Apart from the festival there’s the draw of White River Junction itself, which, after a period of decline has remade itself into a lively center for the arts in the Upper Valley, with galleries, artists’ studios, restaurants, Northern Stage and the Tupelo Music Hall. “We really like the fact that it’s a railroad town,” Jacobson said.

For more information on buying tickets and on the festival, go to wrif.org or call 802-478-0191.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.

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