Art Notes: White River Indie Films may have secret to success

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-23-2023 6:08 AM

Since its founding in 2004, WRIF (White River Indie Films) has held its annual festival all over the calendar.

Sometimes that meant the festival happened when the weather was so nice that it could be hard to lure people out of their gardens and into a darkened room, no matter what cinematic masterpiece might be on offer.

This year’s festival runs from Thursday through Sunday. In late March, a time of mud, slush and the post-Standard Time hangover, people might be more likely to go to a movie.

“We just felt attendance was a lot lower than it should be for the quality of programming” at past festivals, Samantha Davidson Green, executive director of JAM, said in an interview.

This year’s festival, the first one organized by JAM (Junction Arts and Media, formed as a merger last year of WRIF and CATV), starts Thursday night with what organizers are calling a “secret screening.” All of the festival’s films screen in the Briggs Opera House, so there’s no treasure hunt to find the location, but the film itself is a secret. It has encountered legal issues that have prevented it from screening at larger festivals. The filmmaker will be in attendance from Los Angeles.

The secret screening is in keeping with WRIF’s mission to show films that haven’t found much of an audience, at least not in the United States.

After a film is completed, it’s in a period of limbo. Many films go to festivals in search of wider audiences, said Craig Sterritt, who’s been on the board at WRIF and on its selection committee.

“There’s a whole world of films in that space that never find widespread distribution,” Sterritt said. Even with countless streaming options, many films, some of them excellent, never find a home.

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That’s the case with “The Quiet Girl,” an Irish film set in 1981 that this year was the first Irish-language film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Streaming options are limited, but it screens at WRIF at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Shortly thereafter, WRIF will screen “Saint Omer,” which like “The Quiet Girl” is about a young woman in extremis.

While those films have a thematic link, the festival as a whole does not.

It includes a film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who had been jailed by his country’s authorities until a month ago. His film “No Bears,” which was shot in secret and released last year, screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the official opening of the festival.

In addition to showing films that otherwise won’t be seen, WRIF also screens films shot locally. Thursday night includes a 5:30 party for emerging filmmakers. And at 8:45 on Friday WRIF will show “The Butterfly Queen,” directed by Liam O’Connor-Genereaux, a 27-year-old from Ryegate, Vt. The 76-minute fantasy film was shot in the Northeast Kingdom by a Vermont cast and crew.

Filmmaker Ben Silberfarb, a Norwich native, will be on hand for coffee before his film “Whitman Brook,” a 65-minute documentary about Whitman Brook Orchard and its owner, Terry Dorman, screens at noon on Sunday.

“At first, he just wanted to talk to me about documenting some of the things he was doing,” Silberfarb said of Dorman, a corporate consultant who rescued his Quechee orchard, which includes trees that date to the 1920s. “I knew pretty quickly that there was a bigger story there,” Silberfarb said.

The film follows Dorman as he works in the orchard over the course of a year.

“It’s really a story about Terry’s life, and life in general, and it takes the form of the seasons,” said Silberfarb, who was named New Hampshire Filmmaker of the Year at last year’s New Hampshire Film Festival.

“I just think Whitman Brook and what Terry is doing there is an example of a really amazing place that’s close to home, and there are a lot of those places,” Silberfarb said.

WRIF, in its own way, kind of fits that mold.

For more information about WRIF tickets and show times, go to uvjam.org/wrif.

Pay what you can

Basset, the Toronto-based folk duo of Sam Clark and Yasmine Shelton, perform at Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Friday.

Recently, I’ve been trying to concentrate on local performers playing local shows, but this seems noteworthy for a few reasons.

One is that I’ve never heard of Basset, and they sound interesting. Another is that the show will be preceded by a community potluck at 5:30. Mainly, though, I like that admittance to the show is “pay-what-you-can.” Tickets to live shows are often mind-bogglingly expensive, so this gathering, in the Chandler’s intimate Esther Mesh Room, is a kind of antidote.

For more information, go to chandler-arts.org.

‘Living Water’ in song

The Central Vermont vocal ensemble Counterpoint performs a program titled “Living Water,” comprising work by composers of African heritage.

Many of the ensemble’s singers hail from the Upper Valley, including Rebecca Bailey, of Strafford; Maria Lamson, of South Royalton; Windsor music teacher Becky Wood; Thetford Chamber Singers Director Kevin Quigley; and Brian Clancy, administrator at Lebanon Congregational Church and one of the few local singers to perform with Upper Valley Baroque. Also performing with the ensemble is Woodstock organist Lubbert Gnodde.

The composers in the program worked in the Western classical traditions of their eras, ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries, including José Maurício Nunes Garcia, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price and Trevor Weston.

The only local performance is at 7:30 Saturday evening in Norwich’s First Congregational Church. Tickets ($20 adults, $15 seniors, $5 students and limited means) will be available at the door.

The other performances are at 7:30 Friday night in Barre, Vt.’s First Church Unitarian Universalist, and at 3 on Sunday afternoon in the First Congregational Church in Manchester, Vt. There’s more info at counterpointchorus.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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