Small town lures big screen talent

11th annual FilmColumbia Festival now under way in Chatham

CHATHAM — First frosts and auburn leaves are welcome signs in Columbia County, announcing the season for world-class cinema on Main Street. Wednesday, October 20 through Sunday, October 24, the 11th annual FilmColumbia Festival bests its 10-year history, for the first time as proud owners of the festival’s primary venue, the historic Crandell Theatre in Chatham, one of the dwindling number of single-screen theatres in the Northeast.

With additional venues at the Morris Memorial, transformed to a 150-seat theater and this year hosting two world premieres, both by regional filmmakers, and the hall on the second floor of the Tracy Memorial, the festival expanded to add another evening of films Wednesday night, and many events with access to filmmakers, while still keeping festivities comfortably within walking distance along Main Street.

“We’re lucky,” said festival Director Calliope Nicholas. “There are quite a few people within the film industry here in Columbia County. This is the best lineup we’ve ever had.”

FilmColumbia’s focus on crowd-pleasers and firsts, selected by programmers Peter Biskind, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of many books on the film industry, and Laurence Kardish, senior curator for film and video at MOMA, are often films that have wowed audiences at prior festivals, such as Cannes, Venice, Telluride, New York and Toronto. FilmColumbia focuses on the best of regional films, too: emerging filmmakers from the Hudson Valley (and one from as far as LA) are part of the festival, bringing both a high caliber of filmmaking and an Indie edge that otherwise would be rare on wide screens in Columbia County other than the Crandell.

The buzz comes from FilmColumbia’s impressive batting average, giving festival-goers a rare opportunity to be among the first to see films that go on to greatness — last year, 4 of the 10 Oscar nominees for Best Picture played FilmColumbia before they were released to the general public.

Mr. Biskind, who also serves as the festival’s executive director, sad that this year, “There are a number of prominent independent films, like Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’, and Danny Boyle’s ‘127 Hours’. We have some foreign films, like ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’, the new Mike Leigh film, which is British, and a French Tavernier film.

“It’s a small festival and a small town, but we’ve been able to create a festival that is up there with all the big festivals in terms of quality,” he said.

Not only is FilmColumbia better than ever, it’s also bigger. Festival organizers expect between 2,000-3,000 people — one of the largest annual arts events in the county. Many evening films and all-festival passes will sell out, but due to last-minute entries and double or triple evening bills, there are seats available for great films. For example, “Rabbit Hole”, with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, accepted into the festival after brochures were printed and a likely Oscar contender, screens 9 a.m. Sunday, October 24, at the Crandell. Check the website for up-to-the-minute FilmColumbia scheduling information, at Program updates are also announced via the Crandell Theatre Twitter feed, at Tickets for films and events are available during the festival at the Tracy Memorial, on Main Street, but advance purchase is recommended.

Chatham eateries will play an important supporting role, many with special hours and offerings geared to quick bites between screenings. The Crandell concession will include desserts during the festival, along with classic candies, soda and popcorn.

“It’s a village effort,” said Director Nicholas. “Everybody really pulls together during this time, to make it a great event.”

One tip for parents: FilmColumbia’s gift to the community, International Film Shorts for Kids (curated by Patti Greaney), is a one-of-a-kind chance to see current films from all over the world. It’s free to the public, 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, October 23, at the Crandell Theatre on Main Street in Chatham. 

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