Fest blessed with fab flicks!

FilmColumbia Festival marks 12th year October 19-23

CHATHAM–You could have heard a pin drop in Chatham’s Crandell Theatre last year during the FilmColumbia Festival, as the packed house saw “The King’s Speech” for the first time. Within a few months six films that played FilmColumbia (including “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan” and “127 Hours”) went on to the Oscars.

What promises to be similarly world-class cinema returns this year, as the Twelfth Annual FilmColumbia Festival rolls out at the Crandell on Main Street and the Morris Memorial around the corner, October 19-23. The second-largest cultural event in the county (the largest is the county fair), FilmColumbia expects to entertain thousands of film lovers from all over the Northeast with some of the best films from International festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Sundance. And at half the price with a fraction of the crowds that attend the New York Film Festival, FilmColumbia has evolved as a bargain for film buffs.

Columbia County is home or second home to what amounts to a major colony of filmmakers. The films are selected by MoMA Senior Curator for Film and Media Laurence Kardish, Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Peter Biskind and Festival Director Calliope Nicholas, all of whom live here, and who, on behalf of FilmColumbia, have access to important films far in advance of their general release. This year’s selection includes more than 50 films, including 10 by filmmakers living and working in the Hudson Valley, among them:

*Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” which won Best Actress at Cannes for Kirsten Dunst

*“Coriolanus,” the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, who also stars

*“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” in which Tilda Swinton gives plays the mother of a disturbed teen, a role that has already attracted critical acclaim

*“My Week With Marilyn,” starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh and Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier

*“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a film shot in the Catskills about a manipulative religious cult, won filmmaker Sean Durkin the Best Director award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The festival kicks off Wednesday, October 19 at 7 p.m. with “Anonymous,” written by local screenwriter John Orloff, directed by Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”) and a cast headed by Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi. Mr. Orloff will present the film and answer questions afterward.

FilmColumbia is also committed to curating a stream of local filmmakers into the lineup, most famously Courtney Hunt’s “Frozen River,” which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and an Academy Award nomination for actress Melissa Leo in 2009. Ms. Hunt now sits on the festival’s Advisory Board.

The mix of local and internationally celebrated film talent gives a Hudson Valley flavor to the program. Director Nick Nehez (“The Surrogate Mary”) grew up in the area; his film features two lead actresses, both daughters of Warhol Superstar Viva.

Filmmaker Michael Schiller (“The After Party”) spent his childhood going to movies at the Crandell Theatre with his grandmother, longtime Chatham resident Miriam Gallant, who passed away recently at age 94; his film will screen in her honor.

Local writer/director David Newhoff shot “Gone Elvis” in the area after raising its budget online through Kickstarter; his film debuts at the festival.

Filmmaker and musician Lincoln Mayorga (“A Suitcase Full of Chocolate”), and fellow filmmakers John Orloff, Joshua Marston (“The Forgiveness of Blood”) and Oscar-winner Deborah Shaffer (“To Be Heard”), among others, will be on hand to discuss their work at screenings.

Individual tickets for films and events are still available. Among the traditions at the festival are the Saturday Night Sneak Peak, in which the packed Crandell Theatre gets an exclusive screening of a major upcoming film (sponsored by local art patron Jack Shear); the Sunday morning screenwriting panel, in which aspiring screenwriters are invited to bring 6 copies of a 5-10 minute scene, to be read and discussed by Scott Cohen (“Kissing Jessica Stein”) and fellow actors; Animation for Grownups (hosted by animator Gary Leib); and FilmColumbia’s gift to children of all ages, the Children’s International Shorts, playing at the Crandell Theatre Saturday, October 22 at 10:30 am, and free for all.

For schedules of films, panels and special events, as well as for ticket orders, go to www.filmcolumbia.org or look for the bright blue and yellow FilmColumbia brochures at local store in the village and around the county.

Film buffs can read film blurbs, view trailers and even assess a film’s buzz prior to its screening at http://filmcolumbia.festivalgenius.com/2011/films/category/Feature/venue/Crandell+Theatre

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