More than stars sparkle at FilmColumbia screenings

CHATHAM—In addition to star-studded movies like “Cloud Atlas” (Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and more) and star-directed movies like “Quartet” (Dustin Hoffman directing Maggie Smith and others), the FilmColumbia Festival offers the quirky and the rare—films that may never be seen in wide release.

Many of those movies come in over the transom, responding to a call for films sent out in spring with a deadline at the end of July. Out of about a hundred submitted, the Programming Committee of the Chatham Film Club chooses 10 to 15 (numbers vary from year to year). “We work with major distributors,” says Calliope Nicholas, director of FilmColumbia 2012, “but we also want to have a good representation of regional and local films and documentaries. The films can’t be more than a year old, and we’re looking for a total program that will be interesting to our audience.”

Chosen from this year’s submissions was “Empowered,” which focuses on Tompkins County, NY, in the Finger Lakes region, where people have pioneered the use of alternative and renewable energy resources. “What’s so intriguing is that it tells the story of a town that really embraces alternative energy,” says Nicholas. “And at the end of ‘Empowered,’ you think, it’s not that hard—and it makes logical sense.” Director Shira Evergreen will attend the screening, Sunday, October 21, at 2:30 p.m. at Morris Memorial on Park Row.

“Havana, Havana!” a music documentary, was also found among the submissions, augmenting the two features scheduled as part of FilmColumbia’s exchange program with the Havana Film Festival New York. David Grubin, whose “Downtown Express” was screened last year, submitted “Havana” (October 21, 12:30 p.m., Morris Memorial). “It’s really fun,” says Nicholas, “filled with music and vibrancy, and well shot.” “Havana” fits in nicely, she says, with the two exchange films, which open the festival on October 17—“Ticket to Paradise” (Cuba, 3:30 p.m.) and “Together Forever” (Argentina, 5:30 p.m.)—at the Crandell Theatre.

And some films are curated by experts in their field. Gary Leib, the animator for “American Splendor” (2003) came to the film festival that year, and he liked the area so much that he bought a home here and joined the Film Club. For the last six years he has curated the Animation for Grownups program (Saturday, October 20, 1 p.m. Morris Memorial). “He goes to animation screenings and meets animators all over the world,” says Nicholas. “He has the connections, and the program is his choice.” The films are all shorts, she said, cutting-edge, recently made and, according to the festival brochure, not for kids.

Nicholas also recommends the panel discussion (October 20, 10 a.m., Tracy Memorial) moderated by Peter Biskind, FilmColumbia’s executive director. Industry people will be talking about the new Digital Cinema format and its effects on filmmaking, theaters and audiences.

Another “must” for early risers is the Screenwriting Panel moderated by actor Scott Cohen October 21, 10 a.m., Tracy Memorial, Main Street. Screenwriters can have a short scene read by actors (no more than five pages, bring six copies) and discussed. This popular event is first come first served. “When you hear your script read in another person’s voice . . . it’s a whole different slant,” says Nicholas.

Tickets, filmcolumbia.org. Information, 518 392-3459.

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