What’s playing? Film fest fills Chatham’s silver screen

CHATHAM—Just as the holiday catalogues start to drop into the mailbox, so too comes the catalogue for FilmColumbia, chock full of gifts for the moviegoer.

Every film and event are described online too, at filmcolumbia.org, where filmgoers buy their tickets.

But as with books, some viewers like to page through the hard copy, with films cross-referenced by venue, schedule and price. Easier then, perhaps, to catch a theme, or see a trend: Are there a lot of films this year that tell the stories of children and young adults? A second pass finds 17 such films, among some 56 that the festival presents in this, its 19th year.

The “trend” is an accident, said Peter Biskind, executive director and artistic director of FilmColumbia. “I wish I could say there was a mind at work behind it, but there wasn’t,” he said Tuesday. “You get all these films, and you book some of them. Later on, after you’ve booked, you realize there’s a pattern.”

The “pattern” doesn’t mean that filmmakers are producing more films centered on young people. “I have no idea, if that’s what people are making films about,” said Mr. Biskind. “We go after certain films for the festival, but there are a lot of films we can’t get. We get the films we can.”

“We” in this instance are Mr. Biskind, Laurence Kardish, artistic director, and Calliope Nicholas, managing director.

The result of their choices is “The Hate U Give” at noon on October 22 and “En El Septimo Dia,” set in Brooklyn, at 6 p.m. the same day. In “Chef Flynn,” chef Flynn McGarry, at 19, “has been creating exciting menus and meals for 10 years.”

“Of Fathers and Sons,” by Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki, observes two boys, ages 12 and 13, who are being readied for jihadist camp. “Capernaum” tells the story of a 12-year-old boy in Beirut, cast with non-professionals and shot in the Beirut slums. “Le Silence,” a French entry, is about a “poverty-stricken 10-year-old boy.”

Back in the United States, “Darcy” looks at an idealistic 15-year old living on the edge of town in her family’s motel. It was shot in Palenville in Greene County.

As evident here, the number of U.S. films is balanced by international films. “For years we showed European films,” said Mr. Biskind, “but this year, for whatever reason, we have more Asian and Middle Eastern films. We have films from Iran, South Korea, and some by banned directors.”

One reason that makes sense, he says, is that “foreign films don’t shy away from politics, whereas American films are often about coming of age, bourgeois life—really yawners.

“Hollywood has a history of shying away from political subjects, which are more common in European films, where filmmakers are not afraid to talk about poverty, or immigration issues.”

As soon as that’s said, Mr. Biskind, a film critic and historian, can think of festival films from the United States that “grapple with social problems”: “The Hate U Give” and “Darcy,” both of which center on teenage girls, being just two examples.

This year’s festival is the same length as last year’s, beginning with two days of screenings of four films of this year’s honoree, actor Brian Cox, Friday and Saturday, October 19 and 20.

Then, “Sunday is the day for late films,” said Mr. Biskind. “A lot of things come in late.” Such as: “The Other Side of the Wind,” the unfinished, now complete film by Orson Welles; “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” a documentary about Mr. Welles; “Non-fiction,” in which the French manage to make a comedy of manners about publishing; and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a sideways look at U.S. publishing.

After that, said Mr. Biskind, “we pack as many films as we can into the next seven days. That’s what people are paying for. We could have got more films this year, but we didn’t want to. Some people are already seeing 15 or 18 films during the course of the week—that’s punishing.”

Most of the films mentioned here are screened at the Crandell Theatre on Main Street. Another whole batch is screened at Morris Memorial on Park Row, Friday through Sunday, October 26-28. Two film industry panel discussions take place at Tracy Memorial on October 26, at noon and 3 p.m.

The festival is also partnering with PS21 to present “[R]evolution is Uncomfortable” Sunday, October 21 at 3:30 p.m. at PS21. Created by JD Urban, a Hudson-based documentarian/photographer/videographer, this is a montage of short films, monologues and live music. As part of his “Everyday People Project,” Urban will film brief conversations with FilmColumbia attendees at The Gallery@Chatham on Main Street Wednesday through Saturday, October 24-27, which will be screened the following day in Chatham at Pieconic and Our Daily Bread.

Events include a live edition of Film Jeopardy! (October 25), the Children’s International Shorts Program (October 27), the Pub Party (October 26) and the Sneak Peek screening and post-Sneak Peek party (October 27).

“When we started, on one weekend, it was something of a joke,” Mr. Biskind recalled of the first festival, 19 years ago. “Then we gingerly moved it into the week. It took a good 10 years for us to build an audience.

“If I look at old programs, there’s padding, stuff I wouldn’t show now. It takes a long time to establish a festival; we’re not in New York City or Telluride. But to be honest, we’re one of the best festivals around.”

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