Local Festival Series Empowers Women in Film


MIDDLEBURY — On Sunday, Dec. 3, members of the local community and the college gathered at the Town Hall Theater for the inaugural film of the 2017/18 Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) Winter Screening Series. Titled “Menashe,” the film was directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein and follows the struggles of its eponymous protagonist to maintain custody of his son Rieven after the passing of his wife. The traditions of Menashe’s orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, require a mother to be present in every home, forcing Rieven to be rehomed away from his father into another household. Shot in secret and based largely on the real life of its Hasidic star Menashe Lustig, the film allows a rare glimpse into a famously private community to explore the weighty bonds of both parenthood and faith.

“Menashe” was the first of six films screened in a series that spans from December 2017 to May 2018. The second film in the series, Doug Nichol’s documentary “California Typewriter,” was screened on Sunday, Jan. 7. The film paints a moving portrait of artists, writers and collectors who stand together against the waves of time, united by their loyalty to the typewriter as a tool and muse. Alternating between the nostalgic and the forward-thinking, the film meditates on the changing dynamics between humans and machines.

The four films that follow in the series are connected by their celebration of women’s experiences and achievements. This emphasis on the female spirit in the selection of the films suggests the festival’s increasing recognition of women in film and echoes the establishment of a new award in this year’s festival: the Clio Visualizing History Prize for the Advancement of Women in Film. The honored film, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” is directed by Alexandra Dean and documents the life and work of Hollywood’s “Most Beautiful Girl” in 1940, whose role in inventing devices that led to secure Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS communications is often overlooked.

The next upcoming film, scheduled to screen on Sunday, Feb. 18, is writer-director Margaret Bett’s drama “Novitiate,” which tells the story of a young woman’s training to become a nun in the Roman Catholic Church amid the changing religious landscapes of the 1960s. As she progresses from postulant to novitiate, the protagonist faces complex struggles between personal faith and organized religion.

Following “Novitiate” will be “I Am Evidence” on Sunday, March 11. The film, directed by Geeta Gandbhir and Trish Adlesic, presents a sharp exposé of a frequently broken criminal justice system through the lenses of four sexual assault survivors whose rape kits went untested for years. “Lady Bird,” a drama written and directed by Greta Gerwig on the turbulent bonds between a California nurse and her teenage daughter, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, will be shown the following month on Saturday, April 7. The final film in the series, “The Judge,” will be screened on Friday, May 11 and captivatingly chronicles the rise of Kholoud Faqih, the first female Sharia judge in the history of the Middle East.

Founded in 2015 by producer Lloyd Komesar, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival aims to showcase up-and-coming talent in the film industry. The third annual festival ran from August 24 to August 27 last summer and presented 90 films across all genres, among which were the works of Middlebury alumni Beth Levison ’91, Adam Kritzer ’11, Matt Lennon ’13, and Sasha Whittle ’17. According to the MNFF website, “the emphasis at MNFF is entirely on filmmakers who have completed within the 24 months prior to the Festival either their first or second feature film or first or second short film.” For new filmmakers, MNFF provides a specialized platform to both “offer a level playing field to new and emerging voices in filmmaking” and allow audiences to “discover fresh and engaging talent…in a setting that is all about their work,” as stated on the festival’s website.

Single tickets ($12) and Winter Screening Series Passes ($60 for six films) can be purchased either on the Town Hall Theater website, at the box office in the Jackson Gallery, or at the lobby of the Town Hall Theater on the day of the show. Trailers for the six films in the Winter Screening Series can be found on the MNFF website at middfilmfest.org.