Middlebury New Filmmakers’ Festival Lineup Announced for 2019

By QIAN LI

MIDDLEBURY — With another successful run that brought over 100 films to Middlebury this past August, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) is now midway through its fourth year, presenting a new lineup of winter/spring screening series for the local audience. The series, which began in 2016 with only four films from January to April, has increased in popularity and expanded with one more film each year. This year it boasts its largest lineup yet, running from November 2018 to May 2019. 

While the summer festival only selects and curates a limited number of films that are not yet widely distributed, the winter/spring series features commercially released films. However, Lloyd Komesar, the producer of MNFF, noted that “it is important to know that, again, we only show films by first- or second- time directors.”

Featuring a selection of five narratives and two documentary films, the winter/spring series this year has already kicked off with a screening of “Eighth Grade” on Friday, Nov. 16, and “Three Identical Strangers” is lined up for Friday, Dec. 14. Diverse in subject, technique and artistry, all of the seven films selected are well-layered and textured movies that will allow the audience to dig deep.  

“Our goal is to present a diverse, very rich and compelling set of films that reach our audience in an emotional way and show outstanding work by new filmmakers,” Komesar explained.

As one of the brains behind MNFF, Komesar not only brings his experience of working in the film industry for nearly 30 years, but also endeavors to remain on the cutting edge of the industry by extensively watching and reading reviews about films coming out of major festivals.

“I have worked with Lloyd long enough now to know that he is always three steps ahead of everyone else. He is always thinking about new things and how to make things better. He is never satisfied, and I think that’s why he took on this incredibly ambitious idea and has actually made it work,” said Bill Burger, Vice President for Communications and Chief Marketing Officer at Middlebury College. He initially decided to support the festival four years ago and has also lent his support to the more recent winter series.

Our goal is to present a diverse, very rich and compelling set of films that reach our audience in an emotional way and show outstanding work by new filmmakers.”

— LLOYD KOMESAR

Both a fan and a patron of the films shown by MNFF, Burger has witnessed the growth of the festival in August and its larger cultural impacts on the community throughout the year. With the success of the summer film festival in attracting more filmmakers and raising both the number and quality of the films, the winter/spring series continues to cultivate an appetite for film in Middlebury.

“I noticed this [past] August that people were coming from further away than I had noticed in the past as the film festival became better known,” Burger commented, “and I think the winter commitment [that] brings it back during the long, dark winter is great for people in town, who sometimes are little starved for culture.”

Sas Carey, a local documentary filmmaker and a loyal audience of MNFF and its winter series, echoed Burger’s view.

“Every time I can, I go,” said Carey. “It really exposes the people here to something they may not see otherwise — both the film festival itself and the [winter/spring] screenings that have come over the last three years.”

Having benefited from the festival and the screenings by watching various ways of storytelling, Carey was especially touched by the poignancy captured in “Eighth Grade,” a coming-of-age narrative drama debut by director Bo Burnham.

“As we say, the director really nailed it. It really gives you a feeling of what eighth-graders are going through, and you could really feel empathy towards the girl in the movie,” Carey reflected. “There were times that the audience groaned, …  ‘Uhh,’ because it was just so painful.” 

One of the two documentaries in this year’s lineup is “Three Identical Strangers,” which explores the story of three young men, triplets separated at birth who encounter each other later as college students.

“It feels sometimes you have access to some things that are only in bigger cities, because typically they don’t come to communities like Middlebury. Thinking of ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ if it weren’t for the festival and the commitment to doing it, we just wouldn’t have the opportunity,” said Burger.

The winter/spring series seeks to appeal to a wider range of audiences by speaking to people of all ages. The other documentaries in the series include “Chef Flynn,” which focuses on the journey of a 10-year-old child prodigy cook and his unique relationship with his mother, and “What They Had,” a narrative film featuring Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon, which captures scenes from a family in crisis, grappling with the past.

The series is also notable for the exceptional casts presented in each film.

“This year, I have a feeling that Melissa McCarthy may get an Academy Awards nomination for her work on ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ It’s that good,” Komesar emphasized. He added that another film, “Wildlife,” will be shown on Sunday, March 10. “Now, if you haven’t watched [‘Wildlife’], mark your calendar. [Carey Mulligan’s performance in] this film … may get her a nomination for … Best Actress.”  

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Middlebury New Filmmakers’ Festival Lineup Announced for 2019