Here in the Valley, it's sometimes easy for film lovers to forget just how great we have it. There is almost never a shortage of great film old or new, and our surrounding colleges pepper the pot with regular presentations from visiting directors. We have films large and small, native and foreign, studio and independent. You want a black and white silent film about a French matinee idol? We've got it. You want giant dump-truck robots fighting over the future of Earth? We've got that, too.
It's a rich stew—so rich, in fact, that one might be tempted to ask why we need something like the Northampton International Film Festival. Don't we already have film festivals? Already this year I can recount a Woody Allen retrospective, a Jewish film festival, a music series, and at least a half dozen more that have played in area theaters. At this very moment, Amherst Cinema is advertising four separate festivals. Four! In a theater that only has three screens. Amazing.
So why the NIFF? Simply put, it's a matter of scale. While most of our local fests are spread out over weeks, with screenings tucked in around a venue's regular fare, the NIFF, now in its 16th year, comes to town for a long weekend and takes over the place—the place, this year, being Northampton's Academy of Music. There, beginning October 5, hundreds of filmgoers will come together to sample a wide array of shorts, features and documentaries from here at home and far away alike.
With an opening night party at the R. Michelson Gallery and a closing awards ceremony on the final night, the festival's concentrated energy brings an entirely different feel to the Valley's movie scene, offering something new, even for diehard devotees of that scene. For the full rundown of what's on offer, see the festival schedule at nohoiff.com, where you'll also find links to trailers for many of the films. In the meantime, here are a few highlights.
Friday night gets underway at 5:30 with a program of shorts before Oxygen for the Ears: Living Jazz begins at 7:30 p.m. A documentary about the rich but often overlooked jazz history of Washington, D.C., the film looks back at pioneers—Duke Ellington was born there, and was already a success in D.C. before lighting out for New York—as well as the musicians keeping the tradition alive in the capital today. The next morning, the documentary Erroll Garner keeps the jazz going at 11:30 a.m. Garner was an astonishingly assured pianist; his style was so light as to seem effortless, but it was an ease that masked a stunning virtuosity.
Also showing on Saturday is Booster, a crime drama about two brothers from Bostonian director Matt Ruskin. Shot on location in the Hub, it stars two non-professionals (childhood friends of the director) who are described as "familiar with the world depicted in the film." When Simon's brother is arrested, he is pushed to commit similar crimes in the hope that the police will believe they have the wrong man, and release his brother. Ruskin previously worked on Requiem for a Dream, and here gets assistance from Seymour Cassel (Rushmore) in a supporting role.
Saturday night brings the Italian war drama The Duck Hunter, which, much like the American classic The Deer Hunter, tells a story of a band of friends whose futures are shaped by a war. This time, WWII takes the place of Vietnam, but there are some aspects of war that will never change. And finally, Sunday brings Whiskey and Apple Pie—a documentary, not a depraved film festival brunch. Conceived by two fortyish women, it aims to chronicle the stories and wisdom of an elder generation of Americans. As they travel across the country recording the wit and wisdom of the over-75 crowd, the message is by turns humorous and poignant as their subjects reflect on the lives they've lived—and in some cases, the lives they haven't. Notable subjects include Alfred Hitchcock leading lady Tippi Hedren and film star Mickey Rooney, among many others.
Also this week: If you miss out on the jazz offerings of the NIFF, you have a chance to make up for lost time at Amherst Cinema on Monday night. That's when they'll be showing Let's Get Lost, the classic documentary about trumpeter Chet Baker. Covering his American years through his long European sojourn (and equally long struggle with addiction), it offers a unique lens on an American icon. New England Public Radio host Tom Reney (Jazz à la Mode) will be on hand to offer commentary, and the film will be proceeded by a live performance by local musicians.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org