"Stuart Bliss" and "SlamNation" Win Top Honors in Northampton
by Terry Keefe
The 4th Northampton Film Festival wrapped last week (November 4-8) after
showcasing 50 films and videos in Northampton, Massachusetts. Neil Grieve’s
“Stuart Bliss“, co-written by and starring Michael Zelniker, won Northern
Arts Entertainment‘s Best of the Fest Award. Paul Devlin’s “SlamNation“
took Best Documentary honors, in an award sponsored by local arts paper The
Valley Advocate. Juliane Glantz’ feature “Wilbur Falls“, starring Danny
Aiello and Sally Kirkland, won the Best Screenplay Award sponsored by AMC
Theatres. Finally, Andrew George’s short “The Blue Hotel” received the
Kodak Vision Award for Most Creative Use of Cinematography.
Although a small New England town with a year-round population of only
24,000, Northampton is home to Smith College, and within just a few miles
lie the campuses of Amherst College, the University of Massachusetts, Mt.
Holyoke College, and Hampshire College. Nicknamed “Noho”, Northampton also
has a large population of artists of every type. The festival was founded 4
years ago by Festival Directors Howard Polonsky and Dee DeGeiso, upon their
realization that Northampton was a perfect place for a film festival. And
the audience has certainly proven to be there. Attendance was excellent for
a regional festival, with even early-morning screenings receiving good
turnouts from cinephiles of all ages.
Approximately 85% of the filmmakers attended in person, with numerous local
Northampton residents putting up filmmakers in their guest rooms in what
was dubbed the “Adopt-A-Filmmaker Program”. Most of the 35mm films were
screened at the beautiful Academy of Music Theatre, which is comparable to
any Broadway venue. However, many of the 16mm and video projects were
screened at various lecture halls on the Smith College campus. While
projection facilities were actually good at these venues, the atmosphere
and seats were less than ideal. “That’s something we’re working on
improving for next year. The problem is that there are other theatres
available, but they’re not within walking distance, ” said Howard Polonsky.
This is a valid concern because a real festival atmosphere was created here
in no small part by the fact that all the events and screenings were within
a two block radius.
The other films in the Narrative Feature Competition were Tamara
Hernandez’s “Men Cry Bullets“, L. Alan Fraser’s “Next Time“, and Michael
Wechsler and Terry Keefe’s “Slaves of Hollywood“. Additional highlights of
the program included the Gay/Lesbian Series which featured Susan Muska &
Greta Olafsdottir’s feature-length documentary “The Brandon Teena Story“,
Jeff Dupre’s documentary “Out of the Past“, Tom E. Brown’s Ed Wood-inspired
short on AIDS “Don’t Run, Johnny“, and Martha Wheelock’s short “The Thistle
Hotel“, a Victorian Era tale of lesbian romance.
Another well-programmed sidebar was the Jewish Film Series which featured
the documentary shorts “Mah-Jong” by Bari Pearlman & Phyllis Heller and
“Two Weddings” by Edward Rosenstein & Harvey Wang, along with the
feature-length documentaries “Blacks and Jews” by Deborah Kaufmann & Alan
Snitow and “Treyf” by Alisa Lebow & Cynthia Madansky. The Jewish Film
Series culminated in a live reading of Daniel Goldfarb’s play “Adam Baum
and the Jew Movie“, loosely based on the relationship between famed
Hollywood screenwriter Ring Larder, Jr. and studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn.
Actors Judd Hirsch (“Taxi”) and David Conrad (“Return to Paradise”) starred
in the reading.
Some stand-outs from the numerous shorts screened included Kenn Fuller and
Deborah Stennard’s “I Do, Don’t I?“, animator Karen Aqua’s “Ground
Zero/Sacred Ground“, and Michael Allen Thomas’ “Counter-Puncher (The Other
Cheek)“, a gritty African-American drama. An interesting special screening
of note showcased four episodes of an as yet unbroadcast television show
called “East 182nd Street” directed by Mark Gasper; the show was written by
and stars Bronx teenagers, and it takes place in a fictional inner-city
Finally, three documentaries which people were talking about were Maggie
Hadleigh-West’s “War Zone“, which follows the filmmaker as she confronts
the men who sexually catcall and leer at her in a cross-country jaunt,
Jacki Ochs’ “Letters Not About Love“, narrated by actors Lili Taylor and
Victor Nord, and Clark Jarrett’s “The Return of Paul Jarrett“, which
chronicles the filmmaker’s grandfather, a World War I veteran, as he
returns to the French battlefields on which he once was a soldier.
Also popular were the Filmmaking Forum panels, which featured talks by
producers David Collins (“Six Ways to Sunday” and the new Errol Morris
film) and Laura Bernieri (co-producer of “Next Stop Wonderland”), amongst
In many ways, the 4th Northampton Film Festival was everything a small
festival should be: good audiences, an organized and friendly festival
staff, and a great location. From a business standpoint, a filmmaker
shouldn’t go to a festival like this expecting to sell their film. All of
the films were of a high quality, but the programming was light on the
premieres that would attract better distributor attendance. But as Howard
Polonsky said, “We’re not interested in being a market. If that happens
fine, but our main goal is to create a great environment for showing films.
And for filmmakers to come and speak about them.” And the festival
succeeded in achieving those goals; one would place Northampton in the
growing group of smaller festivals in the United States which are excellent
showcases for filmmakers, minus the dealmaking pressure cooker found at the
[Terry Keefe is the director of “Slaves of Hollywood”, one of the films
screened at the festival.]