(CHATHAM, N.Y.) – New movies by Stephen Frears, the Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne and Holocaust documentarian Claude Lanzmann top the lineup at FilmColumbia, taking place Tuesday, October 22, through Sunday, October 27, 2013. Many of the films being screened are prize-winning films and audience favorites from prestigious international film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, Berlin and Sundance.
Now in its fourteenth year, the FilmColumbia Festival will screen narrative and documentary features, animated and live-action short films, and contenders by regional filmmakers.
Hotly anticipated films at this year’s festival include the return of director Stephen Frears with Philomena, starring Judi Dench, which kicks off FilmColumbia Tuesday night; the Coen brothers’ latest hit, Inside Llewyn Davis, about a been-down-so-long folksinger in 1961, which won the Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte in a comic and moving father/son picture which pays tribute to Payne’s home state, captured in powdery black and white reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s Dustbowl photography; Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba, which focuses on the great man’s early career as a fire-breathing revolutionary; and August: Osage County, based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, directed by John Wells (West Wing, ER, Shameless, Southland) and starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepherd and Margo Martindale.
On the documentary front, FilmColumbia will feature such films as The Oath by Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker to whom Edward Snowden first revealed his whistle-blowing secrets, as well as the latest from FilmColumbia fixture Alex Gibney, who started filming Lance Armstrong in his comeback year, 2009, and was there when Armstrong confessed to doping — all captured unsparingly in Gibney’s latest documentary, The Armstrong Lie.
Claude Lanzmann’s The Last of the Unjust focuses on Benjamin Murmelstein, the head of the Jewish Council of Elders, who was appointed by Adolf Eichmann to run the notorious concentration camp, Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia. Lanzmann’s unhurried interviews are more like conversations in which he alternately plays witness and prosecutor, to get at ugly truths his subjects would prefer to conceal.
Internationally, FilmColumbia will screen features and shorts from Japan, Australia, the UK, South Africa, Germany, Iran, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain and Cuba. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past proves that his Best Foreign Film Oscar for A Separation was no accident: star Berenice Bejo (The Artist) won Best Actress this year at Cannes for her role.
Oh Boy, an out-of-the-blue first feature shot in Berlin over 24 hours, won six Lolas, the German equivalent of the Academy Awards. Like Father, Like Son by Hirokazu Kore-eda, perhaps Japan’s finest living filmmaker, impressed this year’s Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg so much he awarded it the Special Jury Prize and is remaking an American version.
Filmmakers planning to accompany their films to the festival include veteran British TV director Brian Percival, who, after many episodes of Downton Abbey, will be on hand to answer questions after the screening of his first feature, The Book Thief, starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Hanna Maria Sawka, director of Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock, which introduces audiences to one of the most influential photographers of the late 20th century in his own words and through hundreds of his famous images, will host a Q&A after the screening.
Local directors Basil Anastassiou and Paul Kentoffio will be in the theatre to discuss their film Ballin’ at the Graveyard, a gritty look at the culture and community of pickup basketball, as told by hardcore ballers at Albany’s Washington Park. And food media icon Ruth Reichl will introduce a program for foodies, including The Kings of BBQ Kuwait, in which director John Markus organizes the five greatest BBQ Pitmasters in the USA to travel to Kuwait and stage an authentic slow-smoked meat picnic for 5,200 soldiers, and After Winter, Comes Spring, shot in southwestern France, where a rural community grapples with a profound question: will it be the last generation of family farmers in a region cultivated for over 6,000 years?
Film lovers and filmmakers mix at festivities such as the Friday night pub party at Peint O’ Gwrw on Main Street, and the Saturday Night Sneak Peak — which keeps audiences guessing ’til the red curtains part (this year’s Sneak, according to the program, stars several well-known American actors who “turn in riveting performances” and leave audiences “ecstatic”) — is followed by drinks and small bites at the neighboring Blue Plate Restaurant.
FilmColumbia screens independent and notable films from prestigious international festivals, consistently starring films that go on to win major awards later in the film year. Programmed by festival Executive Director Peter Biskind (author and film historian, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and past Executive Editor of Premiere Magazine), Senior Curator Emeritus for Film and Media at MoMA Laurence Kardish and festival Director Calliope Nicholas, FilmColumbia gives film patrons in the Hudson Valley the inside track on front-runners months before they are released to general audiences.
Last year, films screened during FilmColumbia included Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions and Amour. Most films are shown at the historic Crandell Theatre, a jewel of a 1920s single-screener owned and operated by the Chatham Film Club, which also runs the festival. An additional venue, the Morris Memorial Community Center, is easily accessible along Main Street.