Local festival tackles social issues with film

Sarah Robinson

Burlington will once again be home to “the world’s oldest environmental and human rights film festival,” according to its website.

The 32nd annual Vermont International Film Festival runs from Oct. 20 to Oct. 29.

“I think that part of the purpose of the film festival is to open people’s minds and make them informed,” said Orly Yadin, a filmmaker, producer and the executive director of VTIFF. “I think that the best democratic tool we can provide is to offer to people the chance to learn about diverse cultures and diverse ways of thinking.”

When the festival began in 1985 it was the first of its kind, according to its website.

This year, it will showcase 70 fiction, documentary and short films over the course of nine days in downtown Burlington.

VTIFF was founded by the late George and Sonia Cullinen. It first took place at Marlboro College. The couple both grew up during the Great Depression and decided to pursue their artistic endeavors in retirement.

I think that part of the purpose of the film festival is to open people’s minds and make them informed.

— Orly Yadin

George, a Spanish Civil War veteran and Sonia, a dancer from the New York’s Upper West Side, made a film titled “From Washington to Moscow” about the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s.

This film inspired the festival, George said in a 2001 Vermont Public Television interview.
He said the festival had grown significantly since its inception. “We owe a debt of gratitude to all the wonderful young people in Burlington who keep it going,” George said.

Since 1985, filmmakers from across the world have come to Burlington to present their work. It has grown from the “mom-and-pop operation,” as Sonia described it, to a prestigious world-wide festival with a special emphasis on the environment.

The process of choosing films begins in March when filmmakers are invited to send in their films. From there, the festival directors select a portion of films to be played from a pool of hundreds,Yadin said.

“We want to show the diversity of cultures and filmmaking from around the world and the U.S.,” she said.

Yadin said she certainly has her secret favorites of the selection, but that the program in its entirety is a work of art.

“You can’t ask a parent who’s your favorite child,” she said. “They all make up a big family, and that’s how I see the festival.”

Film goes beyond solely entertainment, Yadin said.

With more open minds in the community, “[people] will become better citizens and be able to make more informed and intelligent choices,” she said.

Her advice to aspiring filmmakers is to watch as many films as possible, she said.

“We have 120 years worth of cinema history and I think any teacher would say that the more you watch, the better filmmaker you’ll become yourself.”

Visit vtiff.org to learn more about the event and purchase tickets.