Too Poignant For Hollywood: The Vermont Internation Film Festival

Dubbed the “World’s oldest human rights and environmental film festival,” the Vermont International Film Festival has been one of Vermont’s only forum for independent filmmakers since its inception. It has nutured and encouraged those voices within our community that otherwise would stand little chance of being heard. Issues regarding gender, race, and, equality have been, and continue to be, seminal themes for the festival.

With several event locations, the festival has garnered the attention of film enthusiasts and businessmen alike, often times providing a small boost to the church street economy surrounding the festival. Many businesses offer discounted or reduced rates on their services/products during the festival’s duration.

While documentary films have traditionally been a mainstay of the festival, there has been a noticeable effort to include feature length films and shorts (those films less than 50 minutes long). Last year the festival even featured a film made by UVM students.

Last year’s festival featured many films with politically and socially conscious themes. The films ranged from the very political to the very personal, often times blurring the traditionally observed line between both. There is a serious effort made to investigate all angles of those issues deemed important to the festival. Africa, and African life, is one area in which the festival has excelled.

Asylum and A Kalahari Family are markedly different films, that have been shown at the festival, involved with similar topics: the hardships and struggles of Africans. Both films look at one of the world’s most neglected continents with concern and consideration absent from many other film festivals. This has made the VIFF one of New England’s most highly attended and scrutnized festivals (not surprisingly the festival has been criticized for its liberal undertones and subject matter from non-Vermonters and film critics alike).

Film is not the only medium encouraged in the festival, as there has been a tradition of hosting a panel discussion regarding films and filmmaking. Last year’s panel, which included well known historian Howard Zinn, sought to investigate several aspects of independent filmmaking. Because of the festival’s socially conscious approach to film, much of last year’s panel dealt with the role of the artist in times of crisis. Much of the panel’s focus was centered on the political responsibility of artists, with many different opinions given and heard regarding the topic.

Of particular interest to filmmakers this year is the role played by the United States in the middle east. Since the Iraq war, there has been a plethora of films entered into the festival that concentrate on what has become one of the world’s premier conflict areas. The voices of women and minorities throughout the muslim world is a topic explored in depth by this year’s filmmakers. Also important to independent filmmakers this year has been the perception of the united states in the middle east, addressed by several films entered for this year’s festival.

Among the more interesting films exhibited last year is da Speech by John Douglas. da Speech began as a musical piece by Simon Stockhausen and developed into an international video in which John Douglas was invited to participate. His piece cuts Iraq war footage to the intense synth-rap track of Stockhausen.

The festival is put on by The Vermont International Film Foundation; founded in 1985 by George and Sonia Cullinen, the Vermont Inernational Film Foundation has sought films dealing with peace and social justice from its outset. As the festival and foundation has grown, so too has the breadth and scope of the films entered and exhibited. This growth has been an encouragement and source of inspiration for Vermont artists.

Although previous year’s festivals have been characterized by excitment and enthusiasm, this year’s festival has a decidely somber feel. The reason for this stems largely from the death of Sonia Cullinen who died last year at the age of 91. Her husband and inseparable companion, George, died less than a year earlier. This year’s film festival will be sponsored by Merrill’s Roxy, Amnesty International, and, The Vermont Arts Council. The Vermont International Film Festival will be held from October 13th through October 18th. More information on the festival can be found at www.vtiff.org.