Vermont International Film Festival Screens Long-Shelved Gems and Pandemic-Paused Releases | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont International Film Festival Screens Long-Shelved Gems and Pandemic-Paused Releases

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Published October 19, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Alma's Rainbow - COURTESY
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  • Alma's Rainbow

The Vermont International Film Festival aims to bring the world to Vermont through film. Produced by the Vermont International Film Foundation, this year's festival promises movies not only from across the globe but also from across time. There will be lost films, forgotten gems and new releases that have waited patiently on the shelf for just this moment.

VTIFF runs from Friday, October 21, through Sunday, October 30, at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington and the Savoy Theater in Montpelier. Ten films will also be available online through VTIFF Virtual Cinema.

Due to the pandemic, many filmmakers with 2020 premiere dates chose to delay their releases until this season, when festivals could more safely fill theaters. VTIFF executive director Orly Yadin said this wealth of films made programming decisions harder. As a result, the festival will present a record number of films, but most will only screen once.

After two years of virtual cinema and reduced-capacity screenings, VTIFF plans to bring viewers back to theaters. "We're back to normal, with close to 50 films," Yadin told Seven Days. "We decided to go back to how we used to be, and we hope the audience will come."

The program includes films from more than 30 countries. It will transport viewers to a 19th-century Viennese palace in Corsage (2022), the streets of Paris during COVID-19 lockdown in Roaring '20s (Années 20) (2021), a Japanese monastery in Crows Are White (2022) and the floor of the Texas state capitol in Shouting Down Midnight (2022).

Highlights include opening film Broker, which won two awards at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival: Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, which honors feature-length films that illustrate spiritual or Christian ideals, and Best Actor for Song Kang-ho's performance. Audiences will remember Song from Parasite (2019), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Directed by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, Broker is a heartwarming drama about a pair of law-breaking, do-gooder misfits who seek a home for an abandoned baby.

India's Payal Kapadia won the 2021 Golden Eye award for best documentary at Cannes for A Night of Knowing Nothing, which juxtaposes fact and fiction, art and politics, and dreams and life.

Numerous other award-winning films from around the world pepper the program, and many address the environment. Utama, winner of the 2022 World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, takes viewers 13,000 feet above sea level to the Bolivian highlands. The film stars nonprofessional actors and real-life elderly couple José Calcina and Luisa Quispe, who play a Quechua couple whose lives are impacted by drought conditions in their community. Director Alejandro Loayza Grisi said Calcina and Quispe are a peaceful couple in real life, so they had to be taught to act and convinced to argue on camera, reported pop culture podcast "But Why Tho?" Utama, which means "our home" in Quechua, is a love story about family, community and nature, racked by climate change.

Young audiences may connect with the protagonist of "A Juddering" (2022), portrayed by Vermont actor Oscar Williams. This short film tells the story of a teenager experiencing deep climate anxiety and trying to express its urgency to their indifferent grandfather. Environmentalist Bill McKibben says, "Kids are — literally — feeling more of the danger of this moment than the rest of us. This film makes clear the desire to communicate," according to the film's website. Directed by Vermont's James Lantz, "A Juddering" is one of three shorts in the Feeling Nature screenings on Saturday afternoon.

Another theme reflected in "the zeitgeist of filmmakers' concerns from around the world," Yadin explained, is women's stories. Full Time (À Plein Temps) (2021) by director Éric Gravel tells an everyday drama — a single mother raising her children and working full time while trying to get a better job — with the intensity that real-life stories deserve.

Happening (L'évènement) (2021) is based on recent Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux's autobiography of the same name. In the film, Annie seeks an abortion in France in 1963 when the practice was illegal, a story that is all too relevant today.

Comedy-drama Alma's Rainbow (1994), by trailblazing filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira, is a coming-of-age story about mothers and daughters and Black womanhood. Selma director Ava DuVernay called Alma's Rainbow "a gorgeous clarion call for our young Black girls, heralding the community, creativity and confidence that is the pride of our culture," according to distributor Milestone Films.

A special program called Experiments in Queer Cinema, curated by University of Vermont associate professor Angelo Madsen Minax, presents five experimental shorts. Produced in Canada, Germany, the U.S. and the UK, they explore everything from magic and medicine to pop culture and nationalism.

Charles Burnett - COURTESY
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  • Charles Burnett

This year, VTIFF will give Los Angeles-based Charles Burnett its inaugural Award for Outstanding Contribution to American Cinema. A MacArthur Fellowship recipient and the first African American to win the National Society of Film Critics' best screenplay award (To Sleep With Anger, 1990), he may be best known for his thesis film, Killer of Sheep, which he produced on weekends for under $10,000 while finishing his master's degree at the University of California, Los Angeles. The film is a meditation on the daily life of a slaughterhouse worker and his wife and premiered at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978. Unfortunately, it was quickly embroiled in music licensing issues and was not commercially released until 2007 — though it retained its legendary status while shelved. Killer of Sheep was inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry in 1990.

Burnett will attend the festival and participate in a Q&A following the screenings of Killer of Sheep and To Sleep With Anger. Yadin says Burnett was chosen for the award not because he was underrated — cinephiles and film students hold him in high esteem — but to raise his profile among casual filmgoers.

"We thought it was time his reputation became wider among our audience," Yadin explained. "I think it'll be an eye-opener for people."

Dead Ringer - COURTESY
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  • Dead Ringer

The closing film will be Allan Nicholls' Dead Ringer (1982), a comical look at singer-songwriter Meat Loaf's life as the '80s rock star prepares for a world tour and navigates having a doppelgänger. Legal issues kept the film from screening for nearly 40 years, but Nicholls will show his own newly digitized copy at VTIFF and partake in a Q&A after the screening. Meat Loaf died in January.

Viewers don't have to be Meat Loaf fans to appreciate the film, Yadin said: "It's very funny, and it's very moving. I can tell you there's some really serious undertones with the concept of who this doppelgänger is."

The Vermont Production Collective will host the filmmaker's reception on the festival's final night. Montpelier-based filmmaker Chad Ervin cofounded the organization in 2021 to connect film and video producers across the state. Such events are "an excuse to get together and talk about creative film and video and art stuff with people who get it," he told Seven Days.

A substantial number of filmmakers have moved to Vermont during the pandemic, Ervin explained, and he hopes these gatherings can help foster connection among them.

Yadin appreciates film's accessibility. "It's very democratic in terms of the cost of tickets compared to live performances," she said. "Film is one of the most exciting and impactful artistic mediums there is. You can come out of a screening of a really good film feeling emotionally touched and intellectually more open."

Vermont International Film Festival, Friday, October 21, through Sunday, October 30, at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington, the Savoy Theater in Montpelier and online. $6-30 for individual tickets; $95 for 10-pack in-person screenings in Burlington; $150 for an individual pass; $250 for a dual pass. Learn more at vtiff.org.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Into the Light | Vermont International Film Festival screens long-shelved gems and pandemic-paused releases"