FilmColumbia Festival 2011 | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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FilmColumbia Festival 2011 

Lars von Trier's latest film, "Melancholia," will be screened at Film Columbia in Chatham, October 19-23.
  • Lars von Trier's latest film, "Melancholia," will be screened at Film Columbia in Chatham, October 19-23.

Big movies, small town. That’s the way it plays on Main Street in Chatham at the FilmColumbia Festival, October 19-23. Now in its twelfth year, the FilmColumbia Festival will screen more than 50 films—many of them prizewinners from prestigious international film festivals—and 10 by filmmakers living and working in the Hudson Valley.  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, dotted with friendly places to grab a bite or coffee between screenings.

FilmColumbia has a consistent record of choosing films that go on to win major awards later in the film year.  With films selected by MoMA Senior Curator for Film and Media Laurence Kardish, Executive Director Peter Biskind (a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and past Executive Editor of Premiere magazine) and Festival Director Calliope Nicholas (all locals), FilmColumbia gives film patrons in the Hudson Valley the inside track on front-runners months before they are released to general audiences.  Last year, FilmColumbia screened six films that went on to the Oscars, including The King’s Speech, Black Swan and 127 Hours.

“In essence, FilmColumbia has gathered the best of Toronto, Cannes and Sundance, and brought them to the heart of Chatham, New York,” says Festival Director Calliope Nicholas.

Many featured documentary and narrative works are audience, critics’ or jury prizewinners from prestigious international festivals, and feature A-list cast and crew. Lars von Trier was ejected from Cannes for some pro-Hitler remarks, but his new film, Melancholia, went on to compete for the Palme d’Or, winning Best Actress for Kirsten Dunst, who gives the performance of her career.  The Kid with a Bike, a new film by French auteurs the Dardenne brothers, won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize for Best Film. Shot in the Catskills, Martha Marcy May Marlene, a chilling film about a manipulative religious cult, won filmmaker Sean Durkin the Best Director award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Pariah, Executive Produced by Spike Lee, won cinematographer Bradford Young the Sundance Excellence in Cinematography award. Other FilmColumbia highlights include Coriolanus, the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, who also stars; We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which Tilda Swinton gives a spectacular performance as the mother of a disturbed teen; and My Week With Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, Julie Ormond as Vivien Leigh and Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier.

The festival kicks off Wednesday, October 19 at 7pm with Anonymous, written by local screenwriter John Orloff, directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) and headed by a glittering cast including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi. Orloff will present the film and answer questions afterward.

FilmColumbia offers residents and visitors to the Hudson Valley big-time access with small-town ambience. At half the price, all the quality, and a fraction of the crowds of the New York Film Festival, FilmColumbia is a bargain for film buffs. A little slice of New England in the heart of New York, Chatham blends elegant and unpretentious character with charming watering holes, shopping and dining. Not incidentally, Chatham is home or second home to a major colony of filmmakers, at the crossroads of New York City and the Berkshires’ creative economies.

“One of the greatest things about this festival,” says festival Executive Director Peter Biskind, “is to see people who are not in the film business, not professional movie-goers like critics or reviewers, stand under the marquee after the movie and animatedly discuss what they’ve seen. The combination of quality films and small town venue creates a uniquely communal and stimulating experience.”

Philosophically a proto-Independent festival, FilmColumbia has always been committed to curating a stream of local filmmakers into the mix, most famously Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and an Academy Award nomination for actress Melissa Leo in 2009.  (Hunt now sits on the Festival’s Advisory Board.) The mix of local and internationally celebrated film talent gives a unique, Hudson Valley flavor to the program.  Director Nick Nehez (The Surrogate Mary) grew up in the area; his film features two lead actresses who are both daughters of Warhol superstar Viva.  Filmmaker Michael Schiller (The After Party) spent his childhood going to movies at the Crandell Theatre, and now brings his own film to the festival, a documentary about the police state in New York during the 2004 Republican convention (with cameos by the Bush twins, Barack Obama and Al Sharpton). Local filmmakers David Newhoff (Gone Elvis), Lincoln Mayorga (A Suitcase Full of Chocolate), John Orloff (Anonymous), Joshua Marston (The Forgiveness of Blood) and Oscar-winner Deborah Shaffer (To Be Heard), among others, will be on hand to discuss their work at screenings.

Individual tickets for films and events are available. Special events, such as Classic Cocktails/Classic Films at Chatham’s own Welsh Pub, Peint O’Gwrw, are priced individually, and sell out quickly.  Exciting traditions include the Saturday Night Sneak Peak, in which the packed Crandell Theatre gets an exclusive screening of a major upcoming film (sponsored by local art patron Jack Shear); the Sunday morning screenwriting panel, in which aspiring screenwriters are invited to bring 6 copies of a 5-10 minute scene, to be read and discussed by Scott Cohen (Kissing Jessica Stein) and fellow actors; Animation for Grownups (hosted by animator Gary Leib); and FilmColumbia’s gift to children of all ages, the Children’s International Shorts, playing at the Crandell Theatre Saturday, October 22 at 10:30 am, and free for all.

The FilmColumbia Festival runs October 19-23, 2011.  For schedules of films, panels and special events, as well as for ticket orders, go to
Read film blurbs and view trailers, and even assess a film’s buzz prior to its screening at


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