If you haven’t been to Ashfield, you’ve missed out on a great local destination. A half hour northwest of Northampton, the town is brimming with the local charm of a place that is entirely comfortable in its own skin—no mere supporting player to the Valley’s better known towns, Ashfield is the sort of place that makes its own fun. It’s also home to a vibrant community of musicians and artists, including the nationally known Double Edge Theatre. And for over half a decade now, the hilltown hamlet has played host to the Ashfield FilmFest, one of the most rootsy, inclusive, and downright playful film festivals the area has to offer.
This week brings the the seventh annual installment of the event, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Ashfield Town Hall. As always, the festival commemorates the birth of a famous name: cinematic legend Cecil B. DeMille—best known now as the director of extravaganzas like The Greatest Show on Earth and The Ten Commandments—was born in the town while his parents were vacationing in the Valley back in 1881. Flash forward to 2007, when Ashfield Cultural Council chair and film enthusiast Tamsen Merrill connected with Ashfield resident Harry Keramidas (a film editor who worked on hits like Back To The Future) and the FilmFest was born.
Since then, the festival has only grown, with each year drawing more entrants than the last. And to help keep the screenings lively, the festival has a couple of unusual stipulations: any film submitted must have some connection to the town, and must also be five minutes or less in length. But far from making things harder, the guidelines have encouraged many residents to submit short films about their lives that might otherwise have gone unseen. The result is a remarkably inclusive and warm-hearted event that has proven so popular that the town has had to add a second venue to accommodate the crowds, all of whom are eager to see who will take home the “Baby Cecil,” a golden trophy in the shape of an infant made by artist and Ashfield resident Jane Lund.
It’s all a very welcome reminder that filmmaking—and really, any art—is not some rarefied thing, removed from the everyday. At its best, it is simply another way for us to turn a mirror on ourselves, and sometimes we are our own best directors. Should you go, head out a little early and grab a bite at Country Pie Pizza, a great local spot that shares a building with the town hardware store. Wander out to the front porch and look next door for a brass plaque, and get ready for your closeup—you’ll be standing on the spot where Mr. DeMille was born.
Also this week: The Patience Stone, writer/director Atiq Rahimi’s new film—adapted from his own award-winning novel—comes to area screens. Set in an unnamed war-torn Middle Eastern country, it tells the story of a young woman whose older husband has been left comatose as the result of a bullet wound. Abandoned by his fellow soldiers and shunned by his family, his only companion is the wife whose life he has kept under tight control for their decade-long marriage. But now, trapped inside of himself, the man (none of the characters are named) becomes “syngué sabour,” a magical black stone of Persian myth that is said to absorb the grief of those who confide in it.
As he lies immobile, his wife begins to unburden herself to him, confessing things she could never bring herself to say during their earlier days together. As she finds her own voice again, she also finds the strength to explore the emotions brought on by a young soldier with whom she begins a relationship. But while the patience stone lessens burdens, its myth also states that when it has absorbed all the sorrow it can contain, it will explode, and bring an end to the world.•
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.