This week, a couple of small yet interesting film festivals come to the area. They are small not in their reach—indeed, one is perhaps the world's largest film event, taking place across six continents during one feverish week—but in their genesis; they are born first and foremost of a simple passion for the medium. These are not your usual festivals that gather up the best of an already well-known body of work—they are labors of love that exist because there are people who find in film something with more staying power than whatever is breaking box office records on any given weekend. And both events are worth seeking out.
The first is already underway under the aegis of the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst. A celebration of East German director Iris Gusner, the festival got underway earlier this week with the U.S. premiere of her 1979 film All My Girls. One of only a few female directors to succeed in the East German film world, Gusner moved from television to features in the late 1960s—only to have her debut film banned for its portrayal of workers in distress.
She continued, though, and the DEFA festival offers a rare chance to see the work in the presence of the woman who made it; Gusner is visiting the area through Oct. 1 and will be present, with author and women's rights activist Ursula Schröter, at some of the events to discuss her work. A full schedule is available at the DEFA website; local filmgoers (especially students, who get in free) will want to note the screening of her semi-autobiographical film Were The Earth Not Round at Amherst Cinema Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m
In it, Christiane (Bozenna Stryjek) and Hatem (Rasim Balajew) have a child together while studying in Moscow. But Christiane is from Germany, and Hatem from Syria, and they soon run up against a problem: if they return to Syria, as Hatem feels compelled to do, it is unlikely that Christiane would be allowed to continue her work as a scientist. They must decide, together and alone, what is best for their new family, and for each other.
Also taking place this week is the Manhattan Short Film Festival—a misnomer if ever there was one, as the festival pulls together more than 100,000 participants in over 300 cities over the course of its one-week run. (It gets its name from its humble beginnings, when a clutch of short films were projected on the side of a truck on a New York street.)
If that weren't enough to set it apart from most festivals, the MSFF has something else up its sleeve: it leaves the winner up to you. Part of the festival's allure is that the group of films—this year with entrants from Norway, Peru, Romania, and more—are only the finalists in an ongoing process that began with over 500 films from nearly 50 countries. When the lights come up and you cast your ballot, you do it alongside film lovers all over the world who are voting on the very same films this week.
Locally, the MSFF is running at Amherst Cinema and South Hadley's Tower Theaters. Any attempt to sum up the festival's films here would only do them a disservice; for a full rundown of the work on offer, be sure to check out the festival website at ManhattanShort.com, which is also where you'll find out who ends up winning the whole shebang.
Also this week: Up in Shelburne Falls, Pothole Pictures kicks off its fall film season this weekend with a screening of the 1976 Hal Ashby film Bound For Glory. This story of Woody Guthrie's life—presented in celebration of the singer/songwriter's 100th birthday anniversary—will be preceded by a half-hour sing-along of some of his best-loved songs. David Carradine (Kill Bill) stars, and even plays his own guitar parts. The music starts at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, with the film at 7:30.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.