The folks programming FilmColumbia don’t mess around. Now in its 14th year, the big film festival in little Chatham kicks off at the Crandell Theatre on Wednesday (Oct. 23) with a screening of Claude Lanzmann’s three-and-a-half-hour Holocaust documentary The Last of the Unjust (at 2 PM), followed by Sideways director Alexander Payne’s well-reviewed Nebraska (at 8 PM). Following up on his documentary epic Shoah, Lanzmann zeroes in on the Nazi-appointed Jewish leader of the Theresienstadt concentration camp with what has been described as withering insight and thorny persistence. Nebraska is a comic drama about a father-son relationship; his performance earned Bruce Dern the Best Actor award at Cannes, and has generated a healthy amount of Oscar buzz.
This audacious eclecticism always been an appealing aspect of FilmColumbia’s programming: While other festivals focus on bringing in big names and giving them lifetime achievement-style awards, at the Crandell (and the other screening venue, the Morris Memorial), the films themselves are the star attractions. Here’s a preview.
First, the glitz. The underappreciated Oscar Isaac gets the starring role in the new Coen brothers musical drama, Inside Llewyn Davis (Oct. 25, 9 PM). He’s a folksinger in early 1960s Greenwich Village, and his unfortunate encounters with a variety of lovers (including Carey Mulligan), adversaries (most prominently, John Goodman) and a cat take up as much time as his unsuccessful musical career. Idris Elba finally gets out of genre pics and into an Oscar-sized leading role in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Oct. 24, 7:30 PM). Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman (Oct. 26, noon), the story of the Victorian writer’s hushed-up, 13-year affair with a considerably younger woman (Felicity Jones). And the Weinstein Company’s August: Osage County (Oct. 27, 7 PM) takes the concept of “Oscar bait” to new heights with this Broadway-to-silver screen drama starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis and Margo Martindale.
Next, the documentaries. Albany’s homegrown indie hit Ballin’ at the Graveyard will be screened (Oct. 27, 1:30 PM), followed by a Q&A with codirectors Basil Anastassiou and Paul Kentoffio. After taking on ENRON, enhanced interrogation techniques, the persecution of Eliot Spitzer and the complicated saga of Julian Assange, director Alex Gibney turns his critical eye on disgraced athlete Lance Armstrong in The Armstrong Lie (Oct. 25, 6 PM). Gibney had the good fortune of having started filming before Armstrong acknowledged his doping, and thus captures a good share of the real-life drama in his documentary. Director Hilary Sawka focuses on a legendary Hollywood lensman in Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock (Oct. 25, 3:15 PM); Sawka will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.
Indie and international cinema are represented, too. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, Oscar winner for A Separation, returns with The Past (Oct. 26, 4:30 PM) a wrenching family drama about a broken marriage and its long-lasting effects that stars Berenice Bejo (The Artist). 7 Boxes (Oct. 27, 6 PM) tells the story of a 17-year-old “wheelbarrow boy”—he uses a wheelbarrow to make deliveries—in Paraguay. Like Father, Like Son (Oct. 25, 3 PM) finds Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda probing an almost farcical situation—sons switched at birth—with insight and sensitivity. (See it before Steven Spielberg finishes the American remake.)
And, as is the usual custom, there will be a “sneak preview” on Saturday night. All they’ll hint is that it’s a drama starring American actors.
FilmColumbia opens Wednesday (Oct. 23) and runs through Oct. 27, mostly at the Crandell Theatre in Chatham. For a complete schedule, ticket info and venue details, visit filmcolumbia.org.