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Berkshire International Film Festival

Now in its fifth year, the Berkshire International Film Festival is growing beyond its southern Berkshire County niche. In addition to three full days of independent films at Great Barrington’s Triplex Cinema, this year downtown Pittsfield, Mass., gets into the act with screenings at the newly opened Beacon Cinema and the Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema. The northward expansion begins tomorrow (Friday, June 4) at 7:30 PM with the New England premiere of Atletus (The Athlete), a documentary about Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian unknown who won the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

“Our goal was not to spread ourselves thin, but to expand our audience and make it more feasible for people who always wanted to go to the BIFF but just weren’t going to schlep down to Great Barrington,” says festival founder and executive director Kelley Vickery.

The festival proper kicks off tonight (Thursday, June 3) at Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center with the doc Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at 7:30 PM, followed by a dance party at the town’s old fire station. Not a big Rivers fan? No matter. When Vickery recommends a film enthusiastically—and, in this case, the endorsement is implied by the film’s prominent placement—it’s worth taking note.

BIFF has made a business of kicking off the summer season early and pumping Great Barrington full of energy—not to mention, full of the tourist dollars brought by hundreds of film nuts wandering the streets in a pleasant daze, festival passes dangling from their necks, chatting up the merits of Shorts Program B over lunch. But boon to local businesses notwithstanding, the festival succeeds not because of its buzz but because it happens to program lots of very, very good films.

The lineup has frequently been dotted with films destined to become some of the most talked-about indies come Oscar time. Last year’s offerings included the are-you-going-to-eat-that? exposé Food, Inc. (months before it turned up for runs in major cities) and Burma VJ, each of which snagged Oscar nods for Best Documentary. Man on Wire, the story of the eccentric French tightrope walker who performed (impromptu and illegally) between the twin towers in 1974, won the statue last year after opening the ‘08 BIFF, and Taxi to the Dark Side, a look at CIA torture techniques, did the same the year before after proving a BIFF favorite.

There’s at least a touch of glitz as well. Actress Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island, The Station Agent) will be honored in an event at the Mahaiwe Friday before the 8:30 PM showing of her new feature, Cairo Time (pictured). Plenty of filmmakers will be on hand in informal post-screening Q&A’s plus panel talks, like one on short films Saturday morning. Actor Chris “Mr. Big” Noth will try to make it up to you for Sex and the City 2 with the world premiere of What I Meant To Tell You: An American Poet’s State of the Union (Friday, 4:15 PM), a film featuring Noth and others in conversation with Hillsdale poet Peter Kane Dufault. Character actor whiz Peter Riegert (The Sopranos, Animal House, Local Hero) will be around for The Response, a short about the Guantanamo military tribunals (Saturday, 4:15 PM) and a panel discussion with real live Guantanamo lawyers. And what would a Berkshire film event be without a spirited game of Where’s Karen Allen? (Answer: scouting films as the chair of the newly created jury prize committee.)

Vickery cites the Pittsfield expansion as cause for an increase in advance ticket sales from buyers in the Capital Region, North Adams, Williamstown and southern Vermont.

“This is an opportunity to show that audience the sorts of indie documentaries and short films they don’t get a lot of, and to see what the festival feels like. If that can bring business to the downtown area for a weekend, great,” she says. “We’d love for that Albany audience to come in and really spend the day, and maybe the night.”

The Berkshire International Film Festival will be held June 3-5 in Great Barrington and Pittsfield, Mass. Most films are $10. The full festival schedule is available at biffma.com.

—Jeremy D. Goodwin

 

Mountain Jam

The summer music festival industry (yes, we can now call it that) is full of events that take the name of the out-of-the way hamlets that host them—Coachella, Wakarusa—or assume wild titles that sound like something out of Lewis Carrol—Bumbershoot, Bonnaroo—but with Mountain Jam, Warren Haynes’ annual festival in the Catskills, what you read is what you get. For the sixth year running, the Allman brother and Gov’t Mule guitarist has invited a gaggle of friends to jam up on Hunter Mountain.

True to Haynes’ blues-rock priorities, this year’s lineup features the back-home guitar heroics of acts like the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Drive-By Truckers, and the Dark Star Orchestra, with a bluegrass undercurrent of acts like the Avett Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Allison Krauss with Union Station. Throw in Les Claypool, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Matisyahu, Dr. Dog, Jay Farrar, Lettuce, and Toots and the Maytals, and Haynes may just have all his bases covered.

But, it’s all gonna be worth the trip just for Levon Helm’s 70th birthday jubilee (that’s Levon, of course, with his dog), which will feature guests Donald Fagen, Steve Earl, Sam Bush and Ray LaMontagne. Whew.

Mountain Jam will be at Hunter Mountain (Hunter) from tomorrow (Friday, June 4) to Sunday (June 6). The three-day festival pass (including camping) is $179. Single-day passes are $89. Call 888-512-7469 for more info.


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