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Michael Farrell/Courtesy of the Times Union

 

Ellenbogen: The Sequel

When Michael Ellenbogen put on three ambitious short-film festivals in Albany back in the mid-’90s, each year as the festival approached, it was the same grind: impossibly long days sorting out all of the details of programming and planning, occasional late-night forays into Justin’s for a hard-earned Scotch and burger, and very little sleep. Often, he swore he’d never do it again.

Ellenbogen finally made good on his promise, leaving the area in 1997 for New York City, where he now runs Passport Pictures, an independent film production company, and works as a film analyst for USA Films. But this summer, he is involved once again in a film festival, which will commence two weeks from now in Manchester, Vt. The first annual Manchester Film Festival runs from June 27 through June 30, and Ellenbogen is the director of programming. And although this event is on a larger scale than the short-film festivals Ellenbogen put together in Albany—the advisory board includes such luminaries as Ken Burns, Spalding Gray and Rebecca Pidgeon, and the festival will screen 24 feature-length films (some in competition), including a world premiere of God’s Sandbox by noted Israeli director Doron Eran, and “an amazing film called Dazzling,” from Chinese director Xin Lee—Ellenbogen says the experience has been very nearly the same.

“I’m still staying up all night long finishing the program,” he says wearily. “I haven’t slept in 60 hours. One major difference is I’m not chain-smoking anymore.

“It’s still a no-budget festival,” he continues, adding that the frustrations are similar to those he faced in Albany. “And once again, I find myself saying out loud to whoever will listen that I’ll never do it again.”

Ellenbogen laughs, and quickly regains his sense of optimism. “But if it grows,” he says, “you could be sitting on top of the next Sundance.”

In fact, the festival’s cocreators, Michael Charles Hill and Alan Scott-Moncreiff, launched the project with just that idea in mind: to turn Manchester into the Sundance of the Northeast. Both men now live in the Manchester area; Hill is a native Vermonter and a film-industry veteran, while Scott-Moncreiff is a Scottish-born artist, playwright and filmmaker. They first started working on the festival three years ago, but Ellenbogen got involved only last October, with a little help from his mom and dad.

“Last September,” he recalls, “I got a letter from my parents, and in it was a clipping from the Manchester Journal that mentioned these two Vermont boys and their efforts to launch an annual film festival. And I actually went up to Manchester a couple of weeks later, and went to the Southern Vermont Arts Center Music Festival, and [approached] the artistic director. . . . I made the assumption that he would know who was launching this film festival, told him what I’ve done in Albany, and that if he could find them and introduce me to them, I would appreciate it. And I gave him my card.

“A couple of weeks later in New York, I got an e-mail from him giving me the name of Michael Charles Hill, and a phone number. Two weeks after that, I was meeting at an Asian noodle shop down here on Greene Street with Alan Scott-Moncrieff.”

Ellenbogen wanted to make sure the festival founders were serious about what they were doing, and then sell them on his credentials and connections. They hit it off, and Ellenbogen immediately got rolling on the programming.

And, more recently, on the party planning.

“As of a week and a half ago,” he says, “they only had two parties [planned]. And I just wouldn’t shut up until they had six. You just can’t embarrass us by having people fly in from China and then have to go to a bar to buy a drink.” The social events, he emphasizes, tie the festival together: People get a chance to relax, meet new people, have a good time, talk about what they’ve seen. Then they leave happy, and “happy people say good things about your festival.”

And who knows, if enough people say good things about the first annual Manchester Film Festival, maybe Ellenbogen will do it again.

—Stephen Leon

Get Your 15 Minutes Here

Is the next Star Search com- ing to Albany? We doubt it, but those Capital Region residents who feel destined for fame might want to show the world that they’re going to live forever, they’re going to learn how to fly at the 2002 World Championships of Performing Arts. Anyone who can sing, act, dance, model, twirl a baton or do it all is invited to compete in a talent contest in Albany, the winners of which will qualify to represent the United States and compete against performers from 40 countries in the final competition in Hollywood.

Much like the Olympics, contestants can compete for “The Gold” in eight categories—dance, vocal, modeling, acting, comedy, bands, instrumental and variety (which includes acts such as juggling and flame swallowing). “We look for all kinds of talent,” says Carmine DioGuardi, who piqued the interests of several organizations and talent scouts when he won the gold medal for country-music performance and the trophy for overall vocal talent at last year’s championship. DioGuardi was the person who suggested that a contest be held to investigate Albany’s tome of talented performers.

“You meet a lot of different people in the business,” says DioGuardi. “And you learn a lot about the business and how it works.” The event certainly isn’t short of celebrity endorsements. In the past, the competition, now in its sixth year, has featured hosts and judges such as Pauly Shore and Mickey Dolenz (formerly of The Monkees). Bob Eubanks, host of the hit game show The Newlywed Game and the Game Show network, will emcee this year’s “opening ceremonies.”

Residents of the Capital Region who wish to compete may submit a bio along with photos (for modeling only) and a one-minute-long videotape demonstrating a talent (the tape needn’t be professional). Submissions are due June 15. An optional live competition will be held at 9 AM on June 15 at the Steuben Athletic Center (1 Steuben Place) in Albany. Performers who qualify at the live competition will be chosen on the spot to participate in Team USA. Those who don’t perform live will be notified by Saturday, June 22.

—Ben Sher


Martin Benjamin

SPAC’s Back!

Green Day, blink 182 and Saves the Day kicked off SPAC’s summer season as headliners of the Channel (103.1 FM)’s Big Day Out on June 4. The oversized day of overt rock & roll also featured a second stage with acts Custom, Cold, 2 Skinny Js and Attic of Love. With hopes of propelling them to even bigger days out, most of the second-stage acts put in fan-time at the autograph tent. One of the audience’s favorite pastimes, crowd surfing in between—and even during—mosh sessions was prevalent during the show (Did you expect anything less?)

Other highlights of the show included: a giant bunny who came onstage right before Green Day to smoke a bong and a massive pyrotechnics show during blink 182’s set. (Pictured is Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong.)


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