The Berkshire International Film Festival is gearing up for its Sweet 16 this year!  

The annual event will take place from June 2nd-June 5th and for the first time ever it will be going hybrid, welcoming back guests in-person as well as offering a virtual option.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Founder and Artistic Director Kelley Vickery to learn more about the diverse films and features highlighted at this year’s festival. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The Berkshire International Film Festival is gearing up for its Sweet 16 this year. The annual event will be taking place from June 2nd through June 5th, and for the first time ever it will be going hybrid, welcoming back guests in person, as well as offering a virtual option.

I spoke with Founder and Artistic Director Kelley Vickery to learn more about the diverse films and features at this year’s festival.

Kelley Vickery, Berkshire International Film Festival: I began the film festival in 2006. I had recently moved to the Berkshires, and it became a permanent home for me, with my family. And, you know, we in the Berkshires, we celebrate so much. We celebrate music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob’s Pillow. Of course, lots of theater is celebrated here.

And I felt like film, which is such an accessible, wonderful medium, wasn’t — wasn’t really getting the kind of festival atmosphere that it deserved. So, I started in 2006, and within two years I had paid off debt on a credit card and it was off and running!

And it’s been embraced by the community, and here we are 16 years later and have — have even survived a pandemic.

Zydalis Bauer: And speaking about the pandemic, for the past two years, you have really had to be creative and really reinvent the festival.

How has the pandemic changed this event and will some of these changes actually remain permanent as you move forward?

Kelley Vickery: This year, it’s — it’s not going to be as — as big a festival. We will have the same amount of films, but we’ve structured it a little differently so that lobbies aren’t full and cinemas aren’t packed. So, there is a — there’s an easier flow to it, if you will.

And one of the things that we discovered last year when we went virtual, was that it was very popular. So, our festival will remain a hybrid festival going forward. We have in-person offerings, but we also have a curated offering of virtual screenings, as well.

So, you can participate from your living room or in — in the theater.

Zydalis Bauer: So, this year we’re back in person, in some aspect.

How do you feel about that? How — how was it to kind of re-make those connections with the theaters, the local theaters? How do you feel about being in-person?

Kelley Vickery: Excited! Is, in a word, excited. I personally love going to the movies. I love being in the theater. I love working with my colleagues at the Mahaiwe and the Triplex, and — and now we’ve expanded to Tanglewood.

And it’s really it’s — it’s — it’s a great atmosphere to be inside a dark theater with your community, safely distanced. So, I’m very excited about being in-person.

And we have many filmmakers who are coming. They cannot wait to be in person doing Q&As with their audience. So, it’s all  — I think it’s all very positive.

You know, we do check vaccine cards and and we recommend obviously masking. The Mahaiwe is actually is mandatory masking. So, we do feel that even — even though we will be in person, it will — it will continue to remain safe.

Zydalis Bauer: So, this year’s lineup features 25 documentaries, 27 narrative features, 15 short films, and 13 animated shorts representing a span of over 30 countries.

What are some of the films that you are most excited about and that festival goers can expect to see?

Kelley Vickery: Well, I’m very excited about, first and foremost, our opening night film, “Art & Krimes.”

“Art & Krimes” is an amazing, inspirational film of a man who was incarcerated and found his voice as an artist while in jail and the connections he made with other artists in jail. And now, they are all out and are thriving, now well-known artists. So, it’s a very inspirational film. It talks about the injustice in the criminal — in the criminal system, but it also talks about learning to when you’re knocked down, learning to get back up and really live a fruitful, meaningful life of purpose. So, I’m very excited about that.

We also, our closing night film is “Pretty Problems,” which is a film I found at Sonoma Film Festival. And it’s a very funny, very smart, very clever film.

And we also have, you know, at the festival we have “Bernstein’s Wall” about Leonard Bernstein, and he loomed large here in Berkshire County at Tanglewood in the summers. We have a world premiere of a film called “As Prescribed” about the opioid epidemic. We have “Marcel the Shell” a film A24 is putting out this summer about Marcel, the little shell, which many of us know.

And then we have wonderful shorts from Berkshire County and all over the world. So, we’ve got a little bit of something for everybody.

Zydalis Bauer: I mean, with all these wonderful films, I can imagine that it was difficult to curate the virtual screening.

So, what went into that, into choosing what to include to be screened virtually for people?

Kelley Vickery: Well, that actually mostly, is a bit dictated by distribution companies and by filmmakers. If a film is being released soon, then maybe the distribution company doesn’t want to have it out virtually. So, there’s those parameters put on us by distribution companies and by filmmakers.

But all the shorts can be seen online and almost all the films, really. I mean, it’s a — it’s a great selection of films that can be seen virtually.

Zydalis Bauer: So, in addition to the films during the festival, you also will be hosting special events and you’re welcoming back your beloved Tea Talks, also.

So, tell me more about what you have planned beyond the films to be screened?

Kelley Vickery: Well, first and foremost, we are very thrilled and honored that, ah, we will be paying tribute to the incredible actress Alfre Woodard this year. She has been nominated for absolutely every award and won nearly everything possible in her career. She’s one of the most prolific actors, and — and we are just so honored and proud to have her as our as our honoree.

And then our Tea Talks, one is about women in film, the challenges and opportunities of women in film. We have award-winning directors, producers, and writers on that panel that we’ll have at the Mahaiwe.

And then we have Don Gummer, the artist Don Gummer, who will be coming — there’s a short film that was produced by another famous artist, Steven Hannock. And so, we’ll show that film and then we’ll be on the stage at the Mahaiwe with — with Don Gummer, Steven Hannock, and the new director of Mass MOCA, Kristie Edwards.

Zydalis Bauer: When you take a look back at the 16 years that the Berkshire International Film Festival has been going around, you’ve welcomed more than 2,000 diverse films and countless — you have brought countless people of the community together for this event. I think you described independent films as being transformative.

So, can you talk to me about the power that these films have on individuals and even the community?

Kelley Vickery: Absolutely. I mean, we — we have a very strong center. We don’t — we don’t program, you know, we don’t theme our programing. But we always have a very strong core of environmental films.

And one of those transformative moments was a film we had called “Plastic Ocean.” And “Plastic Ocean” was a fantastic film about the plastic in our ocean and the damage its doing. That film literally created movement in our Great Barrington community to stop single use water bottles and plastic bags. Unfortunately, that went away during the pandemic and plastic bags came back, but we’re making that movement again to try to get rid of them. But that film was so transformative to our community, that we literally got rid of plastic bags for over two years.

But there’s so many there’s so many films that are mental health films. We had a film “Running from Crazy” with Mariel Hemingway, and we — we partnered with one of the organizations here in Berkshire County, and we had countless people say, come up to me and say, “It was amazing.” They they’ve had mental illness in their family and it gave them a context of which to grow, and they found out different communities that they could reach out to for help.

So, whether it’s environmental or it’s — it’s also just, you know, beautiful. It’s inspiring.

And I hope I hope certainly that’s what our opening night film and some of our many other films, we have a film called “Pasang In the Shadow of Everest,” about a woman female Sherpa, which is a very, very unusual thing. Of course, it’s a very male dominated culture. But Pasang is a female Sherpa. And so I hope that’s also very inspirational to–  to young women and to — to, quite frankly, anyone out there.

Zydalis Bauer: And then lastly, unfortunately, in this last year, we lost Lola Jaffe and Douglas Trumbull, who are two extremely talented individuals in the industry. This year’s festival is dedicated to the both of them.

Can you share with us the profound impacts that they both had on the community and on this festival?

Kelley Vickery: Absolutely. Lola Jaffe, we wouldn’t be using the movie theater, which she almost single-handedly brought back from almost being condemned as a beautiful turn of the century theater. And she renovated it, raised the money for it. It’s one of the most beautiful theaters in our community and in the region, quite frankly. So, Lola had an amazing impact. The reason we’re in the Mahaiwe is because that’s the house that Lola built.

And Douglas Trumbull…wow. What a what an icon, truly in the industry. He was a visionary in visual effects. He created many of the many of the trademarks of how we view film today. And Doug was — was a mentor to dozens of the filmmakers that came to BIFF throughout the years. He was an inspiration, a mentor, and a dear, dear friend.

So, they both are greatly missed.