Around the World in 70 Films
Film festival kicks off Berkshire cultural season
Kayhan Kalhor, Iranian kamancheh player and composer, performs with Yo-Yo Ma in Izmir, Turkey.
Photo by Aykut Usletekin
Music of Strangers. A Year by the Sea. Forgotten Farms. Hitchcock/Truffaut.
Each of these films is considerably different in content, yet each has a close connection to our community. They will also be screened at what is widely known as BIFF, the upcoming Berkshire International Film Festival.
Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is the opening film of BIFF, at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. From director Morgan Neville, of Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom, the new film tells the story of renowned instrumentalists, vocalists, composers, arrangers, visual artists, and storytellers as they explore the power of music to preserve tradition, shape cultural evolution, and inspire hope. Strangers takes place at Tanglewood and follows musicians located along the Silk Road. And it features one whom we in the Berkshires consider our own: Yo-Yo Ma.
If you haven’t already run into Ma in a coffee shop in West Stockbridge, or a benefit for a local nonprofit, or at his local post office in Tyringham, you will have at least a few occasions to do so this summer, beginning with the June 2 screening of Music of Strangers, after which Ma will hold a Q&A. And on August 7, the Silk Road Ensemble will join him onstage at Tanglewood.
“We’ve all heard that music is an international language that builds bridges between people,” says Neville. “But what does that really mean and how does it really work? Yo-Yo’s been on a 20-year journey to figure out how he can use music to make the world a better place. I wanted to go along for the ride and see what it can do in action.”
Music of Strangers is among 70 of the latest independent feature, documentary, short, and family films from some 26 countries that will be showcased at BIFF. The festival, which takes place from June 2-5 in Great Barrington and June 3-5 in Pittsfield, will bring those films, their filmmakers, industry professionals, and film fans together for a celebration of independent films. Some of the countries represented this year are Germany, Afghanistan, Brazil, Australia, Iran, England, India, France, China, Italy, Israel, Austria, Norway, Hungary, Argentina and Iceland.
“This kicks off the cultural season for the Berkshires,” says Kelley Vickery, BIFF founder.
A Year by the Sea, based on the novel by Joan Anderson, is about a woman hoping to reclaim who she was before marriage and children. She retreats to Cape Cod and embarks upon a quest to set herself free. Starring Karen Allen, who lives in the Berkshires, the movie will be shown on Saturday, June 4, at the Mahaiwe. Afterwards, Allen, Anderson, the film’s director, and others from the film will answer questions.
“It resonates for me, during that time of life, building a family with kids, the wife revolving around them, and suddenly they’re all gone and it’s time to focus on your dreams and your next life and chapter,” says Vickery.
Forgotten Farms, directed by Dave Simonds and produced by Sarah Gardner, who both live in Williamstown, centers around dairy farming, which oftentimes is left out of the local food celebration. The poignantly told documentary follows several family farms and examines class divisions and cultural divides in New England’s farm and food communities. According to the filmmakers, New England has lost over 10,000 conventional dairy farms in the past 50 years; only 2,000 farms remain. Collectively, they tend 1.2 million acres of farmland and produce almost all of the milk consumed in New England. Many of us may have forgotten that 75 years ago, these farmers were at the center of a thriving, local food economy. The documentary will be screened at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington on Saturday, June 4, and at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield on Sunday, June 5.
Hitchock/Truffaut is directed by Kent Jones, who was born and raised in Pittsfield. Former editor of Film Comment, Jones was made a chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters and is director of the New York Film Festival. His new film discusses the impact of François Truffaut’s seminal 1966 book, Cinema According to Hitchcock, and features interviews with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and others. The book, based on 12 hours of conversation with Hitchcock about his craft, has proved hugely influential.
“For me, and for many others, the book was more than formative, it was essential,” Jones told Variety. The documentary premiered at Cannes last year and shows at the Triplex on June 3.
Other highlights include a tribute to legendary Academy Award–winning actor Bruce Dern with the BIFF Achievement in Film Award on June 4 at the Mahaiwe. BIFF will close on June 5 at the Mahaiwe with the documentary De Palma, about one of the most talented, influential, and iconoclastic filmmakers of all time. A Q&A will follow with co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.
No wonder the number of people attending BIFF keeps growing. Last year, there were 4,000 single-ticket sales—20 percent more than the previous year. “We have an amazing community that is very embracing of the arts,” says Vickery. “People crave our documentaries and foreign films.”