Berkshires grown talent flavors this year's Tea Talks at The BIFF

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GREAT BARRINGTON — They're called "Tea Talks." It's a special series within The BIFF — Berkshire International Film Festival — that invites attendees to hear filmmakers chat formally and informally about the work they do. And, yes, tea, from Harney & Sons, is served.

Kelley Vickery, The BIFF's founding artistic director, launched the series last year and, she said in a cell phone interview earlier this week, it proved "hugely successful" with audiences. And so, Tea Talks are back again this year and this time it's not all talk. One of the Tea Talks, set for 2:30 Sunday afternoon at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, is a sneak preview of a feature-length narrative film that, Vickery says, scooped up a bunch of awards at April's Tribeca Film Festival. There will be a post-screening Q&A with the director, cast and crew.

Two other Tea Talks are set for Saturday, also at the Mahaiwe. The first, at 11:30 a.m., tracks the steps in moving a screenplay from page to screen. Screenwriter Charles Randolph, whose screen adaptation of "The Big Short," co-written with Adam McKay, earned an Academy Award and a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay, is the guest. He'll be interviewed by fine art photographer Gregory Crewdson, who lives and works in the Berkshires.

Saturday afternoon at 1:30, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Cynthia Wade — whose 2007 documentary, "Freeheld," won the 2008 Oscar for Best Documentary Short — takes the Mahaiwe stage for a Tea Talk following a special advance screening of her new full-length documentary, "Grit," which tracks the lasting impact of an environmental catastrophe in East Java created by a drilling for natural gas that went horribly wrong, creating a tsunami that buried 16 villages under 60 feet of mud, displacing nearly 60,000 people in the process.

"Cynthia and I have been in conversation about 'Grit,' which she's been working on for about five years," Vickery said. "She had hoped to have it ready for last year's BIFF but she got a call. There were new developments so she needed to get back to Indonesia so she could include this new material in the film."

Vickery also hoped to have Randolph at last year's BIFF but, she said, his schedule was prohibitive.

"I reached out to him again this year," Vickery said. "He was available and Gregory [Crewdson] is a good friend so it worked out."

Vickery is extremely secretive about Sunday's sneak preview. "They are still negotiating a distribution deal," Vickery said, "so I'm not allowed to announce what the film is. In addition to the fact that it won a number of awards at Tribeca, I can say that the film's director and writer is from the Berkshires and it features an Emmy Award-winning actress who has been at The BIFF."

Local ties flavor this year's Tea Talks and that says a lot about the area. "[The Berkshires are] rich in talent," Vickery says. "We have an embarrassment of riches here."

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at jborak@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6212


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