BIFF launches 13th season; Rachel Weisz this year's honoree

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning actress Rachel Weisz is the 2018 Berkshire International Film Festival's honoree.

The actress — who won the 2006 Oscar and the 2005 Golden Globe in the best supporting actress category for her performance in "The Constant Gardener" — will be at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center June 1 for a screening of her newest film, "Disobedience," and a pre-screening conversation with film critic David Edelstein.

Weisz and her husband, actor Daniel Craig,"spend a lot of time here during the summer," BIFF founding artistic director Kelly Vickery said during a luncheon interview, "because [Weisz' stepdaughter, Craig's daughter from a previous marriage), Ella Loudon, performs with Shakespeare & Company."

On a chance, Vickery said, "we contacted [Weisz'] press people and asked if she'd be willing to appear as our honoree this year. They said 'yes' but on condition that tribute night [typically scheduled for Saturday] be Friday because she has to leave Saturday on a tour to plug 'Disobedience.'"

The Weisz tribute is the centerpiece of a festival that will screen 80 full-length and short narrative and documentary films from 27 countries beginning May 31 at the Mahaiwe with "American Animals," a docudrama about a daring attempted art heist, and ending June 3, also at the Mahaiwe, with "Won't You be My Neighbor," a documentary about Mr. Rogers by Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville and produced by Nicholas Ma, both of whom will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Films and special events are slated for Triplex Cinema and Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield.

All in all, Vickery says, BIFF will screen 28 documentaries, 30 narrative features and 22 short films from 27 countries, among them Syria, Qatar, Brazil, Jordan, Turkey, Iceland, Iran and India.

"It's quite an artistic celebration," Vickery said.

The Pittsfield opener June 1 at the Beacon is "Bad Reputation," a feature-length documentary about legendary rocker Joan Jett, preceded by an opening night party, also at the theater. And, no, Jett will not be there, though not for want of trying.

"We hoped we could bring her here but she'll be on tour in Europe," Vickery said simply.

Vickery saw "American Animals" at Sundance Film Ferstival and says she knew right away she wanted it for BIFF. Based on a true story, "American Animals" is about four college friends who try to engineer the daring heist of some highly valued, tightly guarded books from a college library. "It's brilliant filmmaking [which breaks the conventions of cinematic storytelling]," Vickery said. "It's a fun way to open the festival."

With BIFF's tribute night moving from Saturday to Friday this year, Vickery said the Saturday night slot will be filled with a special event, a first — a live staged reading of Stephen Glantz' screenplay for the upcoming film, "Mumbet," directed and produced by Alethea Root and executive-produced by Octavia Spencer, Jayne Atkinson and Elizabeth Aspenlieder. Former Governor Deval Patrick and State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli are expected to attend the reading which will be performed by various members of the cast and crew and local actors.

"We've never done a screenplay reading before," Vickery said. "It's something we've always wanted to do. 'Mumbet,' with all its local ties, seemed perfect."

Also new this year is a Labor Day weekend event at Bard College at Simon's Rock — "Bollywood in the Berkshires." BIFF will preview the Bollywood festival with a free showing of three Bollywood films — "Aligarh," "Bajirao Mastani" and "Piku" — June 2 at Simon's Rock.

Vickery says she was approached by filmmaker, author, lifestyle expert and cook, Sri Rao, who lives part-time in the Berkshires and is perhaps best known for his cookbook, "Bollywood Kitchen," which Mother Jones describes as "full of easy-to-follow recipes for authentic Indian food — along with suggestions for the perfect Bollywood films to watch while enjoying it."

Returning to BIFF is Tea Talks, a discussion series BIFF launched last year and which proved to be one of BIFF's most popular series, Vickery said.

This year's Tea Talks will include Berkshires filmmaker Cynthia Wade in a discussion preceded by a sneak preview of her new feature-length documentary, "Grit"; and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charles Randolph, joined by artist Gregory Crewdson. The third Tea Talk will be a sneak preview of an award-winning director. "I really can't say anything more," Vickery said.

Other special events:

- GWFF USA's Juried Prize Award for narrative and documentary film-making. This year's jurors are actors Karen Allen, Jayne Atkinson, Scott Cohen, Michel Gil and Peter Reigert; distribution mogul Josh Braun; New York Film Festival director Kent Jones; past Academy president and producer Sid Ganis; and producers Nancy Hult Ganis and Darren Dean. Five films will compete for feature documentary and five for feature narrative. The award carries a $5,000 prize and will be presented June 3 at Allium restaurant in Great Barrington.

- The ninth annual "Next Great Filmmaker" competition kicks off online on Friday. Voting continues through May 30. The winner will be announced June 1 the Beacon Cinema.

- The Seventh annual Filmmakers Summit begins May 31. It is a series of panel discussions, special events and breakout sessions led by industry professionals.

Passes are now on sale. Opening night and $200 passes are sold out.

Single tickets go on sale Friday for BIFF Reel Friends only; Sunday for the general public.

Complete ticket, program and schedule information is available online at biffma.org; by phone at 1-866-811-4111; in person at Triplex Cinema, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Beacon Cinema.




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