Film Fest New Haven kicked off its 10th year Thursday night, presenting films from around the world, while also mourning the loss of long-time supporter York Square Cinema, which closed this summer.
Film Fest, an independent film festival that takes place every September and which will continue through Sunday, opened with a reception at Criterion Cinemas on Temple Street, drawing a crowd of approximately 75 community members and featured filmmakers. This year, the festival, recognized for its intimate setting which allows audience members to interact with filmmakers, will be smaller than in previous years, showing only 30 films and focusing on local movies.
From its humble beginnings with 18 films on a single screen, the festival drew up to 4,000 people for 100 films at its peak. Organizers this year were unable to give an estimate for the number of filmgoers expected over the next few days, but Melissa Bisagni, the new artistic director, said she expects it to be smaller than in the past, largely due to the closing of York Square. The Criterion, which opened last year, has stepped in to fill the void.
“The festival is off to a new start, and so are we,” said Joe Masher, the general manager of Bow-Tie Cinemas, which owns the Criterion.
The theater has donated two screens to the festival, and will be showing several films a day through Sunday.
The festival will have a stronger focus on Connecticut filmmakers, with 22 of the approximately 30 total films created by local artists.
“It’s not the international competitive film festival that we have had in the past,” said Nina Adams, the former artistic director of the festival.
In addition, some of the most popular films from past years will be showing in a retrospective celebrating the 10th anniversary of the festival. One of these films is the animated short film “The Box,” directed by Stefan Gronsky, which premiered at Film Fest five years ago. Gronsky called it “a funny surprise” to be back in New Haven.
The Thursday night opening film, “The Dying Gaul,” stars Patricia Clarkson DRA ’85 and was written and directed by Craig Lucas, who is familiar with the New Haven arts scene. Lucas’ directorial debut took place at the Long Wharf Theatre, where he directed the play “The Singing Forest.”
Film Fest obtained the rights to the movie, which was nominated for a Dramatic Grand Jury Award at Sundance this year, after pursing it actively for some time, in what Adams calls “a fabulous coup.”
Several of the other films in the program also involve Yale graduates, including “Favela Rising,” a documentary co-produced and co-directed by Matthew Mochary ’90, and “A New Haven,” an animated short by Roland Becerra ART ’01.
Although Connecticut films dominate the festival lineup, there are also films from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, India and Cuba. Bisagni said this diversity is crucial to a well-rounded festival.
“It’s about hearing stories from people all over,” she said, “no matter if it’s a story that takes place in Crown Street here in New Haven or, you know, in the deserts of Mexico.”
Locally, Film Fest has had a significant effect on the New Haven community over the last decade, both benefiting from and contributing to the flourishing arts scene.
“It’s more than just going to a movie,” Adams said. “It’s also a local event.”