The Motherlode: Gearing up for the GIFF — you don’t want to miss these films
OK, so last year around this time, I found myself chatting with Quinn Shepard, a young woman who had directed, written, produced, edited and starred in the movie “Blame.”
The film blew me away. It was about a high school production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and how the play reflected the adolescent dynamics within a suburban high school. I had seen the film at Bow Tie Cinema on Railroad Avenue, and attended a reception at a store around the corner.
And get this: Quinn’s mother, Laurie, worked as her partner through the whole process, from when the film was a mere idea right through to final production. Mother and daughter co-produced the film. Talk about the Motherlode. When I asked Laurie about it, she made clear that she was Quinn’s biggest fan and had a unique ability to work alongside her daughter because she was her mom.
So here I am, inspired about motherhood and suddenly seriously considering my 7-year-old daughter’s idea to make a film about unicorns.
That is what the Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) is all about. Each year our town turns into Sundance, as people are shuttled to and from local venues seeing films they otherwise never would. Filmmakers and cast members walk our streets, like mere mortals, as they attend parties, Q&A’s, receptions, and chat with us about their work. I get completely immersed in the world of film making — all while keeping my eye on the clock for pick-up Dance Adventure.
During the festival last year, I had my husband and a babysitter on call for the entire weekend. I was not alone. Except for the kid’s screening of “Captain Underpants,” I was pretty much surrounded by crowds of other film fans the entire weekend.
“Oh yeah, this is like a vacation for me,” one friend confided. “ It’s like I’ve re-emerged into an old identity for the weekend. Plus, there are dark rooms, popcorn, movie stars — and you can go to the bathroom by yourself.”
And then there are the parties. Remember those? I slam danced with the Lily Pulitzer crowd to someone called Flo Rida last year until I could barely walk. By the end of the weekend my voice was shot, my legs were rubbery, my eyes were bleary and I was overjoyed - even if I missed out on the vitamin B shots the festival’s heavy hitters supposedly were getting every morning.
I was surrounded by Greenwich friends and astonishing artists, all talking about cinematic themes and film-making at its best. The whole town seemed transformed. I remember looking up Greenwich Avenue and thinking it could be Cannes and not the street where I negotiated spending limits for my daughter at Claire’s Fashion Jewelry and Accessories. OK, the food is probably better in southern France, too.
The films were international, handpicked and truly phenomenal. These were movies I would never have seen or known about if I hadn’t attended the festival. There were narrative features, documentaries, short films, short documentaries — even “Connecticut shorts,” which sounded suspiciously like Bermuda shorts.
I saw a movie from Austria called “Under Pressure” about a mother who is an obstetrician-gynecologist and suddenly is faced with a dilemma of performing an elective abortion. I couldn’t get the film out of my head. And then I saw a narrative short in German with subtitles: Port Chester AMC felt an ocean away.
It’s important to point out that the festival was started by mothers. They now run it while juggling their kids and home life, for a salary that barely covers childcare.
“Yeah, I’m exhausted” one of them told me recently.
These ladies know how to enroll their kids into Greenwich Youth Lacrosse while booking “A Woman Captured,” a Hungarian film about a domestic slave, for this year’s festival. I’ve got my eye on “Chef Flynn,” the story of a 10-year-old who decides to turn his living room into a supper club. Actually, you could just come over to my house to witness that kind of thing. Or the one on domestic slave labor, come to think of it.
You can get passes and party tickets through the GIFF website, but the schedule is online and you can go see some films a la carte. The films on my list this year include “We the Animals,” “1985,” “Eighth Grade,” “General Wealth,” “Madeline’s Madeline” and “Three Identical Strangers.” I want to try to see all of them — with or without those vitamin B shots.
So grab a friend, your partner, a child, or a film star and go to the movies Thursday, May 31, through Sunday, June 3. Mother to mother, film lover to film lover, and friend to friend, this is one of those Greenwich events you won’t want to miss.
Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.