Moviegoers will have a unique slate of pictures to choose from at the Essex Cinemas later this month, all part of the 21st annual Green Mountain Film Festival’s first venture into Chittenden County.
The cinema will play host to 21 alternative movies over 10 days, starting with “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” on Friday night. The offerings give a scaled back taste of the expansive GMFF held concurrently in Montpelier.
Eric Reynolds, who became Essex Cinemas general manager last year, was the first to propose the local festival spinoff. A Montpelier resident, he’s worked closely with GMFF for years.
Reynolds said he’s especially excited to bring the smaller budget documentaries and foreign films to the big screen, noting many portray current events through a humanitarian lens.
“[The movies] just sort of open peoples’ eyes to a wider world and what human beings are struggling with and persevering through in other parts of the world,” Reynolds said. “They give people a better sense of the world community.”
Plus, he said the movies offer a window for Essex viewers to discuss difficult topics with neighbors. One documentary, “Life After Life,” follows three men who have spent most of their lives incarcerated in the San Quentin State Prison.
After folks watch the prisoners’ quest to carve out space in the outside world, they can stay for a panel discussion about restorative justice, GMFF executive director Karen Dillon said.
“Even though the film is set in San Francisco … the questions the film raises are just as pertinent for us in Vermont as anywhere else,” Dillon said. “Especially now, the world needs empathy.”
Most people don’t conflate movie watching with community bonding, Dillon noted, but viewing a flick together (even in darkened silence) connects an otherwise disconnected group of people through a shared experience.
That will be reinforced, in several cases, by interactive activities after the showings conclude.
A married couple will also host a post-movie Q&A on their film “Sweet Parents,” a drama that examines the relationship between an aspiring sculptor and struggling young chef in New York, on Friday, March 23.
“That gives us insight into media that we often are missing,” Dillon said. “We don’t often get the point of view that this was made by two really young people who wanted to say something.”
The Essex festival closes with a talkback on “The Summer of Walter Hacks” with Vermont filmmaker George Woodard on Sunday, March 25.
Very few of the movies at the Essex GMFF will play in other mainstream theaters across the country, Dillon said. A few don’t even have a distribution plan for the North American market.
That happens for a variety of reasons, Dillon said. Plainly, some American viewers are very resistant to watch a movie with subtitles.
“Our media streams are quite specific in North America,” Dillon explained. “These are really worthy, award-winning foreign films that simply aren’t deemed economically viable for the North American market.”
There’s one movie both Reynolds and Dillon are especially thrilled to see flash across the cinemas’ massive T-Rex theater: “Take Every Wave,” a documentary about big wave surfer Laird John Hamilton.
“Those big, giant waves rolling over the big giant screen — I think that’s going to be a lot of fun to watch,” Reynolds said.
For a full list of the Green Mountain Film Festival movies playing at Essex Cinemas and to buy tickets, visit http://bit.ly/2FLEbRM.