The second annual Greenwich International Film Festival, which ran like a well-oiled popcorn machine from June 9-12, 2016, has secured newbie Greenwich, Connecticut a place alongside the established heavy-hitters on the international film festival stage.
Greenwich. Yeah, I know—fusty, white-shoe, old-money, “Muffy, bring the rolls around” Greenwich, CT. In this case the “rolls” were as in “camera,” as in “action”—which this four-day, talent-saturated, thought- provoking, scene-making festival delivered. Enough to make any hedge fund titan loosen his tie and stay a while.
The GIFF founders are three well-connected local women who rolled up their sleeves over dinner one night a few years back to discuss attracting Cannes-level films to this leafy, coastal enclave. “We wanted to bring in films with one goal in mind—to have people walk away believing they’d learned something,” said founder Colleen deVeer. (The co-founders are Carina Crain and Wendy Reyes.)
Trudie Styler, Rob Burnett, John Turturro, Kristin Davis, Kathie Lee-Gifford, Freida Pinto, Abigail Breslin, Harry Benson, John Popper, Nick Kroll, Dar Williams, Paul Shaffer and Will Arnett were GIFF’s visiting luminaries this year. Throughout the festival they were on hand to host more than 80 events, receive humanitarian and industry awards, and anchor events such as “Women at the Top: Female Empowerment in Media,” “LOL: The Big Business of Comedy,” the standing room-only “From Book to Screen,” a Jewish film series and the Changemakers Gala, a humanitarian awards ceremony.
According to Reyes, “half of our programming falls under our social impact focus, and emphasizes our mission to ‘harness the power of film to serve the greater good.’“
And good it was. Stellar, in fact. The 51 selections explored themes including human rights, cyberbullying, gun control, religion, the environment, disabilities, mental health and forced migration.
The festival’s Best Social Impact Award for documentary went to Hooligan Sparrow. Director Nanfu Wang turns his camera—and a hidden eyeglass camera—into an exculpation on human rights abuses that pervade Chinese society and the Communist party. On a more local level, it was a sad twist that Newtown, a searing documentary by director Kim Snyder about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting of 26 first-graders and educators, premiered here almost to the day of the Orlando, Florida massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Newtown lithely weaves violence and heartbreak into an even-handed treatment of tragedy’s aftermath and how a town struggles, as Orlando will, to cope with an infamous legacy.
Harry Benson: Shoot First chronicles Benson’s storied career as a celebrated photographer of the famous, rich and beleaguered. Renowned for his unguarded and candid photographs of the Beatles, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Michael Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol et al, Benson is an 86-year-old living legend of American pop history.
Following the screening, we caught a gallery reception in his honor, with a well-curated retrospective of his photography. Between canapés, Benson reminisced about his youth as a Royal Airforce cook and his first camera, a Coronet Cub. “It was a piece of shit,” he said, “so I pawned it to buy a suit, to get a girl.” It was unclear as to whether “the girl” was his wife of 47 years, Gigi, who was standing nearby—but before I could ask, he changed the subject. Gesturing toward the iconic Beatles Pillow Fight, Paris photograph hanging in the front window, he whispered, “That’s my favorite. It put me on the map.”
Looks like GIFF and that photograph have something in common. MM
Katherine Moran Sullivan is a writer based in Fairfield, Connecticut.