Running from October 12-15, 2017, the New Hampshire Film Festival delivered an eclectic collection of films in a quintessential New England setting. Think crisp October weather, a historic downtown, and one screening venue in a charmingly converted barn-like building.
The 17th annual NHFF is a human-scale film festival, with four screening venues within easy walking distance, friendly/helpful volunteers, and reasonable ticket packages. The festival brings out Portsmouth’s best—a historic setting, and craft brews and stellar food choices on every corner—all within an easy drive of Boston.
Beyond an enticing collection of 100-plus films and panels the festival’s standout is its primary venue, the Music Hall, a brilliantly restored 900-seat 1878 theater that is deserving of the term movie palace. Settling into a day of film watching in the Music Hall is a luxurious treat.
Opening the festivities on Thursday night was the Granny Award’s celebration, where filmmakers with ties to New Hampshire were honored with hefty granite awards—recognizing the Granite State’s rocky history. Director Matthew Porterfield’s Sollers Point took best feature narrative, and Zevrey Throwell and Josephine Decker’s Flames earned the best documentary feature award.
Highlights included a behind-the-scenes panel with Michelle MacLaren (a director for Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Deuce) and Sony Picture Television’s Steve Mosko. The pair provided an informed discussion of the impact of streaming services on the film industry—with the binge-watching trend freeing up show creators to build intricate plot lines over multiple seasons. Mosko’s anecdote of selling a story about a terminally ill meth dealer to decision makers was memorable. Mosko recalled a question about how long a show about a terminally ill protagonist could run.
Educational panels focused on New England resources for moviemakers, and short-film tips. The annual comedy panel proved successful again.
“The comedy panel is always popular,” said Nicole Gregg, NHFF executive director. “It brings a welcome bit of levity to the festival. It’s always a highlight.”
Gregg also noted that this year’s after parties, including bashes at the charming Gaslight and Martingale Wharf venues, were particularly lively.
“The parties were huge this year,” she said. “They bring a lot of different demographics together. Locals really embrace the festival and know that it’s a special event. You never know who you are going to meet from the festival.”
Personal favorites included Ryan Sarnowski’s Manlife, a fascinating documentary about an elderly man’s efforts to keep the cult-like Lawson movement alive, and Mathew Heineman’s City of Ghosts, a timely look at the destruction of Raqqa, Syria. The film follows a team of citizen journalist enduring terrifying obstacles to tell the story of Raqqa’s disintegration, illustrating the power of film.
The festival closed with honors to Mathew Lessner’s Automatic at Sea for the Grand Jury Narrative Award and Jacquelyn Mills’ In the Waves for best feature documentary.
Looking to the future, Gregg said she would like to see the creation of a film institute and to build a grant program to support New Hampshire moviemakers. She said the festival’s current size feels right, with convenient venues and a welcoming vibe.
The NHFF is a small, accessible, thoughtfully run festival that is well worth an October weekend for film enthusiasts, and well worth moviemaker submissions. It’s no wonder that submissions have been growing at a rate of about 10 percent per year. MM
New Hampshire Film Festival ran from October 12-15, 2017. For more information, visit their website here.