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Green Mountain Film Festival returns to the silver screen after a pandemic pause

A old screen movie theater sign from Capitol movie theater that reads   " Green MTN Film Festival March 14-17"
Green Mountain Film Festival
Montpelier's Capitol Theater.

Since 1997, Vermonters have flocked to Montpelier for the Green Mountain Film Festival, which showcases work from around the world. But in 2020, the festival was forced to pause due to COVID-19. Organizers took that time to redevelop the festival, which opens today for the first time in five years.

Vermont Public's Nathaniel Wilson spoke with Green Mountain Film Festival programmer Sam Kann about what's in store for audiences this year. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Nathaniel Wilson: Festivals around the country are getting a big push from filmmakers to hold in-person screenings coming out of the pandemic. How does it feel to actually be able to gather in-person, in theater seats for an event like this?

A selfie of person with medium length,magenta colored hair looking slightly downwards at the camera.  The picture is taken outside where the wind gently blows their hair and they wear a white puffer coat.
Green Mountain Film Festival
Green Mountain Film Festival Programmer Sam Kann

Sam Kann: It's truly the best. I strongly believe that art and cinema is meant to be experienced in community and in-person. The feeling of being in a packed theater and watching a film for the first time altogether is unlike anything else. I'm really excited, not only for people to see the film, but also for the conversations that happened afterwards in the lobbies at dinner afterwards. I really think that's how film is able to best reach audiences and transform people in communities.

Nathaniel Wilson: What kind of changes have been instituted since the festival took a pause in 2019?

Sam Kann: There's a lot that's still the same. We're still based out of the Savoy [Theater]. but we've also expanded to the Capitol. Now we're operating on three screens, which is really, really exciting.

Other than that, it's a new team. We've got a new board and a new executive director. I'm new as the festival programmer. We were working off of the really warm legacy that Green Mountain Film Festival has in the community, but reinventing it in new and awesome ways. We knew historically, the festival had always played incredible documentary and international films, helmed by Rick Winston. So, continuing that legacy and also striving to expand and really push the festival to be diverse, current and bringing the best of world cinema to Montpelier and Vermont.

Nathaniel Wilson: You mentioned it a little bit there — but what does this festival mean to the Montpelier community?

Sam Kann: It's incredible to see so many folks, who have come up to me and the other people who are working for GMFF, just like glowing. I think particularly this year — with the flood, the amount the community went through with that and the resiliency that the community has shown, having a celebratory event come back is really, really special and beloved.

Nathaniel Wilson: When programming the festival, what kind of stories or experiences do you aim to bring to Vermonters?

Sam Kann: I focus both really close and really far. What I mean by that is — it was important for me to have Vermont stories. We have youth media showcase, a film slam and Vermont shorts block. A lot of work that is really near to to Vermont, and then also to go as far as possible and really bring in stories that, like I was saying before , otherwise wouldn't reach this community.

I think people don't necessarily know that there are are hundreds of films that get made every year that for one reason or another usually because they're not deemed as as commercial as other films. They don't reach your local cinema. Often, those stories are told by smaller filmmakers. So, us also wanting to bring more experimental more diverse, more wide-ranging stories to our community as well.

Nathaniel Wilson: What are some films in this year's lineup that audiences should have on their radar?

Sam Kann: There's really something for everyone, but there's a couple movies I'll highlight.

We have JOONAM, this fantastic documentary by a local filmmaker here, Sierra Urich. She grew up in Bristol, and it's a film she made with her mother and grandmother. She's an Iranian-American filmmaker, and it's really her understanding her cultural past.

I'd also highlight I Saw the TV Glow by Jean Schoenbrun. It's a fantastic trans-horror film that's really genre bending about two high school misfits who bond over a shared love of a Buffy the Vampire-inspired television show.

I'd also highlight Three Promises. It's a fantastic Palestinian documentary. It's composed entirely of found footage. The filmmaker's mother filmed him and his sister during the early 2000s, during this response to the Second Intifada. He repurposed that footage into a documentary, and it's just a small slice of a mother's love in a war zone. I just can't imagine a more relevant film given the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Those are a couple of recommendations I have. I'd really encourage folks to check out our entire lineup. We have everything from narratives, documentaries, animated films, restorations and short films, so something for everyone.

Nathaniel Wilson: And there are some non-film events that are being held alongside the films in the festival this year. Can you talk some about those?

Sam Kann: We have a Vermont Black farmers panel, as part of the Farming While Black documentary. We have a video-art gallery at the chrome factory, which is a new space in Montpelier. At this gallery, we have nine video, art pieces by seven artists, international artists. Then DJ sets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival. Those are just a couple of our of our non-film events or other events that are part of the festival.

Women is outside with the forest behind her. She stands in the center of the photo, holding a shovel over her shoulder and wearing overalls and big, circle, silver earrings.
Green Mountain Film festival
Farming while Black, a documentary film by Mark Decena

Nathaniel Wilson: Throughout the pandemic, online screenings for film festivals increased in popularity. And we'll see that this year at the Green Mountain Film Festival. Why is this an important addition to the festival experience?

Sam Kann: This was really something we worked with All Brains Belong on. The hope was that by doing an online screening we would be able to reach audiences who have other needs. It's really an accessibility thing for us. We want everyone who wants to watch movies to have the chance to be part of this community event. We understand that there are various accessibility needs and neurological needs in the community. That's why we were really excited about having a virtual screening.

The Green Mountain Film Festival starts Thursday, March 14 and runs through Sunday, March 17th.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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