The first Mystic Film Festival showcases movies, discussions
The inaugural Mystic Film Festival has kicked off with a screening of a movie shot primarily in Westbrook and with a panel discussion focusing on women in film.
The fest, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday, was created by Shareen Anderson, a filmmaker who is based in Manhattan and lives part-time in Mystic.
At the start of the festivities on Thursday night, Anderson spoke about what a local film festival like this is about: “screening local films and uplifting the community and helping local filmmakers, and showing interesting films, films that you don’t necessarily get to see on Netflix or on your television.”
More than 50 movies are being featured over the four days in Mystic, including fictional pieces and documentaries. These independent works are made by people from Connecticut and from much farther afield.
The range and reach of the festival is exemplified in the schedule for Saturday alone, which includes the documentary short “120 Years” directed by Matt Nadel about Scott Lewis, a New Haven resident sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, at 11:15 a.m. at Mystic & Noank Library, followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers; a selection of short films from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Mystic Luxury Cinemas and 6 to 8 p.m. at the library; and the drama “Human Affairs” by Charlie Birns, about a young theater couple who meet their surrogate mother, at 8:15 p.m. at the library.
“Keep supporting your local movie theaters and your local filmmakers,” Anderson encouraged Thursday’s attendees.
Red-carpet arrivals on Thursday at Mystic Luxury Cinemas were followed by the screening of “Starfish,” Shira Levin’s work that was made mostly in Westbrook, where the New York-based Levin has a weekend home. It’s a drama flecked with comedy about a middle-aged woman named Lily who is struggling with grief over the recent death of her beloved rescue dog and with guilt over the death, several years earlier, of her father. She starts re-engaging more with life when her 14-year-old niece comes to stay; they haven’t seen each other in three years because of an estrangement between Lily and her sister.
Levin — who was assistant to the vice president of production and who managed the story department at Universal Pictures (New York) for two years and who was later director of development for Martin Scorsese’s company Cappa Productions for six years — and actors Margaret Curry, Linnette Roe and Sophia Colon Roosevelt from “Starfish” were on hand to talk about the movie and to answer questions from theater-goers.
Curry, who plays Lily, liked that the main character was a woman in mid-life — not a 20-year-old — and because it was about friendship and family, not about finding a man. She said, too, that she always is drawn to stories about people who are ordinary and who are going through something that, from the outside, might seem ordinary but are actually beautiful and heroic.
Levin said the impetus for the story was the death of one of her dogs and the death of her father. She wanted to talk about grief and noted that the original title for the piece was actually “Good Grief.”
As for shooting “Starfish” in Westbrook, Levin said, “I wrote it for Westbrook because I knew I could get my house for free.”
Beyond that, she knew the locations — the beach and the library in Westbrook, Maynard Greenhouse in Old Saybrook — that she wanted to use.
“I think it really helped me when I was writing to visualize where I was going to be (filming),” she said.
Levin and Curry also were part of the “Women in Film” panel discussion held Friday morning at Mystic & Noank Library. Also on hand were Lindsay Thompson, a documentary filmmaker based in Bridgeport (her documentaries include one about the Camino pilgrimage in Spain), and Trish Clark, who is a filmmaker and chief executive officer of The Nutmeg Institute, which aims to educate the new generation of storytellers and helps Connecticut filmmakers network.
The topics they talked about ranged from internships (they recommended them highly, and Levin said that one of her interns is now a big producer in Los Angeles) to the challenges of fundraising.
They spoke about working with female producers and directors and on productions that had more than the usual number of women. Curry said that “Starfish” was “a particularly special” experience, with the female-driven story, the personal connections, the number of women involved and with Levin at the helm. “Whoever’s at the top of the project, that vibe, that tone trickles down,” she said.
They said they feel they are on the cusp of more female stories — and, the hope is, of females of all ages.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, some white men who had been major movers and shakers in the industry have been ousted, and there seems to be a move toward more inclusion, with more voices being heard.
“Change is slowly coming,” Clark said.
The founding of the festival
Mystic Film Festival founder Anderson bought a house in town last year and thought Mystic, especially with the number of artists living in the area, would be a perfect site for “a boutique, international film festival.”
(The Mystic Film Festival, by the way, isn’t related to the Moondance Film Festival, which is based in Colorado but held in Mystic in 2013.)
Anderson knows about both filmmaking and creating festivals. With her Fort Greene Filmworks company, she has developed and produced an array of documentaries and series. When Anderson was living in South Africa for four years, she helped establish a film festival there, too.
On Thursday in Mystic, Anderson told the crowd, “I hope there will be a second and a third and a fourth (Mystic Film Festival).”
The festival continues through Sunday, with events at Mystic Luxury Cinemas and the Mystic & Noank Library. Screenings at Mystic Luxury Cinemas range from $12 to $17. Donations are accepted for events at the library. For a detailed schedule, visit mysticfilmfestival.com.