The inaugural Mystic Film Festival runs Thursday through Sunday
Yes, we all understand that the movie connection between Mystic and pizza will be eternal. Fair enough; no one wants to shortchange the charm and enduring cinematic appeal of "Mystic Pizza."
At the same time, there's certainly plenty of room for more Mystic-centra cinema.
In fact, part-time Mystic resident Shareen Anderson has founded the Mystic Film Festival, and the first annual edition takes place Thursday through Sunday with various panel discussions and events in Mystic Luxury Cinemas and the Mystic & Noank Library.
Comprising five feature films, six feature-length documentaries and 35 short fiction and documentary films from veteran and first-time filmmakers, the festival also includes a red carpet processional and a closing awards ceremony. The opening night film is Shira Levin's "Starfish," a story about grief, healing, friendship, family and the connection between dogs and humans. Lily, a librarian/artist in a small seaside town, is flailing with grief after the recent death of her dog and of her father three years earlier. When her estranged sister calls to ask Lily to watch her teenage daughter for a couple of weeks, an emotional and healing process is set in motion.
Levin and some of the actors from "Starfish," which stars Margaret Curry, Sophia Colon Roosevelt and Christopher McCallister, will be on hand for the celebration and cocktail party.
The other featured full-length movies are "Long Lost," directed by Erik Bloomquist; "The Song Of Sway Lake," directed by Ari Gold; "Human Affairs," directed by Charlie Birns; and "The Iron Orchard," directed by Ty Roberts.
The feature-length documentaries include the closing night screening, David Abel's "Lobster War: The Fight Over the World's Richest Fishing Grounds," which should particularly resonate in this region. Also: "Virgin Blacktop: A New York Skate Odyssey," directed by Charlie Samuels; "Rodents of an Unusual Size," directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer; "Family Meal," directed by Jim O'Connor and John Small; "(Expletive) It, it's Over," directed by Hardeep Giania; and "Stoop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War," directed by Susan Scott.
If undertaking the production of a large film festival seems the sort of project that would require much planning, analysis and forethought, well, that's not exactly how it happened.
"It was more instinctual than market research, to be honest," says Anderson, who works and lives most of the time in Manhattan. "I bought a house in Mystic last year and enjoy the area so much that I thought, 'This is a wonderful place for a boutique, international film festival. It's the sort of thing that needs the right vibe — a supportive, artistic community that's also a tourist destination. And Mystic just felt like the right place."
Not her first fest
Of course, it's not as though Anderson doesn't have any experience. Through her Fort Greene Filmworks company, she's an award-winning filmmaker who has developed and produced a wide range of documentaries and series, including "Trial by Fury: The People v. Scott Peterson," about the collision between the criminal justice system, the media and public opinion; "A Different Country," about five South African teenagers during a year aboad in Europe; "Saving Soweto," which follows the doctors and staff at one of the world's busiest hospitals; and many more.
Plus, she was co-founder and co-director of the annual Jozi Film Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she lived for four years. That fest was conceptualized in similarly romantic fashion.
"They really needed a film festival there," Anderson says, "and it kind of happened the same way. It was instinctual. I loved it so much there, and it was a place where filmmakers needed a platform, and we filled that niche."
Though she's a West Coast native, Anderson was introduced to Mystic in 1990s when her mother and stepfather were living in Westport.
"They took me to Mystic and, from the first moment, I just loved it — and, yes, it was the Mystic of 'Mystic Pizza.' After that, anytime I traveled from New York to Boston, I would stop in Mystic and just walk around and soak it all in. When it became a reality that I could afford a weekend place, Mystic is where I came. I love it here, and this is where I want to be."
As much as Anderson was immediately beguiled by Mystic, the film fest concept came gradually.
"I started exploring and getting to know the area beyond just the beauty, and it was true what I'd heard — that there was an extraordinary number of artists and authors and musicians," she says. "And it made sense that any community that would support that sort of an arts scene would be enthusiastic about a film festival. My instincts were right. I've been made to feel so welcome here and the experience has just been great so far," she says.
Anderson praises Mystic Luxury Cinemas owner William Dougherty and his staff, as well as personnel at Mystic & Noank Library. The feature-length films will screen at the cinemas while the bulk of the shorter works, as well as most of the panel discussions, will take place in the library. For a complete schedule of screenings and activities, access www.mysticfilmfest.com.
Anderson is also appreciative of the numerous civic and private organizations who are working in a sponsorship capacity.
"Not only have all these organizations been enthusiastic and supportive, we all share a vision that we want this to go forward and expand," Anderson says. "After this first one, we'll all sit down and see how to make it a better experience for the audience as well as the filmmakers."
The Mystic Film Festival has no connection to the Moondance Film Festival, a Boulder, Colo. event that, for one year in 2013, relocated to Mystic before returning to Colorado.
As for the films to be shown next week, Anderson selected them herself, and her goal was to present films that were conceptually interesting and well made — "something commercially appealing but also a bit different that what you'd get at the cineplex or flipping through the choices on Netflix. I was looking for independent films or films that maybe haven't yet gotten distribution but that nonetheless stand out. And I think this is a great group of films."
Anderson also aimed for a lot of local connections in terms of themes, story lines or location. She says, "Probably half or more of the films are regional- or Connecticut-based, with a lot of actors or filmmakers also from the area." (See sidebar schedule for local connections.) Though the guest list hasn't been finalized, Anderson says she's hoping for participation at Q&A panels from artists like Connecticut resident Brian Dennehy, who appears in the film "The Song of Sway Lake," screening Friday.
"We'll know more as we get closer," Anderson says. "I think we'll have a good turnout from people whose work is being shown. We're taking baby steps right now, but there are so many talented local artists and international artists who deserve to have their work show. We want to be part of that."
If you go
FIRST ANNUAL MYSTIC FILM FESTIVAL SCHEDULE AND SHOWTIMES
All screenings and events at Mystic Luxury Cinemas, 27 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, or Mystic & Noank Library, 40 Library St., Mystic. Admission varies from donations at Mystic & Noank Library to $12 and $17 at Mystic Luxury Cinemas. Visit mysticfilmfest.com.
Mystic Luxury Cinemas
5:30 p.m. — Opening ceremony and red carpet processional, Mystic Luxury Cinemas
7 p.m. — "Starfish" (filmed in Westbrook, Clinton, Old Saybrook and Madison)
Mystic Luxury Cinemas
2 p.m. — "The Song of Sway Lake"
Mystic & Noank Library
9:30 a.m. — Women in Film panel discussion
11:15 a.m. — Selection of documentary shorts: "Seeking Shelter"; "A Different Script" (film features family from Fairfield who will be in attendence at screening); "Behind the Curtains"; "Fueling Fierce: The Shannon Heil Story"
1:45 p.m. — "Stroop (Poached): Journey into the Rhino Horn War"
4:45 p.m. — Selection of short films: "The Invaders"; "Outlaw"; "Confidence Man"; "The Audit"; "Heimlich"; "The Meteor"; "Gab"; "Four Play"
7:45 p.m. — "Long Lost"
Mystic Luxury Cinemas
2 p.m. — Selected shorts: "The Other Capulet"; "Dear Eloise"; "Viral" (director Olivia Johnson is from Mystic); "Wicked Children"; "Turyn Goes to the Club"; "Selkie"; "Raheel"; "The Busker Kid"; "Double Take"; "Memory Lane"
Mystic & Noank Library
9:30 a.m. — "After the Battle" panel discussion followed by screening of shorts "Samuel David" and "Police Three"
11:15 a.m. — "120 Year"
12:30 p.m. — "The Making of 'Mystic,' a Series Pilot"
1:45 p.m. — "Rodents of an Unusual Size"
3:45 p.m. — "Virgin Blacktop: A New York Skate Odyssey"
6 p.m. — Selection of short fiction: "Room Tome"; "Samuel's Got a Sweet Tooth"; "Fly"; "Animals"; "So Much Rice for So Little Chicken"; "Through the Red Door"; "Smoke Grenade"
8:15 p.m. — "Human Affairs"
Mystic Luxury Cinemas
4 p.m. — "Lobster War"
Mystic & Noank Library
9:30 a.m. — "Cuban Canvas"; "(Expletive) It, It's Over"; "Dear Brother"
11:45 a.m. — Selection of short fiction: "Deer Hunter"; "Tea at 3:33"; "A Ghost in Her Eyes" (lead actress Christia Madacsi is former Mystic resident and will be at screening); "The Gaffer"; "Kiss the Girl"; "Challenge"; "Interference" (director Robin Rose Siger is a Mystic native and will be at screening); "Carro"
2 p.m. — Selection of documentaries: "Arrested (Again)"; "Family Meal" (about three New Haven restaurant families; directors are Quinnipiac University and will be at screening); "Bodega? A David Lee Jaunt"
4 p.m. — "Iron Orchard"
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