The Greenwich International Film Festival takes off

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Photographs courtesy The Greenwich International Film Festival.

 

Greenwich is known for many things — palatial homes, chic boutiques, waterfront views, celebrated restaurants, even polo.

Film, however, isn’t one of them.

Until now.

Three entrepreneurs — Carina Crain, Colleen deVeer and Wendy Reyes Stapleton — are blending the worlds of film, finance and philanthropy in the inaugural Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF), which runs June 4 through 7 at various venues throughout town. The festival’s opening night party on June 5 features the local premiere of Colin Hanks’ “All Things Must Pass,” a documentary about Tower Records’ success and demise.

“The film has a very broad generational appeal, which is great for our audience,” says Colleen deVeer, co-founder of GIFF. “We wanted a film that people in their teens and people in their late 70s would appreciate and would give them the opportunity to learn the history of the meteoric rise and tragic fall of the Tower Records brand.”

In all there will be 31 entries in the festival, founded in 2013 to celebrate Greenwich’s visual arts community.

“There was interested capital here that had not been tapped by the filmmaking community,” says Reyes Stapleton, co-founder of GIFF. “There are people in town who are interested in investing in films but just don’t have access to (them) in their backyards. We thought this was a great opportunity to start showcasing emerging filmmakers and be able to support them.”

The philanthropic arm of the festival is GIFF’s partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which represents the charity’s first-ever collaboration with a film festival. UNICEF, which helps children in more than 190 countries and territories, is receiving a portion of GIFF’s proceeds from screenings of the video initiative “theoneminutesJr.,” which enables underprivileged 12- to 20-year-olds from around the world to create one-minute films about their lives.

“Greenwich is one of the most philanthropic towns in the country, and film is an incredibly powerful tool to spread different social messages,” Reyes Stapleton says. “We thought that it was very important to kind of weave that throughout our whole festival.”
Videos from the program are being shown throughout the four-day event.

“We intersperse these films with our regular programming of the festival weekend,” she adds. “Through the film festival, we are basically able to give these children a very loud voice, so that’s an exciting component of it.”

The entries fall into four different categories — documentaries, narrative shorts, features and social effect. Eleven shorts and features on such topics as mental illness, cystic fibrosis, homelessness and autism are competing for The Bresnan Award for Social Impact, a $10,000 prize.

Features represent countries around the world, including Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Scotland and the United States.

Also included in the festival are three filmmakers who are Greenwich natives — Paul Dalio, director of “Mania Days,” about two people who fall in love in a psychiatric hospital; Luke Lorentzen, director of “Santa Cruz del Islote,” about a densely populated island in Cartagena, Colombia; and David Levine, director of “I Smile Back,” about a suburban homemaker who struggles with mental illness.
The festival features nearly 70 different events throughout the weekend, including the opening night party, a VIP lounge, panels, workshops and a June 6 “Changemaker Gala,” hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford, that will recognize Mia Farrow and Harry Belafonte for using film to better people’s lives.

The panels include “Changing Face of Television,” “Social Impact,” “Inside Film-Making,” “Sports Guys On Sports” and a “Children’s Acting Workshop,” with guest appearances from Disney Channel’s “Austin & Jessie & Ally” stars, teaching children the tricks of the trade while parents enjoy the film experience.

The founders anticipate 10,000 participants for GIFF’s first year, with $4 million going into the town’s coffers. Many restaurants on Greenwich Avenue are also participating in the GIFF festivities by offering small meals between screenings. The founders hope to make this an annual event as well as hold pop-up screenings every three months.

“We are really immensely proud of the depth and breadth of the program and feel it will really inspire the community and impact social change,” deVeer says.

For more information, including tickets and event schedules, visit greenwichfilm.org.

For information about the charity, visit unicefusa.org.

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