Movies that Matter
The Monadnock International Film Festival
This year’s Monadnock International Film Festival, or MONIFF, features 10 feature films, evenly split between narratives and documentaries. Though MONIFF is not a film festival that chooses its movies with a theme each year, the lineup is chosen with the festival’s tagline in mind: Movies matter.
Laina Barakat, the Executive Director of MONIFF, said in an interview Monday that this year’s films all have something to say. Whether its a documentary peering into the effect of music on those with dementia, like in “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” or a documentary honoring the human rights advocate and lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who introduced the word “genocide” to describe mass slaughter as a crime against humanity.
But before the main event of the main film screenings, MONIFF will be celebrating some filmmakers with close ties to the community.
This year, the festival is expanding outside its original confines of Keene, to stretch into Peterborough and Jaffrey. In a section called “Local Look,” MONIFF will be showcasing a documentary, narrative film and multiple shorts which have connections to the New Hampshire area. MONIFF is partnering with the Peterborough Players Theatre and the Park Theatre in Jaffrey to show both a shorts program and full-length films in those locations on April 4 through April 6.
“The Hunter’s Head”
Among the shorts submitted is “The Hunter’s Head,” a drama directed by Hancock native Colin Havey, who now works in the film industry in Los Angeles, Calif., and produced by his father, Michael Havey, who still resides in Hancock.
While his son has experience with multiple types of productions, including dramatic narratives, “The Hunter’s Head” was a departure from the norm for him, said Michael Havey in an interview on Monday. In the past, said Havey, his production company, Yasvin Communications, has only produced documentaries and commercials. “The Hunter’s Head,” however, is an adaptation of a short story written by Ben Loory. The story takes place in a distant hunter and gatherer society — whether it takes place in the far future or far past is not clear — in a remote forest village. One day a hunter comes back carrying a severed human head. None of the villagers dare to approach the head — except for one boy.
One of the things that was attractive about the short was that the story was so unique, Havey said.
“When you go to film festivals, most of the shorts and features are mainly about relationship issues. That seems to be a predominant theme. This short story struck us as being so unusual — it’s the kind of story you’re unable to get out of your head. It’s a very unusual topic to jump into.”
It’s the kind of film that viewers really only get to see in venues like MONIFF, he added. “You would never see these films outside of a festival. That’s the great thing about a festival like this. You get to see some fun stuff you’d never see otherwise.”
The story seemed to suck in everyone involved in the project in a similar way, said Havey. Though they were only able to pay a production designer to be on set for a single day, he stayed for 10. When they needed CGI, they were able to snag a professional in the industry to do it in his spare time.
“Everybody, cast and crew were so into the weirdness of the story, and what an unusual scene we were in,” said Havey.
Barakat noted that “The Hunter’s Head” was one of the films she was looking forward to the most in the “Local Look” category. Few films in a festival can take on that setting and subject matter and carry it off with high production values without relying on heavy gore, she said — “The Hunter’s Head” manages it.
“With “Hunter’s Head” they walk a really fine line walking that fantastical, gruesome elements. We have the rare opportunity to include that genre this year, and visually it’s just stunning,” said Barakat.
“They Come at Night”
Another local that was trying his hand for the first time at a narrative piece is Alex Mallis, a Keene native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., who co-directed “They Came at Night,” a film about the reintegration of former members of militant movement in Africa known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. One of the many movements in opposition to the LRA is attempts to get soldiers within the group to defect, said Mallis in a phone interview Tuesday. But often those that do are met with hostility when they attempt to reintegrate into their society.
The narrative film delves into the themes of forgiveness, using a script developed after dozens of interviews with people from villages affected by the LRA. Set in the bush of Congo, an abducted child soldier flees from the Lord’s Resistance Army and encounters a local hunter who must decide whether or not to risk his own life to help him escape.
Mallis was invited onto the film first for his technical expertise by his friend, and fellow director of the film, Andrew Ellis. “I was basically called up about a week before the project, and [Ellis] said, “‘Are you available to go to Africa next week for a month?’” Mallis recalled. He jumped at the opportunity, and from there, things happened very quickly for him, he said. Within a week, he, Ellis, and the film’s writer and producer Lindsay Branham were in Africa. Branham had previously partnered with a local non-profit there called Discover the Journey, and contacts there had been gathering local first-time actors to participate in the film, so within hours of landing, the filmmakers were in casting auditions, and by that afternoon, they were scouting locations.
“It was incredible,” said Mallis. “I remember we were doing a test shoot, just a shot of someone running through the bush, and we did one take. When [Ellis and I] looked at the playback, it was striking. We were in the middle of the jungle in Africa. A week ago, I was in my apartment in Brooklyn.”
Though the filmmakers have shared the film with Western audiences, it was created for those in the communities that have been directly affected by the atrocities of the LRA, said Mallis.”This film was created and screened for local audiences,” said Mallis. “Any screening for a Western audience, is just added value. It wasn’t in the original intent. This film was created with collaboration with locals, cast with locals, and screened locally, and that was the primary intent.”
Preceding the shorts program on April 4, will be a documentary entitled “Fred,” which follows presidential candidate Fred Karger during his 2010 campaign. Karger, the first openly gay candidate to run for the office, spent much of his campaign in the primary state, and Peterborough and Keene were prime campaigning ground, he said in an interview Tuesday. Places like the Peterboro Diner, the Toadstool Bookshop, and Margarita’s in Keene were all regular stops for him, he said.
“[Showing the film there] is really full circle for me,” said Karger.
When Karger, a political manager, decided to run for office, he contacted a filmmaker he had worked with previously to do a short documentary on saving a historical Laguna Beach gay bar, and asked if he would be willing to document Karger’s presidential run. When the film was finished, a single hour cut together from hundreds of hours of campaigning and dozens of interviews, he was almost afraid to watch it, he said.
“I was very nervous about seeing the film,” he said. “ When I did, I was so surprised at the humor and emotion of film.” The film uses five or six interviews, mostly with young adults, to narrate the film, and it was their emotions that have the most impact, and exemplify what he was trying to do with the film, Karger said.
“The main message of this, especially for young people, is to let them know, if you’re growing up LGBT, there are no limits. You can run for president. You can do whatever you want to do,” said Karger.
MONIFF will screen “Fred,” followed by a Question and Answer session at the Peterborough Player’s Theatre at 6:30 p.m. on April 4. Tickets are $10. The screening will be followed by the screeening of the Local Look shorts program, starting at 8 p.m. on April 4. Tickets are $10. On April 6, MONIFF will screen “Cinemastasia” on the foundation of the Park Theatre in Jaffrey. A reception will be held at 4:30 p.m., and the screening will take place at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the film screening, or $25 for the film screening and reception. For questions, location details and ticket information, visit monifff.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 757-3929.