WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Williamstown Film Festival returns for its 14th season on Wednesday, Oct. 17, running through Sunday, Oct. 21.
Something new this year is the involvement of Sandra Thomas, executive director of Images Cinema, functioning as a collaborating partner and working with Executive Director Steve Lawson.
That’s not the only difference from past festivals. This year, it will all take place over one long weekend, rather than chopping it up between two consecutive weekends. Thomas says this was intended to focus the energy more, and also work with the community as part of an effort to spread the energy even further than the film screenings.
"We’re connecting with the community in ways that we haven’t done before, so there are some additional things going on," Thomas said. "For instance, Wednesday and Thursday night, prior to the screenings, we’ll have live music at the cinema."
The festival has also arranged for yoga classes from Tasha Yoga, and partnered with Bike North Berkshire for a promotion to encourage riding a bike to the screenings. If the biker brings their helmet with, there will be discounts, including free popcorn at Images Cinema. Other businesses will participate as well, like the Clark Art Institute, Sweets and Beans, and Hops and Vines.
"That actually isn’t just if you’re going to the movies. If you go into any of those businesses that are participating with your bike helmet that weekend, you’ll get a discount," said Thomas. "We’re doing all these other things so, hopefully, people who come to the film festival from out of town get a flavor of what the community is like, and those who are here get to enjoy it, too."
The focus of the festival is, of course, the movies. Community has also been an inspiration in programming this year, with the hope of bringing in different viewers who might not have tried the festival experience before.
The local art scene and foodie community has a chance to come together for the festival’s opening night -- Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. -- for "Dreamscapes," a short documentary about Williamstown painter Stephen Hannock that touches on his involvement with the restaurant world and will culminate in a conversation and tasting party with Chef Tom Colicchio at Mezze.
Of interest to sports fans, the festival will screen "Knuckleball" at Mass MoCa on Friday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. It’s a documentary about the history of that tricky baseball pitch, featuring Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickie. The filmmakers will be on hand with knuckleball legend Jim Bouton to talk about the film.
Thomas says that there is a theme of laughter and family with many of the films being shown this year, and these types of films point to the essence of the role indie films play in modern movie culture.
"I think having films that are entertaining with substance is what indie films are about," she said. "It doesn’t have to all be heavy, thick, depressing movies. There can be light hearted movies that hit the mark, but that aren’t total fluff. I like total fluff, but these resonate with people’s lives in a way that isn’t depressing."
As a great example of this, Thomas points to "Supporting Characters," a film by Daniel Schechter on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 11 a.m., which follows two editors on an indie film grappling with their relationships, including the one with each other and the very temperamental director they are working for.
"It’s fun to see indie films that have both substance and humor, because I think humor is one of the hardest things to convey on screen. It’s a great film. It hits all the bases."
Thomas also thinks "Gayby" is a great example of the vibe the festival has sought to embrace. Directed by and starring Jonathan Lisecki, and screening on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 3 p.m. with an appearance by the director, that film follows college pals -- a straight woman and a gay man -- who make a pact that if at any point in their lives either wants to have a baby, the other will answer that call. One day, that happens.
"It’s another funny movie about relationships and family. When I saw it at a festival, the whole audience was just roaring, and the filmmaker is hilarious."
As with previous years, the festival boasts an array of short films, including "Flirt," by Williamstown native Peter Conforti. There will be a special showing of shorts on Wednesday evening Oct. 17, as well as Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20 and 21, mornings.
"There are some really beautiful short films this year," Thomas said. "When you’re scheduling for a film festival, you’re taking submissions, you’re getting recommendations, you’re going to film festivals, you’re scouting around. This year I think more shorts were selected through the submissions process, which is interesting because anyone can submit, so you never know what you’re going to get."
Other events include a Saturday, Oct. 20, screening of "Arcadia," a feature length adaptation of her own short film by Williams alumna Olivia Silver, who will also make an appearance, and the big event on Saturday night with author Richard Russo, who will speak about adapting novels into film, along with Director Brad Silberling and Author Jim Shepherd.
"I think that there really is something for everyone," Thomas said. "If people haven’t attended a film festival before, it doesn’t have to be a daunting thing to do. They can purchase tickets on line, the events are very easy to attend."
"The Wednesday night shorts night is great to give a flavor of the festival. We’ll have short films from past festivals and new ones for this festival to give people an idea of what it’s all about and hopefully spark some interest in coming to more films."
For more information, visit williamstownfilmfest.com.