Greenwich International Film Festival shifts to virtual format during coronavirus pandemic
The show must go on.
That’s the philosophy of the Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF), which due to the pandemic has switched to a virtual format for its sixth annual event.
Online subscribers will be able to access 29 films, including feature-length movies, documentaries and Connecticut-connected shorts, from May 1-3. They also will have access to video messages and online panel discussions with filmmakers. Later this year, in-person events such as a gala and additional screenings and panels are expected to take place.
Ginger Stickel, GIFF executive director, said the decision to move forward with this year’s festival was made in mid-March, after all programming and locale details had been finalized for a physical festival set to begin in late April.
“Our goal is to make it as user-friendly as possible for the general public and filmmakers,” Stickel said of the virtual approach.
This can be particularly important for filmmakers, who are allowing their “passion projects” to be accessed on a platform unfamiliar to them. “It’s important to have a secure environment that filmmakers have complete trust in,” she said.
For subscribers, the new format offers more flexibility than having to attend screenings at special times and locations. “People can log in when convenient for them” and watch from the comfort of their homes, Stickel said.
The three-day festival includes films from eight countries. Many focus on societal issues such as bullying, sex abuse, suicide, post-traumatic stress syndrome, psychiatric drug impact, criminal justice and family relationships.
The nonprofit GIFF was founded by all women, has an all-female staff and seeks to highlight topics involving human rights, education, the environment and health care.
“Bastards’ Road” directed by Brian Morrison
“Bullied” directed by Thomas Keith
“Driven to Abstraction” directed by Daria Price
“The Euphoria of Being” directed by Réka Szabó
“For Walter and Josiah” directed by Jamie Elias
“The Hoy Boys” directed by Dave Simonds
“Medicating Normal” directed by Lynn P. Cunningham
“Music Got Me Here” directed by Susan Koch
“A Peloton of One” directed by Steve Mallorca and John Bernardo
“Women of Earth” directed by Isadora Carneiro
“Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” directed by Andrew Goldberg
“Another Year Together” directed by Dan Simon
“The Bellmen” directed by Cameron Fife
“The Black Emperor of Broadway” directed by Arthur Egeli
“Family Matters” directed by Stanley Kolk
“High Tide” directed by Verónica Chen
“Team Marco” directed by Julio Vincent Gambuto
“Time Is Precious” directed by Miguel Molina
“Woman of the Photographs” directed by Takeshi Kushida
“Caro in 10 Minutes” directed by Caroline Johnson
“Conviction” directed by Jia Wertz
“Elvis” directed by Connor Rog
“Greta” directed by Sparkman Clark
“Mommy’s Nightmare” directed by Jonathan Wayne Napolitano
“Morning Mourning” directed by Dana Greenfield
“The Old Man” directed by Devin Peluso
“The Other Side” directed by Josh Leong
“This Body Has No Text” directed by Sophie Bardos
“Wax Paul Now” directed by Val Bodurtha, Rebecca Shaw and Sophie Mann
“Our lineup of films will inspire viewers,” Stickel said. “We love to entertain but our primary focus is promoting positive change.”
Half the featured directors this year are women. “We place an emphasis on seeking out and supporting female talent,” Stickel said.
The festival’s year-round events traditionally attract about 10,000 people, including celebrities, film distributors, prospective financiers and film industry rising stars.
The top GIFF award for Best Social Impact Film Award comes with a $10,000 prize. Other awards are for Best Connecticut Shorts Film and, based on subscribers’ votes, the Audience Award.
Arthur Egeli, director of the feature “The Black Emperor of Broadway,” said he’s impressed with all the work done by festival organizers to put together the virtual format. “If this is the new normal, I’m in,” he said.
Egeli’s film is about Charles Gilpin, a black actor who achieved theatrical fame and respect in the 1920s despite bigotry but remains largely unknown today. Gilpin’s career went downhill after an artistic disagreement with playwright Eugene O’Neill. Gilpin didn’t like using the n-word in the successful O’Neill play he starred in and was replaced in the role.
“It’s about the battle between two great artists — one who wrote something and the other who interprets it,” Egeli said. “Which is the most important?”
The movie, based on a play, is one of five films nominated for the Best Social Impact Award. “It’s not a feel-good movie but a tragedy,” he said.
Egeli lives on Cape Cod and previously made a film about O’Neill. He’s directed multiple movies, sold screenplays and is an award-winning painter.
Newtown native Dana Greenfield directed “Morning Mourning,” one of the 10 short films with Connecticut affiliations. Greenfield directs plays throughout New York City and this is her first film. It tells the story of two odd sisters grieving their mother’s death at her gravesite and was filmed at a cemetery near Greenfield’s home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s a sweet and unexpected portrait of two girls coping with tragedy and right now, more than ever, we need to find how to deal with difficulties with love,” she said.
Stamford resident Val Bodurtha is co-director of the short mockumentary “Wax Paul Now,” focusing on an attempt to get Madame Tussauds in Times Square to display a waxed statue of actor Paul Giamatti. She led the movement with friends Sophie Mann and Rebecca Shaw, her co-directors, receiving national media attention in the process. Bodurtha is a humor, TV and film writer, stand-up comedian and author.
Bodurtha said Giamatti, who appears in the film, is mostly supportive of the cause. ”He has always been very warm to us but that shouldn’t be mistaken for overly enthusiastic,” she said in apparent jest.
This year’s festival will include an interview with Matthew Heineman, an Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker who grew up in Darien and New Canaan.
Heineman has made films and docu-series on a legendary war reporter, the horrors of ISIS, Mexican drug cartels, the opioid crisis and Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2020 virtual pass costs $175, or $100 for seniors, students, healthcare workers and first responders. More expensive tickets are available that include gift bags, gala tickets and future screenings. Subscribers will receive a unique user log-in they can use to watch films and other content on their computer or TV.
Some GIFF proceeds are used to promote the arts locally and support charities.
Stickel credited the GIFF team for working quickly to put together the virtual festival, noting everyone also was dealing with personal challenges due to the pandemic.
The staff has since been contacted by other film festivals about how to put together an online format. “It’s nice being a trailblazer,” Stickel said.
For information about the festival, visit greenwichfilm.org.