The fourth annual RIFF offers more than 100 film screenings
The 2019 Ridgefield Independent Film Festival (RIFF) surveys the power of cinema to educate, entertain and inspire with 114 films from 20 countries during the festival’s run Oct.10-14 in six Ridgefield venues. In its fourth year, the festival presents 13 feature documentaries, seven narrative features, and 94 shorts making their Connecticut debut.
Ranging from serious dramas exploring heady topics like war, drugs, democracy and abuse to comedies, animation and family-friendly films, the festival will host screenings with filmmaker Q&As, parties and talks. It is also debuting a one-day Virtual Reality showcase.
Among the films sure to pique viewers’ interest are two with local connections. “The Dog Doc,” directed by Redding’s own Cindy Meehl, stars holistic veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein of Ridgefield, who runs Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in South Salem, N.Y. “Sell By,” directed by Mike Doyle, who grew up in Ridgefield but now calls Brooklyn home, looks at the universal truths in all relationships.
A longtime animal lover, Meehl first met Dr. Goldstein 28 years ago when her 6-year old Shar-Pei was at death’s door and vets said nothing could be done. Her dog got better, living another six years on a regimen of homeopathic therapies prescribed by this pioneer of integrated medicine. The film reveals the deep effect he has on his animal patients and their owners who trust their pets to his care. It screens at the festival Oct. 13 at noon followed by a Q&A with Meehl.
Filming lasted nearly three years as Meehl followed several animals over the course of their treatment. “It was a crapshoot as far as when people would come in or when they might come back with their dogs so we were scampering a lot to keep up with following animals.” she said. “It was really much more intense and just nail-biting sometimes.”
Outcomes in a vet’s office run from poor to happy and emotions affected Meehl and her crew as they filmed scenes. “Sometimes we would all be tearing up … not to say it was all doom and gloom though, it had a lot of very happy moments,” she said.
Meehl hopes audiences find the film to be an eye-opener. “I would like them to really start thinking about the health of their pets and the health of their whole family,” she said. “I think our Western philosophy of medicine is to treat a symptom and the philosophy in this clinic is to treat holistically the whole body,” she said. “I wanted to do the film because I have lived it and I have seen how it works. This clinic gives a lot of hope because they know if you treat the immune system, then amazing things can happen.”
Doyle, who is an openly gay actor-writer-director, upends the usual romantic comedy format here with his directorial debut, “Sell By,” nominated for the festival’s Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award. The film screens Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and is followed by a Q&A with Doyle and cast members. Four couples (three straight, one gay) are featured in lead roles navigating life and love. Among the leads is actor Kate Walsh (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Thirteen Reasons Why”) with a cameo by Patricia Clarkson (“House of Cards” and “Sharp Objects”).
Asked about the uniqueness of casting two gay actors as leads, Doyle said the kind of relationships depicted here may be different but all couples face similar challenges. “That’s what I was striving to do: to make a romantic comedy that sort of reinvents the tropes a bit,” he said. “It gets to the heart and meat of these four relationships — three straight and one gay. I wanted to make a film where I was able to highlight the universality of the challenges of being in a relationship with a person, be you gay, straight, old, young, black or white. There is a lot that unites us.”
In recent screenings, audiences have often said they identified with a character or that a character was like their wife or husband. “That’s been the most heartening thing, we have this friends circle of eight people and very often people say they often feel like they can be the ninth friend, which is nice because it was sort of my intent to offer something without pandering for everyone.”
The festival lasts five days and begins with a screening of the documentary “Pizza: A Love Story,” directed by Gorman Bechard that takes place in New Haven, a mecca for pizza.
For tickets or screening times, visit riffct.org/2019films.