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The event, which ran Feb. 18 – 21, featured films, musical performances and appearances by acclaimed filmmakers from around the world.
The weekend was the culmination of more than a year of work by William & Mary faculty members and students who strived to come up with new programming ideas and ways of promoting the annual event.
“I think all that hard work paid off immeasurable sums,” said Timothy Barnard, director of the festival.
The festival was sponsored in part by W&M’s Reves Center for International Studies as part of its s-GIG program, which stands for “Sustained Global Inquiry Group.” GIGs are W&M’s academic incubators for interdisciplinary and collaborative initiatives. Other sponsors include the College’s Roy R. Charles Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Film Study Program, Alma Mater Productions, and the Williamsburg Regional Library.
The festival offered something for everyone. Barnard, a visiting assistant professor of American studies and coordinator of Mellon Projects in the humanities, said that his five-year-old son enjoyed the animated film program, which included “The Adventures of Prince Achemd” the first animated feature film (which was accompanied by the group Dreamland Faces) and a surprise finale screening of the first-ever Mickey Mouse cartoon,“Steamboat Willie.” For that finale, free kazoos were distributed and audience members were encouraged to “kazoo-along” to the film.
“I loved that our family programming brought out so many kids for a beautiful film and live music and a bit of raucous fun,” said Barnard.
For film lovers, the festival offered three Virginia premieres. The first two were “No One Knows About Persian Cats” (Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh) and “Ode to the Pineapple” (Oda a la Piña). Audience members had a chance to ask questions to both directors of those films. Cuban director Laimir Fano, director of “Pineapple,” was at the festival in person. However, Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, who was in Istanbul at the time of his film’s screening, answered questions from the audience via a live Skype video feed – a first for the Kimball Theatre.
The festival brought another first to the Williamsburg theater. On Saturday night. “Heima,” a documentary that follows the band Sigur Ros on their homecoming tour of Iceland, was shown in high definition, the first high-definition film ever shown at the Kimball. The documentary’s director Dean Deblois – who also directed such films as “Lilo and Stitch” and the upcoming “How to Train Your Dragon” – introduced his movie and answered questions following it, before joking that he had to leave for a Williamsburg “ghost tour.”
For music lovers, the festival offered many opportunities to enjoy both films that featured music as well as live performances. On Thursday, William & Mary students premiered their documentaries on the “World of Music in Williamsburg.” Later that night, visiting scholar and artist in residence Sami Abu Shumays led a screening of classical Egyptian musicals combined with live music and dance performances. On Sunday night, the festival concluded with a performance by the acclaimed gospel group, The Blind Boys of Alabama, after they had been featured in the third Virginia premier of the festival “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a documentary about the music of the Civil Rights Movement that was introduced by the director Dan Sturman.
“The energy of our town and gown community singing and shouting along with the Blind Boys of Alabama couldn't have been a more fitting close to the festival,” said Barnard.
William & Mary students played a central role in the festival, from planning its events and promoting it to serving as translators and even premiering their own work. On Friday afternoon, the students who created films for the NiCad music video contest and 24 speed film competition screened their entries and received awards. Additionally, on Saturday night, William & Mary senior and history major Hanif Yazdi introduced Ghobadi’s film for him and then served as a translator during the question and answer session.
Barnard said he hopes that the students who worked on the festival “gained a strong sense of satisfaction and pride in making a unique community event for the college and Williamsburg more broadly.”
“They learned about film festivals: what they do for filmmakers and audiences and towns, how they promote film culture alternatives to Hollywood,” he said. “And they learned much more practical skills in event planning and execution, and in particular an event that functions as a form of community engagement. Students and everyone else who came out for the festival learned, hopefully, just how dynamic and beautiful and fun celebrating global film can be, at the same time learning more about the world and the people in it, both locally and globally.”
The festival director said it would be hard for him to pick a highlight from the weekend, but some of his favorite moments happened in the Kimball lobby or in the beverage tent outside, “seeing filmmakers, students, and Williamsburg residents, talking to each other with an enthusiasm that they were all were contributing to —that’s the atmosphere that makes a film festival festive and worthwhile.”