A bubbly 'Diner en Blanc' is being paired with a spicy 'Great Chicken Wing Hunt' for a festival two-course bill.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Homecoming Week at Williams College is still a couple of weeks away.
Homecoming Week for the Williamstown Film Festival begins on Wednesday.
The 15-year-old festival already has built a tradition of honoring its growing alumni, and this year is no different. Two of those alums will be back in town supporting a short film they made together ... but which they might not have made without their experience at the WFF 2009.
"Three years ago, we did a short by a filmmaker named Charlie Anderson ('Werewolf Trouble'), and he met the lead actress in a feature that was playing the same weekend, 'Humpday,' " WFF Executive Director Steve Lawson recalled this month.
"Alycia Delmore played the wife, the female lead, in the movie. She and Charlie hit it off and became friends in the three days they were here. And he cast her as the lead in his next short. That's truly networking."
The pair return this week for the Friday afternoon screening at Images Cinema of "We Could Be Your Parents," part of the festival's first "All-Shorts" sessions.
"It's this very funny, dark movie with Alycia opposite Alex Karpovsky, who is seemingly in every other indie movie these days, not to mention 'Girls' on HBO. It's a very funny premise. He and Alycia are having a baby, but she won't conceive until he stops smoking. It's a long short; it's 18 minutes."
The collaboration between writer/director Anderson and Delmore is part of what makes the Williamstown Film Festival special.
"It's not just the artists and the audiences getting together," Lawson said. "It's the artists among themselves — especially when you put an all-shorts crew together. They're meeting for the first time on that stage. When they get along not only personally but professionally like Charlie and Alycia did, that's fabulous.
"When [Anderson] submitted, he put that in his cover letter. He said WFF truly brought us together.
"Happily, we liked the film enough to do it."
Just having a connection to the WFF is not enough to get your film on area screens this week.
Another part of the festival's tradition is its selectivity. And it has a pretty good track record for picking winners.
The shorts that won the WFF's only prize, the audience-selected Christopher and Dana Reeve Award, went on to capture Oscars for Best Short Film in 2010 and 2012.
The 2013 festival opens on Wednesday evening ... without a film but with celebrated novelist John Irving, who won the Academy Award in 2000 for his screenplay adaptation of his novel "The Cider House Rules."
"That was thanks to Jim Shepard, who is on our board and and teaches at Williams," Lawson said of the author of "Like You'd Understand Anyway," a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007.
"Being the writer that he is, Jim knows a lot of other writers, and he's been friends with John Irving for a long time. And John is up in Vermont, so he isn't very far away.
"They're going to talk about adaptation at large, which is always interesting, and specifically about 'Cider House Rules.' I don't know if it's his favorite among the five films of his novels, but it's the one he wrote and won the Oscar for."
Lawson said although there will be no films — long or short — on the program, it still is a great kickoff to the five-day festival.
"Because Jim is on the faculty, he was able to work some magic, I think, because normally they're pretty booked. Weekends are hopeless, pretty much. It will be on the Main Stage at the '62 Center. I'm sure we'll get a good crowd."
Thursday night at Images, the festival counters a potential World Series Game 7 with a pair of documentaries that will appeal to filmgoers and food lovers. "Diner en Blanc" chronicles a culinary "flash mob" in Paris, and "The Great Chicken Wing Hunt" follows the exploits of a Buffalo-area native who goes in search of the perfect wing.
"These films were both submitted way back in the spring, two or three days apart," Lawson said. "I watched them almost back-to-back, and I thought, 'This is interesting.' Neither of them is full length. 'Diner en Blanc' is 45 minutes, and 'The Great Chicken Wing Hunt' is like 60 or 61, so you could do a double bill. And I thought, 'This is almost too good to be true.' There's such a contrast, but they're both about food.
"My only worry was that either ['Wing' director] Matt Reynolds or ['Diner' director] Jennifer [Ash Rudick] would not want to share the limelight. But they both understood totally and are happy they're showing back-to-back. And each is looking forward to the other's movie."
And the audience can look forward to an after party across the street at the Purple Pub, where diners can sample chicken wings from restaurants around the area.
More WFF alumni will be featured on Friday night when screenwriter Luke Matheny's "A Birder's Guide to Everything" makes its New England premiere during the festival's annual film and party at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
"Luke, who won the Reeve Award a couple of years ago for 'God of Love,' which then went on to win the Academy Award ... is making his feature screenwriting debut with 'A Birder's Guide to Everything,' " Lawson said. "And the director, Rob Meyer, is making his feature directing debut, and they're both alumni. Rob had two shorts here in '03 and '06, something like that.
"I didn't even know they knew each other. They went to NYU together and became partners. They wrote the screenplay together and Rob directed it. I saw the film at Tribeca, and I tried very hard to get it."
"Birder's Guide" finished second in the Audience Award category at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, one of the most prestigious events on the indie film circuit.
Saturday night's main event is another documentary, this one on recently departed novelist, politician and commentator Gore Vidal. "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" will screen at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at 8 p.m.
The festival concludes on Sunday afternoon at Images with some local flavor, a documentary titled "Cherry Cottage," that focuses on a 1782 Stockbridge house built by the sister of Williams founder Ephraim Williams.
In between the conversation with Irving and the new doc by Williamstown-based Dave Simonds, the festival will feature an American premiere ("Skating to New York" on Saturday afternoon at Images), a romance starring Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia ("At Middleton" on Friday at Images) and the story of a woman who — unbeknownst to her own family — was an integral part of Beatlemania ("Good Ol' Fred" on Saturday at Images).
One thing the WFF never features is a unifying theme for the films on the schedule. But Lawson said one interesting thread did emerge when he looked back at the completed program.
"The feeling I have, and I've heard this from people on the street as well, is that there seems to be almost a more populist air to the schedule," Lawson said. "There's no sort of overtly grim or bleak film. There are dramatic titles, certainly ... and I don't think we're pandering or lowering the standards. But there are films that have a broader outreach than in the past.
"No one is going to like everything equally, and it's silly to think they would. But I don't think anyone's going to be appalled or turned off. All of these films offer you the opportunity give them a chance."