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It’s a wrap! NOHO International Film Festival brings movies from across the globe and across the street to Northampton this weekend



Last modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013
Brendan Fraser as a 41-year-old, less-than-brilliant college student. David Strathairn, last seen as Secretary of State William Seward in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” in another acclaimed historical film. And a good number of actors, directors and other people with local ties who appear in or have produced films shot in the Valley.

It’s all on tap starting Friday at the Northampton International Film Festival (NoHoIFF): Thirty-two movies, including full-length features and documentaries and a range of short films, from across the country and overseas. The three-day festival, which takes place at Northampton’s Academy of Music, is a long-standing showcase of independent films, now in its 17th season.

Among the local faces appearing on screen this weekend: Bill Dwight, the Northampton City Council president, who plays a small-town police chief in the drama “Bridge of Names,” a 2012 film shot entirely in the Valley. Written and directed by Elizabeth Foley and Peter Hobbs, a filmmaking couple with long ties to the area, “Bridge of Names” follows a young musician who meets a charismatic preacher in a small town, then falls in love with one of the preacher’s beautiful (and underage) disciples, with troubling results.

Dwight, who’s joined in the cast by numerous current and former Valley residents — the film also features veteran character actor Rip Torn — says “Bridge of Names” was put together gradually over the last several years, so he’s yet to view the final product. “I’m really hoping to get down there this weekend to see it,” he said with a laugh. “I hope I haven’t embarrassed myself.”

Gabrielle Chanel, the festival’s assistant producer, said she and the other organizers wanted to make sure the weekend offered its share of local cinema as well as films from farther afield. “We really wanted to have a good balance — there are some really strong films with a connection the area, plus some great independent films with well-known actors.”

Along with Fraser and Strathairn, several other notable names are featured in this weekend’s films: Eric Roberts (“The Dark Knight”), Joelle Carter (“High Fidelity”), Vivica Fox (“Kill Bill”), and Parker Posey (“Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”). Two documentaries that have drawn acclaim include “The New Public,” the story of a new high school in a tough New York City neighborhood, and “My Father and the Man in Black,” an inside look at country music titan Johnny Cash, as told by director Jonathan Holiff, the son of Cash’s longtime manager.

The Northampton International Film Festival, originally called the Northampton Independent Film Festival, was started in the mid 1990s by Howard Polonsky and Dee DeGeiso of Northampton, who ran it for many years until turning it over to new organizers in 2002. The festival had a brief hiatus before re-emerging last year under its revised title and new management.

Chanel says this year’s festival will screen about eight more films than last year’s show; the selections have been culled from some 250 admissions.

Festival highlights

A highlight of Friday’s opening lineup is the comedy “HairBrained,” screening at 6:30 p.m. It’s a new riff on the misfit buddy theme, set at fictitious Whitman College, a wannabe Ivy League school. The mismatched pair consists of 14-year-old Eli Pettifog (Alex Wolff), a geeky genius with a unique hair style, and 41-year-old Leo Searly (Fraser), a failed gambler who’s fled the shambles of his life to enroll in college.

Eli, who’d wanted to attend Harvard but was rejected, finds a means to get even when he joins Whitman’s moribund “Collegiate Mastermind” quiz team, turning it into a juggernaut that blows away all competitors to reach the finals against — you guessed it — Harvard. Along the way, writes The Village Voice, “Wolff is charismatic as the brilliant but socially inept brain, and the chemistry between him and his doting, often dunderheaded older buddy charges the film.”

Another highlight is “No God, No Master” starring David Strathairn, who got his start in John Sayles’ earlier movies and has since won acclaim for his performances in major films like “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Lincoln.” In “No God, No Master,” screening Sunday at 4:20 p.m., Strathairn plays William Flynn, a bomb expert with the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, as the FBI was known before 1935.

Flynn is sent to New York City in 1919 to investigate a series of package bombs left on the doorsteps of politicians who have championed laws restricting civil liberties; he discovers not only seething class resentment against the wealthy but a plot by federal officials (including a young J. Edgar Hoover) to use the bombings as an excuse to deport immigrants.

Shot in just a month in Milwaukee, “No God, No Master” is designed not only to recreate a turbulent but largely forgotten era of United States history, director Terry Green has said, but to make connections to today’s issues of terrorism, economic inequality and concerns about government snooping on private communication.

Chanel, the festival’s assistant producer, said she and other organizers are also enthused about the Canadian drama “Rufus,” a different twist on the trendy topic of vampires. “Rufus,” which plays Sunday at 6:20 p.m., tells the story of a confused and lonely teenage boy who appears in a small town and begins riling things up because he’s a bit, well, different.

Shot amid the small towns and bleak winter prairie of Saskatchewan, Canada, the film “eschews many of the conventions of the teen horror genre,” says the Toronto Star. “‘Rufus’ is the kind of small-budget Canadian production we long to see but seldom do: unexpectedly fresh, steeped in mystery, finely paced and character-driven, with an ending that is sublimely rewarding.”

Local talent

Amid a number of films with a local connection, “Bridge of Names,” making its debut on Saturday at 2:10 p.m., stands out for the wealth of Valley people connected with it. Co-director and screenwriter Elizabeth Foley says over 100 residents, from cast to crew to advisers, helped put the film together, and the filmmakers got cooperation from the Northampton Police Department, the mayor’s office and local businesses.

Shot in Northampton, Granby, Montague, Turner’s Falls and other area towns, the movie’s cast list reads like a mini profile of the region’s artistic community: Northampton actress Susanna Apgar; Wendell musician Court Dorsey; theater impresario Linda McInerney, of Old Deerfield Productions; Goshen actress and theater producer Jeannine Haas.

Rachel Zeiger-Haag, who plays a lead role as Agnes, the teenage love interest of lead actor Robert Postrozny (who’s not from the Valley), was 15 when she took part in the film; a former Florence resident who attended the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, she’s now a New York-based actress who recently worked with Katie Holmes in the independent movie “Mania Days.”

Dwight, who’s known Foley and Peter Hobbs for many years, helped scout locations for filming “Bridge of Names” in addition to playing a small-town cop. He said that when he went to Turners Fall one day to be filmed, he was dressed as an officer and drove a borrowed Ford Crown Victoria, a vehicle often used as an unmarked police car.

“Between that and the uniform, I could sense the unease I was generating in all the cars around me,” he said with a laugh.

Foley and Hobbs live in Brooklyn, where they run a film production company, Elyria Pictures, and Foley teaches media studies at Queens College. But both previously lived in Northampton: Foley is a graduate of Smith College in Northampton, while Hobbs, the cinematographer for “Bridge of Names,” is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst.

Other festival films with a local connection include the short comedy “Guest House,” filmed largely in Amherst and starring Michael Gross (from TV’s “Family Ties”). There’s also “Hank and Asha,” a romantic comedy about two young people who develop a romance by sending one another video letters. The movie co-stars Andrew Pastides, who grew up in Amherst before moving to South Carolina as a teen.

Chanel says many of the films will be followed by Q & A sessions with directors, writers, producers and actors from the movies. Foley, Hobbs, producer Matina Goldman and several of the main actors from “Bridge of Names” will be part of that program.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.



The Northampton International Film Festival takes place at The Academy of Music Friday from 1:30 to 8:30 p.m., followed by a celebration at R. Michelson Galleries until 10:30 p.m.; Saturday from 10:15 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., including an awards ceremony.

Prices range from $10 to $12 for individual tickets to $75 to $100 for a full-access pass; discounts are available for students, seniors and WGBY members. Visit www.nohoiff.org to order and for additional information.