Big Eddy Film Festival – A Class Act

The eighth annual Big Eddy Film Festival Narrowsburg, New York on the Delaware was a class act. Rather than succumb to traditional film festival fare of a celebrity-oriented gathering, the festival, produced by Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA) embraced its community with films that were inclusive– from the families who have been here for decades to the newly arrived who feel like they’ve come home– resulting in a thought provoking transport to unexpected places followed by conversations with fellow cinephiles listening to their persuasive rationalizations.

Opening night film “Narrowsburg” was the hit for that very reason, with 250 people coming out in support making it a sold out event. Trite descriptives (sleepy and bucolic) for Narrowsburg, none of which I ever thought to use in the almost fifty years since my parents bought a five acre property across the bridge on top of Peggy Runway. It was a place nearest to their own beloved homeland they had to leave after the second world war. I, in turn, fell in love with the river, the forests, roads that lead to adventures in and around town, the farmers and shopkeepers, the National Park Service that protected this essential to human existence part of the world. It was a place where people worked hard for what they had, honest, decent, respectable and loyal to their community.

Vintage photos and archival film footage were skillfully introduced especially the home movies of high school basketball taken in the very gym turned auditorium of the Narrowsburg Union, a repurposed landmark, the Narrowsburg High School. It wasn’t until halfway through the film that I came to believe it should be retitled– “How The Con Artists Castellanos Scammed Hard Working American Farmers in Narrowsburg.” Too much wise guy, Richie and an unethical Jocelyn (who went on to scam the Queens International Film Festival and was eventually deported back to France or wherever she came from) and not enough Narrowsburg.

Nevertheless, it became an ecumenical experience as I mingled with people who appeared in the film, curiosity seekers who have heard the stories over the years, and the filmmakers who worked on this film for a decade and found the story coming out of a story they first thought they had. That’s often how it works in documentaries as noted by Jan Jensen and Mark Allen, a husband and wife documentary filmmaking team on the Sunday morning panel “Married to the Work: Partners in Filmmaking and Life.” There are times you go with the flow and sometimes an abrupt turn needs to be made as the story unfolds over research and interviews often leading to other witnesses. It felt like a caper and that can become an all together different crime story.

Excellent screen projection and audio at the Tusten Theater enjoying the intimate setting encompassed by original Art Deco decorative style from the 1920s and 30s with its precise and bold geometric shapes. Too often a finely tuned viewing experience may go uncelebrated, so kudos to the supplier of the technical and projectionists. It reminds me of my favorite Sundance venue, the Egyptian Theater, along with other historic theaters that have been saved from demolition and renovated back for film screenings and performance art. The films that came from the Tribeca Film Festival included several that I had seen and recommended as programming consultant to another upcoming film festival. “Gay Chorus Deep South” brought together diverse members of our community, whether life style, religion, philosophy or the origins of whence they came. Ultimately, after the screening as the theater emptied, people waiting in the foyer for the next film were astonished to see so many tear stained faces shining with joie de vivre.

Following several patients in “The Dog Doc,” director Cindy Meehl, whose film “Buck” warmed film audiences’ hearts towards a horse whisperer’s humanistic approach, brought Dr. Marty, his family members and clinic family to the same dynamic and humanistic approach in veterinary care. It’s a look into a world where consumer transparency and regulatory protections are increasingly rolled back or dismissed becoming a foregone conclusion for increased corporate profits in the pet food as well as pharmaceutical industries. An advocate for a balance between conventional and integrative medicine, Dr. Marty and Cindy, along with their filmmaking team are on a mission of providing the starting point for recognizing increased problematic pet health issues and how it can be dealt with. We are witness to how integrative veterinary medicine is taking root; in the way we love our pets who cannot tell us what’s wrong; and where sometimes, conventional medicine is not possible to be a one-size-fits-all treatment. Their team approach, dedicated outreach to film festival audiences, and genuine concern for future veterinarians is remarkable, gaining traction with more screenings on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Nonwithstanding, I believe “Recorder:The Marion Stokes Project” was the most important film coming out of the very astute, invitational programming by festival director, Tina Spangler. There are times when the promotional film descriptions, the movie poster and program details miss the essential point of the story, as I found after I saw the film at Tribeca Film Festival. While it is a documentary of a profound thinker, civil rights and media rights activist, Marion Stokes, but by the end of the film I felt I could equate this recluse with the visionary Yoda, making for a cautionary tale of our times. She intuitively spotted future trends such as computer operating systems; was an early investor of Apple products; followed the Star Trek philosophy of diversity, gender equality and joining forces uniting Earth to explore, not conquer the universe. She feared the government portrayed in the Big Brother is watching, screen shattering ad for Apple during the 1984 Super Bowl halftime commercials. I remember watching that ad and I became an Mac advocate since that time.

Mostly, Marion Stokes feared the way the media has the power to shape our perceptions often without consequence or our understanding. That’s why she felt it was her mission to save future generations by recording and preserving on outdated technology (VHS tapes), what was documented, presented as news, information changed and edited because of policy of the corporate owners or the government in power at the time. I wish there could have been a discussion with the other people in the audience. One woman shrewdly noted how easily the documentarian, Matt Wolf, presented the family and few closely chosen personnel surrounding her, yet how he was making the viewer work harder to get to know who Marion was and her mission, her reason for being. I would love to see a change in the movie poster and show her image on the deck of the starship USS Enterprise surrounded by technology of the future with a gin martini in her hand, and a sly smile.

Overall, the Big Eddy Film Festival is one to keep an eye out for in the future. It’s an out of this world destination; a culminating vortex for the arts and artists; a community with a diverse collective of human beings, traditions and spirit; where past, present and future storytellers are welcomed. It’s in there, Narrowsburg, New York, on the Delaware.  http://www.bigeddyfilmfest.com/

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