Robert George has his eyes on the big picture.
When asked why he founded the Red Hook Film Festival, George mulls over a few possible answers before announcing “I’m interested in creating solutions for the world as opposed to being part of the problem.” This is quickly followed by “I’m an idealistic idiot. What can I say?”
Now in its second year, the Red Hook Film Festival will take place on November 14th and 15th at the Red Hook Fire Hall. At first glance, the modest scale of the festival may seem out of sync with George’s wide angle views. All of the films shown are less than 20 minutes long, independently produced, and made by filmmakers who live within a 100 mile radius of the town. The majority of the films shown last year were student films. And unlike the high wattage of local film festivals like Film Columbia and the Woodstock Film Festival, Paul Rudd and Natalie Portman are probably not going to show up on the screen in front of you or in the seat next to you. But the festival’s intimate pleasures are powered by some very grand ideas.
“I just think we’re better off as a culture when we hear each other’s stories,” said George. “Good, bad, or indifferent, entertaining, exciting, empowering – the whole rainbow. And the big commercial film market, with the big theaters and $10 popcorn, generally speaking doesn’t have those types of films. And there’s an extraordinary amount of very talented filmmakers who tell great stories in great ways who come out of the woodwork when you hold a film festival. So I wanted to start this film festival for the greater good of hearing unique stories that we otherwise wouldn’t hear, that perhaps might bring about the tiniest shift of more compassion, or more humanity, a better quality of life, who knows what?”
Taken in that light, the festival’s insistence on highlighting local filmmakers seems less like a gimmick and more like a noble and necessary way of strengthening the community and empowering us all to tell our own stories. “There’s a huge amount of talented people in the Hudson Valley that are not able to get their work out there,” said George. “I thought it would help if we could get to see that great work, and get that great work that can’t find its way through the system seen in an eclectic and intimate film festival setting.”
“Intimate” may be a good way to describe the scale of the festival, but not the scale of the room. The Red Hook Fire Hall seats about 330 people, and last year the room was filled to capacity. Many of the professional filmmakers who participated in last year’s festival told George that despite being veterans of dozens of high-profile film festivals held all over the world, they had never had such a large – or enthusiastic – audience as they had in Red Hook. “They said they had never felt so welcome,” said George. And one of the ways that the festival ensures that the filmmakers feel welcome is to provide each accepted filmmaker with a small stipend. It’s an uncommon gesture for many festivals; and unheard of for a small, volunteer-run festival like Red Hook; but George believes it’s an important gesture that resonates far beyond the modest sum they’re putting in the filmmaker’s pockets. “It’s a way of acknowledging their hard work and sacrifice,” said George. “The least we can do is provide them with a little bit of money to get here.”
As of press time, the selection of filmmakers who will be awarded that gas money, and showing their films at the festival hadn’t yet been announced, although by the time you read this the full schedule will probably be up on the festival’s website: www.redhookfilmfestival.com. George was happy to tease out a few details regarding some of the work that will be shown as part of the Festival’s “KidFest” on Saturday the 15th at 2 p.m. Although the films shown there will be aimed at kids, George said parents will enjoy the films as well. “It’s a very interesting selection of work,” he said. “And can I allude to the fact that one of the filmmakers does a lot of work for National Geographic? I think I can get away with alluding to that.”
The theme of this year’s festival – “Harvest Shorts” – was chosen as a way of acknowledging the bounties of the local agricultural scene. Local food will be served at the screenings, and Montgomery Place Orchards is even donating hot apple cider. This gives the festival a way of celebrating both local filmmakers and local farmers and food purveyors: The harvest of local films, and the harvest of local food, both created after months and months of tireless work by our friends and neighbors here in the Hudson Valley. That celebration of community feeds right back into this small festival’s big ideas about the power of art and what draws us together.
“As a reflection of everything awful in the world, more and more people are stepping forward and doing something for the greater good,” said George. “And the essence of filmmaking has to do with community. Making a film requires a whole bunch of people working together. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and people have extraordinary experiences making extraordinary work. That elevates the quality of community, through the process of making a film, and I look at our festival as being reflective of our need for nourishment, for elevating culture, and for elevating quality of life through art.”
“I mean, it’s a film festival,” he said laughing. “How could you go wrong?”
Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer in Beacon, NY. You can find him online at brianpjcronin.com and on Twitter as @brianpjcronin.