This weekend: The New Kingston Film Festival

The trailer for "Windfall," the feature film being screened at this weekend's New Kingston Film Festival.

New Kingston doesn't have too many claims to fame. There's the inexplicable lone red British telephone booth sitting in the middle of a cornfield just outside town. There's the unusually cozy post office that hosts a book exchange and keeps a box of toys ready for any kid who happens to come by. And there's the free New Kingston Film Festival, which has drawn cinemaphiles onto the secluded valley since 2008 with its carefully curated (and highly competitive) line-up of films from around the world.

This weekend, the New Kingston Film Festival rises again after a year-long hiatus. (Last year, its organizers took the year off to have a baby.) There are plans for a giant blow-up screen and drive-in amenities, including movie soundtracks that are piped over FM radio, so you can watch out under the stars from the comfort of your car. Andes BBQ stalwart the Cha Cha Hut is catering (and concocting special popcorn toppings for the occasion), there will be live music by Serena Jost and Robin Aigner, and many of the filmmakers themselves will be onhand during the festival and at a public filmmakers’ brunch the next day.

We talked with Seema Shah-Nelson, the New Kingston-ite who runs the festival with her husband Clark, about what it’s like to plan a film festival in the middle of nowhere.

Seema Shah-Nelson with son Rishi at the 2008 New Kingston Film Festival: Photo by Bekah HavensSeema Shah-Nelson with son Rishi at the 2008 New Kingston Film Festival: Photo by Bekah HavensQ: What gave you the idea to start this film festival in the first place?

A: When we first moved up here, we saw that there were a of music festivals. We love to watch movies, but realized that we had to drive well over an hour to a movie theater, and even then we’d only get the real Hollywood blockbusters. So we decided to do a film festival ourselves.

Q: What can movie-goers expect from this year's festival?

A: The first two years we had a full day-long festival. We had 10 to 12 hours of film. This year we have more like four to five hours. We’ll have a block of short films for about an hour, and then a break, and then we have a three-minute short film about a robin family --

Q: Is that the movie about robins by Fred Margulies in Margaretville?

A: Yes, it’s the sweetest movie. It’s one of my favorites -- it’s about a family of robins as it grows up. I love it. Then we have our big feature about the controversy about wind turbines in Meredith -- Windfall. It’s a very fair, gripping story about a community deciding what they want for their future and their lives. And then we’ll be doing another block of shorts until the end around midnight.

Q: And the whole festival is in a big field in the middle of New Kingston valley?

A: It’s the perfect site. It’s in this beautiful field, and we’ll have big blow-up screens and professional sound on FM transmission, so that you can treat it as a drive-in, sit in your car and turn the radio on. The idea is that people with kids who fall asleep in their car seats can get the kids to fall asleep and then they can sit on the hood of the car and watch the movie. It’s a very family-friendly event. That was part of the reason why we had to move the film festival outside. In the barn in previous years, everybody had to be very quiet and still. We have two small children, which means that we had put together this film festival and couldn’t even enjoy it.

Q: How many people are you expecting?

A: We’re hoping for 150 -- that’s our goal. In previous years, when we did the festival in the barn, both times we did it on a beautiful, sunny Saturday, which is great, except that people really don’t want to sit inside on a sunny Saturday and watch movies. We do, because we’re big movie geeks, but not a lot of people do. Because it’s outside this year, I think we’re going to draw more people. Also, because we got a New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program grant through the Roxbury Arts Group and another grant from the O’Connor Foundation, we were able to give our filmmakers travel stipends, so they’re all going to be there. There will be a meet-the-filmmakers breakfast at 10am on Sunday morning in the same location.

Q: This film festival’s line-up was chosen by a jury. How did they make their choices?

A: First, Clark and I and our intern, Sally Davis, watched all the films. We selected what we thought were the very best, and the jury had about a month to watch all the films. Then we all got together one evening and everybody discussed each film and gave it a score from zero to two. We must have had at least 50 film submissions, and we’re showing about a dozen films.

Q: That means that the jury had to be pretty picky, right?

A: Yes. The jury had a really hard time. It didn’t get heated, but it definitely got passionate.

Q: Are a lot of the movies by locals?

A: A number of our submissions are local. We really wanted to showcase local talent and local food, and have it really be a destination that’s really more of a community event. I think that for this community, both for people who live here year-round and for people who are weekenders, there’s really nothing else like this in the region.

The New Kingston Film Festival, 5177 County Route 6, New Kingston, NY 12459 (in the field behind the Presbyterian church). Saturday, August 6, 6pm - midnight and Sunday, August 7, 10am - noon. Admission: free, with suggested $5 donation.

The New Kingston Film Festival is a Watershed Post advertiser -- see their event banner at right. - Ed.