Vermont Arts Council

Art in the Time of Covid: Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival

Though movie theaters are reopening across the nation, their initial shutdown caused an influx of online streaming, making this modern form of consuming entertainment even more popular. And while this burst of streaming greatly benefited large corporations like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, it was a more difficult task for smaller, local companies to make their productions as mainstream in comparison.

Such was the case for the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF). MNFF takes pride in its sole focus: promoting the work of first- and second-time filmmakers. August 2020 marked the 6th annual Festival, but the event had to move online. MNFF had to readjust and discover a way to ensure the works of these new directors were seen by as large an audience as possible, while contending with the manpower and ease of streaming. Despite the challenges posed by this online world, MNFF remained steadfastly dedicated to its mission of promoting new filmmakers’ work and were able to successfully showcase over 60 films.

Festival Coordinator Jordan Mitchell spoke to MNFF’s experiences this past year as well as their plans for this summer and beyond.

How has the pandemic challenged your creative practice and/or business?

Last August, the 6th Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival had to pivot to an online platform due to the onset of the pandemic. With the Festival being online, our core belief was that we needed to stay relevant as an organization, preserve our connection with filmmakers, and maintain continuity with our audiences. At MNFF, our commitment is to offer a level playing field to new and emerging voices in independent filmmaking, but the move online created a challenge of promoting a selection of over 60 films in an environment where other streaming alternatives are plentiful and backed by huge corporations.

From a creative standpoint, we were successful in making the shift. From a business standpoint, our audience rallied to the cause, attending the Fest in significant numbers and supporting not just MNFF, but the resilient filmmakers on the festival circuit during a pandemic. We felt that we could not just walk away from the filmmakers who had worked so hard to produce films, and we wanted to provide them the same platform they’d have in a more typical year, including Q&A sessions for most films. Our biggest challenge was encouraging filmmakers to be a part of the Festival during a time of great uncertainty around audience attendance and film distribution. Despite this challenge, we were able to curate a robust program of films, maintain a thriving online audience, and come out a stronger organization.

How have you found strength or support since the pandemic began?

We have been fortunate to find strength and support since the start of the pandemic both at the 6th Annual Festival (MNFF Online) in August 2020, and through our Split/Screen online monthly movie series that occurred from November 2020 through June 2021, in which we collaborated with the Vermont International Film Festival (VTIFF) to deliver engaging film content. The success of these events kept us relevant as an organization and gave us the momentum to return to an in-person and on-the-ground festival this August 2021.

What are your plans or hopes for the future?

This summer MNFF is presenting The Sunset Series at Swift House Inn / Summer of Scorsese, an exciting new social event in partnership with Swift House Inn and Town Hall Theater. Every Thursday for five weeks, beginning July 8 and ending August 5, MNFF will screen a classic film by master director Martin Scorsese outdoors under the big tent at Swift House Inn. We are excited to be reconnecting in-person with our audiences and socializing around film.

The tent at the Swift House Inn in Middlebury, where food and drink will be offered during MNFF’s Sunset Series.

Soon after that, we will be returning in-person for the 7th Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival. This year, we plan to screen over 120+ films, providing a robust and diverse film program for our audiences. Following the Festival, we are resuming our monthly film screening series, MNFF Selects, beginning in October at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. As we head into winter, we anticipate resuming the Vermont Tour in the first week in February, screening some of the best films from MNFF7 around the state of Vermont: from Greensboro, to Woodstock, to Putney, and beyond. We look forward to reconnecting with our audiences around the State.

What are some ways people can support your work right now?

Right now, people can support our organization and the Festival by purchasing Passes and Tickets to our planned screening events, both The Sunset Series starting in July, and MNFF7 in late August. We look forward to seeing filmgoers in-person once again at our events. In addition, people can subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date and be the first to hear about upcoming events, as well as donate in support of a vital 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.