Film festival makes strides toward debut

Sep 02, 2011

Film festival makes strides toward debut

Arlington — Alberto Guzman has yearned to produce a film festival since he was a schoolboy in Colombia.

Decades later, that ambition will come to fruition with the inaugural Arlington International Film Festival, slated for Oct. 6-9 at the Regent Theatre.

Guzman and his wife, April Ranck, are co-founders of AIFF, which received 42 submissions before its Aug. 15 deadline expired. A panel of judges is now reviewing the field of documentary and narrative films, both shorts and feature length, before it selects the works to be shown. Guzman and Ranck said they expect a program to be finalized shortly after Labor Day. A separate category of films produced by teenagers attracted 13 submissions that will be shown on the festival’s third day.

“When I was in elementary school, my teacher injected me with a love for art,” Guzman said last week, during an interview at the Regent with AIFF’s organizers. “In Chicago, I met a person who was running the Latino International Film Festival there. I worked with him for 11 years. When we moved here to Arlington, I saw this was a perfect place for a film festival; the culture and the town were perfect. But it took me seven years to convince April to do it.”

Ranck, who graduated from Harvard University and has lived in the Boston area since then, remained skeptical about producing a film festival until the timing was right and unless there was a clear mission. 

“We had a lot of personal things to do — Alberto relocating from Chicago and establishing ourselves with jobs were challenges,” she said. “And I really wanted us to be sure we knew what we wanted to do, what our mission was with this. Was it just to entertain people? There is enough theater to do that. Or did we have a specific mission? This is a lot of work. You don’t make money doing this and you have to really love it.”

Both had an appreciation of film long before they married and moved to Arlington seven years ago. Guzman was fascinated by Charlie Chaplin early on and also mentioned Greek director Costa-Gravas and Woody Allen as among his favorite filmmakers. Ranck said her love of cinema bloomed in the 1960s and ‘70s and developed from an almost therapeutic perspective.

“That is when Ingmar Bergman was big and Woody Allen, of course,” she said. “For me, film is really about learning about other cultures, how other people live. It’s also very cathartic. And there’s a human, global commonality. When we first started talking about doing a festival, we focused on a Latino festival. I thought that was too specific and that we needed to broaden. The more talking we did, we realized it had to be international.”

In order to recruit films that would reflect the festival’s global character, the couple had one board member who reached out specifically to international film organizations. AIFF board member Jorge Reyes, a filmmaker and professor originally from Peru, who now lives in Paris, also helped Guzman and Ranck connect with filmmakers worldwide.

“He was instrumental,” Ranck said.

In addition to films submitted from around greater Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, AIFF has attracted work from across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Armenia, Switzerland, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and the United Kingdom.

The panel of judges for AIFF is indeed impressive: Amy Handler, a filmmaker, film scholar and critic; Nicole Libresco, who has worked as a production manager in the film industry; Alice Bouvrie, a documentary producer and director; Cesar Perez, a Harvard professor and film scholar; Neil McGarry, an actor, filmmaker, producer and voice-over artist; Bob Kuhn, a professor, filmmaker and voice-over artist, and Michael Mahin, a senior at Arlington High School, co-editor of the school’s newspaper and a film critic for the Arlington Advocate. 

“We sat with the judges on a Saturday afternoon and had them speak to one another about [the criteria],” Ranck said. “They needed to arrive at that as a group. They agreed they would be looking for a cohesive story, something that really holds together. They are looking at the editing and the technical quality. They are writing up a synopsis of each film and how they feel about it. There will be ‘must sees’ and ‘definitely nots,’ as well as the ‘maybes.’ If we have time, we will be filling in with [the latter].”

Leland Stein, co-owner of the Regent Theatre, said AIFF is another showcase for the historic venue’s 95th anniversary.

“One thing that is pretty cool is that we are going into six weeks of a Regent Rock n’ Roll Circus, which is going to be all live on stage and the screen will be covered,” Stein said. “Deborah Henson-Conant, of Arlington, a Grammy-nominated electric harpist, will be one of the acts to perform. So we will be going out with a bang by presenting the first Arlington International Film Festival, four days of films, and then for six weeks we won’t have any films until after Thanksgiving. Another reason we’re excited about this is because over the past 10 years we have kind of turned the Regent into more of a performing arts center. But we still have a big screen here and do special film events. What could be more special than the debut of the Arlington International Film Festival?”

Opening night, Thursday, Oct. 6, will include the screening of one film, followed by a discussion and then a reception across the street at the Tango restaurant. Walter Locke, of ACMi, will serve as emcee for opening night events. Ranck said at least two films would be shown Friday, then a full schedule on Saturday and Sunday.

David Gillman is coordinating the festival’s closing ceremony to be held Sunday, Oct. 9. The concluding festivities will include a concert with four different bands playing music from around the world. Following that will be a reception featuring Greek music and dancing.

Tickets for AIFF will be $10 per film or $35 passes for the entire schedule.

“Alberto attaches a saying to our releases, ‘Expect the unexpected,’” Rank said, when asked about what moviegoers could anticipate next month. “I think that’s what you can expect — the unexpected. We’ve got some great lineups and have invited a lot of filmmakers.”

Giving credit to those working behind the scenes that are helping him achieve his childhood dream, Guzman said, “The talent of the people who have helped us put together this festival is amazing.”

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