For 10 days a year, filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts alike can experience life in Serbia, France, Egypt and Italy without having to leave Burlington’s lakeside community.
The Vermont International Film Foundation hosted its 37th annual Vermont International Film Festival and screened 64 activist-oriented films October 21-30 at Burlington’s Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center, a satellite venue at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier, and through online virtual demonstrations .
Founded in 1985 by George and Sonia Cullinen in the anti-nuclear movement, the Vermont International Film Foundation has expanded from its roots in environmental protection and human rights to address a broader range of global social issues the VTIFF website.
The foundation hosts monthly screenings and three annual film festivals, of which VTIFF is the oldest.
The Global Roots Film Festival revolves around an annual theme, and the Made Here Film Festival hosts submissions exclusively from northern New England and Quebec.
Orly Yadin, the foundation’s executive director, spoke of her uncertainty as the festival officially lifted COVID-19-era restrictions.
“It’s our first return as a full-fledged festival after COVID,” she said. “We had no idea how many people would come, but so far it’s proven [a success].”
Due to the delays caused by the pandemic, this year’s festival has shown more films than in previous years, Yadin said.
“Movies scheduled for release in 2020 and 2021 have been put on hold because all the theaters were closed,” she said. “We’re also showing new ones from 2022.”
As a curated event, VTIFF only screens films selected by its program committee, Yadin said.
“It’s very important to us to be geographically diverse, in terms of filmmakers, whether women or people of color, and in terms of the style and theme of the film,” said Yadin. “But the first criterion is that they have to be really good.”
The film’s quality will be measured by its ability to stimulate an emotional and intellectual response, Yadin said.
“The ideal is that the audience is open to ways of thinking that they haven’t thought of before, or want to learn more,” Yadin said.
Charles Burnett, an American filmmaker, was a guest speaker at this year’s festival and received the VTIFF Award for Outstanding Contribution to American Cinema.
Burnett attended screenings of two of his films, To Sleep with Anger, which follows a mysterious drifter’s visit to an old acquaintance, and Killer of Sheep, which follows a slaughterhouse worker struggling with sleep deprivation to meet his family’s financial and emotional needs.
The Library of Congress added “Killer of Sheep,” Burnett’s master’s thesis project, to the National Film Registry in 1990, which is official recognition of a film’s enduring importance in American culture, according to a New York Times article of March 25, 2007.
In a Q&A session after the film’s screening on Wednesday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m., Burnett credited international film festivals with validating him as a young filmmaker in the 1970s.
“In Europe, [‘Killer of Sheep’] did very well at the festivals,” he said. “People started talking about film as an art and it wasn’t talked about like that here [in America]’ said Burnett.
Sheer appreciation of cinema is enough to draw non-filmmaking locals to the festival, including senior Julia Lewis, a VTIFF intern.
“I love movies, so I thought it would be a cool experience to be part of the production at a film festival,” said Lewis.
Working within VTIFF’s passionate community has deepened Lewis’ appreciation for Burlington’s arts community, she said.
“The festival is not just an event or a service, it’s something that people support and it means a lot to them,” she said. “They look forward to it all year.”
Junior Benton Sherman has seen six films at the festival this year and is already planning to return next year, he said.
“The only movie that really hit me hard was ‘Decision to Leave’ just because it was a very crazy story,” Sherman said. “It was a police crime drama mixed with a forbidden love story. I had never seen anything like it.”
The festival allowed Sherman to see films that he otherwise would not have known existed, he said.
“I don’t think they’re even playing in theaters, and I haven’t seen any marketing for those films in the US,” he said. “It opened my eyes to movies that I probably wouldn’t have seen and that are really, really good.”
The unique cinematography shown at the festival provoked Sherman’s own cinematic creativity, he said.
“It gave me some ideas for different shots that I could use in classroom film projects,” Sherman said.
In an increasingly streaming-based industry, VTIFF offers cinephiles a rare opportunity to find a sense of belonging in a dark theater and open up to global perspectives while sitting back and enjoying the show.