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The Film Fest phenomenon

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

The third annual Adirondack Film Festival posted its best numbers ever — more than 900 passes sold, significantly more top-level VIP passes, 100 films on six screens over four days, more than 100 filmmakers on site — but those stats pale in the wake of the sheer, transformative buzz of the weekend.

The Film Fest, an offshoot of the Adirondack Theatre Festival, owned the weekend. Thursday to Sunday, October 18 to 21.

It turns into an inadvertent walking celebration of Glens Falls — not only for the out-of-towners but for we locals who rushed between screenings, our circled schedules highlighted, passes dangling from lanyards, stepping out from screenings bleary eyed but eager for lunch or dinner, parties and special events.

Transformative? You can’t help but see the city from the enthused perspective of the visiting filmmakers. It’s a diverse, young-skewing group. They dress hip. They’re artistic, and generally pretty humble. They stuck around, attended other artists’ movies and panel talks, hobnobbed at the parties, traded stories and business cards, holed up in restaurants, coffeehouses, the Queensbury Hotel lobby, working on laptops and taking calls.

Producing director Chad Rabinovitz leads a small team of fiercely energetic, sharp, friendly, competent, clearly impassioned organizers. Program director Jess Levandoski is the festival curator and thus, my hero. Also in the lead: Jessica Reed and Tabitha Burton.

Filmmakers I talked to felt warmly welcomed, well cared for, charmed by the city and eager to come back.

“This is the best festival I’ve been to,” so many said. Maybe that’s the famous Hollywood lie, but they sure seemed genuine, and not so far along in their careers they didn’t truly appreciate the attention.

Other Film Festival take-aways:

Troy Deutsch, whose slyly weird and funny short Brown Fish plays with poop, won Best Experimental Film. He said he couldn’t believe how the community turns out for the screenings, and how he got his movie in front of audiences for not one but four screenings. He’s a playwright first, he told me, aiming to send the Theatre Fest a script and get back here to Glens Falls on that ticket.

Ben Warheit, who writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers and is an on-air personality for the show, was sharp and odd on Saturday’s comedy panel. He told me he’d seen a couple of films but was most pleased to have snuck out to hike Pilot Knob the afternoon before. Later I saw him getting totally physical in a rolling desk chair while experiencing the virtual reality movie Age of Sail.

Scott Rogowsky, fellow comedy panelist and host of the mobile app game show HQ Trivia commented when I took a picture after their talk — “The Chronicle? The Chronicle!” and quoted with less irony than pride of recognition, “Northern New York’s Leading Newspaper.” Ha.

The Comedy Panel is nuts, with buttoned down Law and Order SVU steady Diane Neal revealing herself as a bit of a Robin Williams clone, for the wild abandon of her riffs. Also, so edifying. I hope to say more about it at a later date.

Saturday afternoon’s Comedy Panel was a popular event, notably attended by many filmmakers as well as patrons. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

Headling feature movie ‘Radium Girls’ showed us at our finest, how others might see this area. It won Best of the Fest, unsurprisingly. It tells a compelling story, if somehat imperfectly. The filmmakers didn’t give many “warm fuzzies” while they were here in October 2016, or during the festival, but the movie itself plays like a love letter to Glens Falls and the Lake George region, its architecture and landscapes. It was a bit of a pleasant distraction, seeing our buildings and waterways portrayed so prettily on stage.

‘Song of Sway Lake,’ filmed by Ari Gold on and around Blue Mountain Lake, is a stronger film in terms of straight storyline, developing a complicated economic and social dynamic, issues of development versus preservation familiar to the North Country, inside a unique multigenerational story that stays interesting to the last frame. Actress Mary Beth Piel, who starred in Wit, years ago for the Theatre Festival, is excellent, stately, aged and beautiful in this movie that also showcases the Adirondacks with love and wonder.

The energy of the weekend was as much the thing as seeing any one movie. It’s a reminder, too, of what a pleasure it is to watch a movie together on the big screen in a room with others. Comparing notes afterwards — what we thought of the same movies, what we saw or missed: Also fun.

• The strange tale of ‘Mrs. Hyde’ from France, about an overwhelmed science teacher who gets better — and worse — when struck by lightening, was terrific, visually interesting, evocative and engaging. The experience was enhanced by a talk afterward with a French film expert.

The more movies you see and talk about, the more you learn, right?

Sunday: The festival’s newly added Sunday “Best of Fest” screenings were a nice coda to the weekend, and a chance to catch up on missed notables.

The documentary ‘Science Fair’ profiles a handful of the 1,700 hugely talented teenagers from around the world who make it to Intel’s prestigious international science fair in Los Angeles. Geeky, heartfelt, brilliant, grounded or not — there’s a lot to learn from these kids, personally for doing our best and globally as a hope for international understanding.

Imagine a girl from a deeply impoverished village in Brazil making it to the same stage as a dozen kids from the wealthiest of Long Island towns, while we cheer and cry for all of them.

Similarly, the documentary ‘Valentina’ told the story of a desperately poor family living in a Romanian slum, through the eyes of their bright, charming, witty and wild 10-year-old daughter.

The short film block ‘Take Sexy Back’ had the funniest of stories, well told, from a modern Buster Keaten-esque black and white charmer about two lovers who happen to be women, to Sac de Merde, about a young New York City artist a la Sex in the City who has a one-night stand with a handsome man who happens to have a colostomy bag — and then turns out to be a cad. That one played like a TV pilot for its high production values, sharply witty storytelling and snappy young lead.

My own favorite short was a disturbing, sad yet beautiful experimental piece called Cooking with Connie, whose director Stavit Allweis praised the audience before the screening “for opening a door and stepping willingly into what you don’t know.”

Her own offering wrapped experimental filmmaking around a distinct storyline. She and her lead actress, who plays a hopelessly optimistic mail order bride sailing over the edge of despair, were also everywhere all weekend, enjoying the festival’s offerings.

‘Age of Sail’: Kudos to the fest for going cutting edge with this 12-minute virtual reality animated movie, a sweet little immersive story that was such fun to watch and explore from inside the goggles. You can look around and behind the main action, down into the hold of a boat, off into the ocean horizon, bob up and down to see what’s on the water’s surface and what’s underneath. I made myself dizzy trying to see everything. Wow!

Nice touches: Anthony Richichi’s Tooning In gallery of local art works inspired by the films was a huge hit with the filmmakers (who I suspect bought themselves a lot of souvenirs) and audience both. They seemed honored to have their movies so memorialized.

The free popcorn is brilliant. It’s about treating your customers like they’re special. It’s a small thing maybe, while also a bit of a logistical challenge to make it happen, committee member and popcorn “maven” Andrew Meader told me, but people eat it up.

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