Feb. 3-6 — The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) has announced the resumption of its statewide Vermont tour, following a two-year hiatus. Two top films from its 2021 7th annual festival will screen in six towns across the state on the expanded weekend, February 3-6.
The two feature documentaries that will screen are the award-winning “Storm Lake” and the acclaimed “The Ants & The Grasshopper.” “Storm Lake,” directed by Beth Levison and Jerry Risius, was the celebrated opening night film at the 7th annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival this past August. “The Ants & The Grasshopper,” directed by Raj Patel and Zak Piper, was the popular closing night film at the festival, where it was introduced by environmental activist Bill McKibben.
“Storm Lake” tells the compelling story of 63-year-old Pulitzer-prize winning editor Art Cullen and his family-run newspaper, The Storm Lake Times, in Storm Lake, Iowa. Twice weekly, week-in and week-out, the Cullens deliver local news and biting editorials on a shoestring budget for their 3,000 readers. In the face of significant long-term economic challenges in western Iowa and the added stress of the pandemic, the paper fights to preserve its editorial integrity, shore up its finances and bolster the quiet community the Cullens call home. An intimate and revealing chronicle of local journalism in rural America, featuring the charismatic Art Cullen; his brother and publisher John; Art’s wife, Dolores; and Art’s son, Tom, “Storm Lake” is a live documentary that lets its central characters tell their essential story.
“Storm Lake” director and producer, Beth Levison, multiple Emmy Award winner and a graduate of Middlebury College, will accompany the film and participate in Q&A sessions at several tour stops. Ms. Levison has toured extensively with the film in Iowa and throughout the Midwest.
“The Ants & The Grasshopper” focuses on Anita Chitaya, an extraordinary woman from Malawi, who has a marvelous gift: she can help bring abundant food from dead soil, she can make men fight for gender equality and she can end child hunger in her village. Now, to save her home from extreme weather, she faces her greatest challenge: persuading Americans that climate change is real. Traveling from Malawi to California to the White House, she meets climate skeptics and despairing farmers. Her journey takes her across all the divisions shaping the United States, from the rural-urban divide, to schisms of race, class and gender, to the thinking that allows Americans to believe that we live on a different planet from everyone else. It will take all her skill and experience to persuade us that we are all in this together. “The Ants & The Grasshopper,” a documentary 10 years in the making, weaves together the most urgent themes of our times: climate change, gender and racial inequality, the gaps between the rich and the poor and the ideas that groups around the world have generated in order to save the planet.
Directed by Raj Patel, New York Times best-selling author and currently teaching at the University of Texas, and Zak Piper, Emmy Award-winning producer and director, “The Ants & The Grasshopper” has often been described as a film that genuinely embodies the impact of social activism.
The MNFF Vermont Tour will stop in Woodstock on Saturday, Feb. 5 for a pair of screenings of “Storm Lake” at 3 p.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. The showings will take place in partnership with the Woodstock Vermont Film Series and are hosted by Billings Farm & Museum Theater, a continuing Vermont Tour partner venue and a leading arts presenter in the region. “Storm Lake” director and producer Beth Levison will attend and participate in a Q&A session with The Vermont Standard’s Phil Camp, moderated by Jay Craven, MNFF artistic director and curator of the Woodstock Vermont Film Series. The Q&A will take place between screenings at 4:30 p.m.
In addition, “The Ants & The Grasshopper” will screen in partnership with the Woodstock Vermont Film Series at the Billings Farm & Museum Theater on Saturday, February 12, with showings at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. In its twelfth season, The Woodstock Vermont Film Series will feature a total of 10 films that reflect Billings Farm & Museum’s vision to share place-based stories of people near and far, to engage the audience and to inspire conversations that increase connections with each other and to the world. Showings take place on Saturdays through Mar. 12. Film Series tickets and information can be found at billingsfarm.org/filmseries.
“Billings Farm & Museum and the Woodstock Vermont Film Series is excited to partner with the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to bring these important films to our community. We are especially pleased to host Beth Levison and Woodstock’s own Phil Camp of The Vermont Standard, a local journalism treasure, for the February 5th discussion on the state of local journalism today,” said David Simmons, executive director of Billings Farm & Museum.
Other Vermont Tour venues and dates include:
- Thursday, Feb. 3 – Burlington’s Main Street Landing Film House
- Friday, Feb. 4 – Putney’s Next Stage Arts [“Storm Lake only”]
- Saturday, Feb. 5 – Rutland’s Paramount Theatre
- Sunday, Feb. 6 – Randolph’s Playhouse Theatre, Dover’s MHCA Dover Cinema and Arts and Putney’s Next Stage Arts [“The Ants & The Grasshopper” only].
The films and screening times will vary at each venue. Complete MNFF Vermont Tour information, including film trailers, can be found at the MNFF website, middfilmfest.org/vermont-tour-2022. Covid-19 protocols for each venue can be found on their individual websites.
“We found ourselves working to address a theme of connection at this year’s film festival,” said MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven, “perhaps because, during the pandemic, connection has been such a challenge and has never seemed so important.”
“The two films we’ll tour are exemplary for the ways they articulate this theme. In “Storm Lake,” an intrepid newspaperman and his family produce an essential small-town newspaper that, like similar endeavors in America’s nooks and crannies, provides the connective tissue that defines community. In “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” an enterprising small village farmer, Anita Chitaya, decides she wants to travel half-way around the world, to meet American farmers, seeking connection and a dialogue on climate change that poses an existential threat to her way of life.”
“By reviving its popular Vermont Tour, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival rekindles its connection with audiences around the Green Mountain State,” noted Lloyd Komesar, MNFF producer. “In presenting these two outstanding and memorable documentary feature films, MNFF again demonstrates its unwavering commitment to promoting the work of talented first and second time directors, the emerging voices of independent filmmaking. And we deeply appreciate our partner venues for their willingness to host the screenings in these challenging times. We hope that audiences will come out to see these fine films and support their local venue operators who are working hard to keep their audiences safe and comfortable.”