In 2001, a dream became a reality and a small regional film festival named the New Hampshire Film Expo was born in Derry. Five hundred people attended that first festival. Now, only a decade later, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, that film festival has grown to become an international gem that shows more than 80 independent films and last year attracted 9,000 viewers.
The New Hampshire Film Festival (NHFF) opens its four days of films on Thursday, Oct. 14, when it premieres 23 films that have New Hampshire connections at New Hampshire Night. These films, which include the shorts Backwater by Michael Fisher and The Cot by Mitchell Long, are a celebration of the talented filmmakers in the Granite State.
“New Hampshire Night is a way to celebrate New Hampshire films while positioning the festival as an international film festival,” said NHFF Executive Director Nicole Gregg. “New Hampshire Night has evolved into its own one-day festival.”
This New Hampshire-heavy day includes its own awards, like New Hampshire Filmmaker of the Year and the Van McLeod Award (named after Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod), which recognizes lifetime achievement in New Hampshire film.
But more than a celebration, these films represent a transformation. The film scene in New Hampshire continues to bloom. Gregg said the number of submissions from New Hampshire filmmakers has exponentially increased. She said this year the NHFF easily received 100 submissions of New Hampshire-related films (the festival received nearly 700 submissions overall) and the competitive nature has increased, as the local films are comparable in quality to the ones coming in from out of state and abroad.
In fact, nine New Hampshire films, like the feature YellowBrickRoad by Andy Milton and the short comedy Wanting Alex by Chris Akers, will also be shown during the rest of the weekend. The weekend runs until Sunday, Oct. 17, and films will be shown at four venues throughout downtown Portsmouth, such as The Music Hall, the Moffatt-Ladd House, Seacoast Repertory Theatre and Foobar restaurant, formerly Muddy River Smokehouse. The film festival moved to Portsmouth after its third year and, according to Gregg, it has made all the difference.
“We were really able to get a lot of sponsors when we came to Portsmouth,” Gregg said.
The festival has garnered such a reputation that big-name actors like Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes, Ed Norton, Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon will all be featured in films. In fact, more than a half dozen Academy Award-nominated films have screened at the New Hampshire Film Festival. These films will be shown alongside local talent, which is a real boost to local filmmakers.
“People in our region are now earning a living and making a career out of film,” Gregg said. “That is why our festival has expanded. We show films on Thursday and Friday starting in the morning and people come.”
Last year, 9,000 people attended the weekend, a considerable turnout. Organizers didn’t want to waste such an opportunity to educate and assist filmmakers. That is why they hold the NHFF’s Young Filmmakers Workshop all weekend long, providing instruction for filmmakers 14 to 18 years old, as well as conferences for filmmakers, including 40 special guests who represent industry leaders.