By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
THE BETHEL FILM FESTIVAL HAS BIG PLANS
Inaugural Year of Fest Promises
Excitement and To-Notch Programming
(October 2005) New England is rich
with history, culture and talent. Throughout the year,
major events occur within in each state that not only
enhance the quality of life, drawing considerable national
and international attention. From theatre to music,
from art to sport, and now film, New England is a treasure
Enter the Bethel Film Festival in Bethel CT. bringing
international and independent film to western Connecticut.
Slated for a six day run October 25-30th, the ambitious
first year launch will feature workshops, panel discussions,
world cinema and more. With a mission of offering “a
rewarding, entertaining and educational experience for
independent filmmakers and their audiences,” the
festival also hopes to contribute to the overall regional
culture, commerce and tourism.
With 250 entries received for this year’s premiere
effort, films have come from 15 countries, including
Japan, France and Italy. Categories include Feature
films, Documentaries, Animation, Short, Student and
So who are the people behind this venture and why did
they create this new festival?
First, let’s look at the lead players.
THE BETHEL FILM FESTIVAL PRINCIPALS AND THEIR TASTES
Carol Spiegel, Partner/Producer – Film Programming,
Industry & Media Relations Outreach and events planner
for Bethel Cinema
“When I was eleven years old, I spent my afternoons
watching The 4:30 Movie on Channel 7. Everyday after
school, I would experience the enormous range of human
(and monster) emotions. On the herculon couch in my
family rec room, I was mesmerized by the characters
on screen and would sink into the world the director
had created for me. No cinema verite and social realism
here, just 90 minutes of syndicated escapism bringing
me the best of special effects, movie star actors, Hollywood
sets, costumes and locations.
“The 4:30 Movie was my informal master class in
film, with special tutorials in editing, programming,
marketing, and critiquing skills. I was a visceral critic,
if the movie stunk; I left and got a ring ding. Films
would be edited down to fit a 90-minute time slot. Genre
programming was embraced with the likes of Monster Week,
Beach Party Week, and even Elvis Week. Classic marketing
tactics were employed. Big names sold films. If Steve
McQueen was in the film, his name was in the ad.”
Eileen Sheehan, Partner/Producer – Strategic
Planning, Finances & Development
Marketing analyst for Scholastic
“I don’t claim to be an expert about film
and I’m not a collector of memorabilia about film.
My relationship with movies/film has been one of a spectator/appreciator.
“My appreciation for film began at a young age.
I grew up in a big family whose normal everyday conversation
was comprised of movie lines from the likes of “Stripes”,
“Caddyshack”, “Night Shift”,
“Mr. Mom”, “Young Frankenstein”,
the Monty Python movies, and the list goes on. Cleverly
written comedies have always risen to the top of my
“My passion for film began after spending nearly
a year of my life working the 2nd shift at a well known
national video store chain. Picture this - a mildly
depressed, underachieving college graduate staying up
until 4am every night watching movies. Oh, how I miss
those days. I had a two-film-a-night habit – what
can I say, they helped me unwind. Sure, I could quit
anytime I wanted to – and I did, the job that
is. Over 500 films later and increasingly disenfranchised
with the corporate video store scene, it was time to
move on, but my relationship with film had turned a
corner. I stopped judging films for not being “artistic”
enough. I recognize film as an artistic medium, but
I mostly appreciate it for how it illustrates the multi-faceted
human spirit. I believe most films have “something”
to offer. My favorite films include, but are not limited
to, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Mystery
Train”, “Usual Suspects”, “American
Beauty”, “High Fidelity”, “Office
Space”, “Home for the Holidays”, “Dead
Poet’s Society”, “Better Off Dead”,
“Rushmore”, “La Femme Nikita”,
“Blue”, “Red”, just to name
a few. Some of my favorite directors are Jim Jarmusch,
Joel and Ethan Coen, Jonathan Demme, Wes Anderson, Tim
Burton, Terry Gilliam and Alfred Hitchcock, among others.
“Going to the movie theater by my self is a preferred
past time, I’m one of the few people I know who
actually prefers sitting in the front rows – I
don’t want anyone or anything to interrupt my
film going experience. Film has given me the opportunity
to explore new dimensions in a limited time and for
a small fee – and I’m a frequent flyer.
While living in Boston, I soaked up the added independent
and foreign film offerings – I was in heaven.
After relocating back to Connecticut, and calling Bethel
home for over 6 years, the Bethel Cinema was a refuge
“Now, though I’ve moved from Bethel, the
Cinema still provides the often much needed transfusion
from the independent scene. My intention for starting
an independent film festival in Bethel is to introduce
other film enthusiasts to the quiet charm of Bethel
and the rare gem the Bethel Cinema is. My hope is to
get something exciting happening to stimulate more cultural
growth in our area.”
Peter Howland, Partner/Director – Sponsor &
Owner, AMP Communications of CT, Bethel CT; Senior Writer,
Leverage, Newtown, CT
“Where to start… I LOVE movies, always have,
always will. I own dozens of books on film and film
criticism and very often plan my Sundays around watching
Ebert & Roper (I still remember Siskel & Ebert
as the original hosts of Sneak Previews on PBS); In
college, I wrote movie reviews and formed opinions of
would-be girlfriends based on the types of movies they
wanted to see; I collect movie posters and memorabilia
(including a 4x6 blow-up of a Marx Bros. still from
their first film, Cocoanuts); I am always suspicious
of remakes and I've probably seen Casablanca and Citizen
Kane at least 25 times each.
“My favorite directors are Hitchcock, Demme, Kubrick,
Lumet, Scorsese, Campion, Huston, Egoyan, Coen, Weir
and Wes Anderson; Some of the films that changed or
opened my mind about what a movie can do include "Chinatown",
"Rosemary's Baby", "Blow Up", "Brazil",
"My Dinner With Andre", "Wings of Desire",
"Zelig", "Blue Velvet", "Betty
Blue", "Something Wild", "Vanished"
(the original), "The Pawn Broker" (for sparse,
intimate story telling and Steiger's amazing silent
scream). Biggest eye-openers were my first foreign language
film viewings: a double bill of "Diva" (in
French) and "Bread and Chocolate" (in Italian).”
Additionally, working with the Festival are Tom Carruthers,
Partner/Producer – Venue & Partnership Relations
Owner/Principal, Thomas Carruthers Entertainment, Bethel
CT; Paul Schuyler, Partner/Producer – Event Operations
& Technical Coordination Owner/Principal, Bethel
Cinema, Bethel CT; and, Rob Wallace, Assoc. Director
– Branding, Graphic Design, Website & Marketing
Development, Owner, MeteorMedia, Bethel CT; VP Communications,
Keep America Beautiful, Stamford, CT
HOW THE MOVIES HAVE BEEN SELECTED AND SCREENED
There are five individuals working as screeners with
the Festival. Each bring a unique perspective to the
event and complement the overall vision of the evolving
• John Grissmer of Ridgefield, CT, has served
on Theatre Arts faculties at American University, The
University of CT, and Xavier University. His feature
film credits include “The House That Cried Murder”
(producer/writer), “Scalpel” (writer/director),
and “Bloodrage” (director). His plays “Glorious
Noise”, “The Perfect Game”, and “Scandalous
Mary” have been well received locally and regionally.
Grissmer has produced plays Off-Broadway, and has directed
at The Ridgefield Theater Barn. He is currently writing
music and lyrics for “Heaven, Please Hold”,
a metaphysical musical comedy.
• Peter Lerman of Bethel, CT, is a native New
Yorker and a former School of Visual Arts faculty member.
Peter owned an award-winning commercial photography
studio in New York City for ten years shooting for major
national advertisers and magazines. He was also a talent
agent and partner in Rogers and Lerman Model and Talent
Management, representing performing artists in all media.
Peter was a featured guest speaker at talent scouting
conventions around the country and was profiled in Cosmopolitan
• Suzanne Mortati of New Fairfield, CT, was an
account executive at Silvercup Studios in New York,
where she was involved with the daily troubleshooting
of motion picture, television, commercial production,
music video and still photography accounts. She participated
in the negotiation of studio contracts and coordinated
the scheduling of all studio rentals. Now a landscape
designer, Suzanne is still a film lover and is currently
pursuing another relationship with film, this time as
• Linda Sobo is a psychotherapist who resides
in Newtown, CT. A published composer of children's choral
music and an avid film enthusiast, Linda is a past musical
director for the New Milford TheatreWorksKids summer
program. She has two sons, both of whom work in music
• Carol Tambor is an avid New Yorker, with both
an apartment and art studio there. She is a full time
painter, working primarily in oil, creating landscapes,
still lifes and portraits by commission. She studied
at the National Academy of Design with Sam Adoquei.
An ardent film and theater viewer, Carol’s love
of theater resulted in establishing the annual Tambor
Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest
arts festival in the world. This award brings top dramatic
works from the festival directly to New York in a fully
realized production. She lives part time in Sherman,
CT with Kent Lawson and her puppy, Bacchus.
…AND EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT
THE FESTIVAL BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
I recently spoke with the principals behind the festival
and was able to glean a bit more about their drive being
creating this event. Answering my questions were Peter
Howland with a bit of help from Carol Speigel.
GTM: What were the motivating factors that lead to the
creation of this festival?
BFF: There were several reasons why we wanted to do
this. First and foremost, though--we all love the movies,
especially independent film. All of us who are organizing
and promoting this festival love watching indies and
are happy to support them.
Second, we are all very independent-minded people who
happen to like a good challenge. We knew this wasn’t
going to be easy but if not us, who?
Third, we love Bethel and wanted to bring the excitement
of an international competition here to our town. It’s
also a great opportunity to showcase Bethel as more
than just a charming New England town, which it is,
but also as a viable location that will support this
kind of event. In doing our due diligence, we realized
that we have a very solid base of dedicated independent
filmgoers, plus a great primary venue right in our own
backyard -- or downtown, to be more precise. When we
approached the Bethel Cinema on this last October, the
owner (Paul) was not only interested but had a new marketing
person on board (Carol) who was thrilled to make the
festival her new focus. So we joined forces and the
rest, as they say, is history.
GTM: Who are the principal players and what do they
each bring to the table?
BFF: In addition to the five partners, another key player
is our design director and Web master, Rob Wallace,
who really helped bring our concepts and visions to
life. Rob was recently tapped to be VP of Communications
for Keep America Beautiful. We also rely heavily on
our many volunteers, with additional support from our
advisory board, which includes filmmakers, film professors,
festival veterans and others involved with promoting
regional culture and the arts.
GTM: What do you hope to achieve this first
year out with the festival and do you have a long range
vision for where you'd like to see this event head?
BFF: Our year-one objectives are to secure a diverse
slate of quality indie films and filmmakers and, of
course, to fill seats. The first part is done, so now
I guess it’s up to all the people who enjoy independent
film to come out and see what we’ve put together
for them. After this one proves successful, we plan
for this to be an annual event that gets bigger and
better with each passing year.
GTM: How have been advertising this event and what sort
of response have you been getting?
BFF: We’ve been somewhat grassroots yet very methodical
about getting the word out, relying more on PR than
paid advertising. This mix of online and onsite marketing
plus a lot of press exposure has worked quite well,
as evidenced by the nearly 30,000 visits our Web site
has received. Post-Labor Day, we’ll be filling
in with posters, lawn signs, a billboard, more save-the-date
cards, among others things, plus more publicity.
GTM: Do you have any role models, i.e., festivals
that have inspired you, that have helped you in the
creation of this event?
BFF: Not really. Most people probably think of Sundance
as the epitome of a festival embracing indie films and
filmmakers in a non-urban setting, but that event is
well beyond the reach of most of us. Instead, we looked
at some smaller-scale festivals or ones that had a good
vibe about them, but none really matched what we’re
trying to do as far as a small town hosting a big event.
We did have the sense, however, to get some advisory
assistance from some established festivals, like Newport
and St. Louis.
GTM: I noticed that you've brought on board an eclectic
group of judges to the fest; how did you find them and
what do they bring to the Festival's mission?
BFF: Finding the right mix of judges was a collaborative
effort, but we all thought it highly important to have
a varied and interesting roster of credible, credentialed
persons, especially as a first-year event. This meant
using public and private contacts to tap filmmakers,
film reviewers, film professors and others. To our happy
surprise, most of those asked consented. We are particularly
pleased to have Daniel Minahan as a features judge.
Known for his script work on I Shot Andy Warhol, his
writing/directing of Series 7, and his directing work
for episodes of HBO’s Deadwood and Six Feet Under
series, Showtime’s The L Word, it turns out that
Dan went to the same high school (Danbury) as one of
our partners, Eileen. She asked and he was gracious
enough to accept.
GTM: How are you getting most of your entrants
for this year and how have they found out about the
BFF: As far as entrants go, it was a combination of
online calls for submission, word-of-mouth, and reaching
out to certain filmmakers whose work we were interested
in showing. By and large, we received the most submissions
from Without A Box, but in terms of what we ended up
selecting, these other methods were just as important.
With the help of her six-plus-person screening team,
our programming director (Carol) was able to cull nearly
300 submissions down to approximately 50 programmable
[Added Carol:] “I’m very proud of the number
of first-year submissions and the quality and scope
of our final selections.”
GTM: Do you have any projections for attendance
this year and if so, what would be your optimum turnout?
BFF: We’re expecting between 2,500 and 4,000 individuals
to attend over the course of the week. Our goal is to
sell out the majority of screening times, which we are
in the midst of finalizing and should be posting soon.
GTM: Why independent film? Why not do a festival that
is built on mainstream product?
BFF: Why the focus on independent films? What’s
most important to us is supporting independent film
and the filmmakers who create them. This is where original
thoughts and talent are coming from, not Hollywood.
The major studio releases are predominantly bland and
predictable. They’re formulaic. Just look at all
the remakes they crank out. Or all the junk geared for
mall focus groups instead of real film fans. Do we really
need any more TV shows made into movies? I don’t
think so. To find true creativity, to experience an
independent point of view, you have to look to the indie
writers, directors and producers. They are the ones
willing to go beyond the generic and formulaic to give
us something more personal, and certainly more interesting.
GTM: Where do you see the Festival in five years?
BFF: Long-term, it’s too early to tell. We have
discussed the idea of bringing this event to other towns,
perhaps as a kind of traveling Connecticut Film Festival
that has a different host city each year.
GTM: Any thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
BFF: Even though this will be the festival’s inaugural
year, it is not to be missed. This is a six-day event
that has something for everyone, from dazzling animation
to highly original shorts, features and documentaries.
We will also provide ample opportunities for you to
meet and engage filmmakers, whether in a post-screening
Q&A or at our Friday night gala fundraiser to benefit
the Connecticut Food Bank. And for those of you who
aren’t in our immediate area, please know we’re
working on getting reduced rates on hotel rooms, so
by all means, come, experience, enjoy!
JUST THE FACTS:
Who: The Bethel Film Festival
What: 6 days and nights of film viewing, judging, awards,
workshops and discussion
Where: Bethel, CT
When: October 25-30, 2005
Contact: The Bethel Film Festival
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached