Above: Courtesy of stock.adobe.com/©cornnphoto
It was six years ago this May that Greenwich residents Wendy Stapleton, Colleen deVeer and Carina Crain hatched an ambitious idea: create a film festival for the community of Greenwich and the tristate region that would bridge the worlds of film, finance and philanthropy. The goal was to give filmmakers an effective platform to showcase their work and ultimately find financing opportunities for future projects. Equally important, the festival would seek to spark change by showcasing films with a global conscience, covering topical subjects such as human rights, education, the environment and health care. From the outset, the founders were also committed to finding a way to incorporate a charitable component into the mix, which they did by forging partnerships with both local and international nonprofits. With these goals in mind, they hoped that one day Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) would be on par with such top-tier festivals as Cannes, Venice, Sundance. Now, on the cusp of its fifth anniversary, GIFF has achieved all that its founders set out to achieve, and more.
“From the beginning GIFF was fueled by our passion to share stories that tackle critical issues facing the community and our world,” says Stapleton, cofounder and chairman of the board. “You may not have the desire or the ability to go see firsthand what is going on in some far off war-torn area, or what it’s like to be born in the ghettos of the United States trying to gain equal access to education and job opportunities, but if you see a film that exposes your mind to these realities, you can’t unsee them. We passionately believe in the power of film to change people’s minds and hearts.”
As farfetched as the idea may have seemed at first—an international film festival in a suburb of New York City?—Greenwich was a natural fit for many reasons. “There is a robust financial community here, a deep appreciation for art and film and a strong philanthropic bent,” says Ginger Stickel, the festival’s executive director and chief operating officer. “Logistically, Greenwich is a great town for a festival village. It’s easy to navigate, there are wonderful venues for screenings and panels, and the parking and trains make Greenwich very accessible.”
Indeed, since its inception GIFF has attracted plenty of star power and industry insiders, from A-list actors and actresses like Will Arnett, John Turturro and Kristin Davis to Grammy-winning musicians such as Flo Rida and Ms. Lauryn Hill. It’s an important forum for emerging talent, as well; each year, the film screenings and panel discussions featured throughout the festival have served to showcase up and comers like Quinn Shephard, director of the 2017 narrative feature Blame, and her lead actress, Nadia Alexander.
For organizers, GIFF is a year-round undertaking. A general call for entries goes out in November; submissions are accepted through January, which happens to coincide with the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. “Every year the GIFF team travels to Park City,” says Colleen deVeer, cofounder and director of programming. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to scout emerging filmmakers and innovative films. The Sundance programming crew has great taste, and we are able to fill in the holes from the online submissions we select, which in turn allows us to curate a very diverse program that will appeal to everyone in our audience.”
That program comes together in April when the programming team and prescreening committee select which films will be part of the lineup in six categories: Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Connecticut Short and Social Impact. During the festival a jury comprised of industry experts and leaders in their fields selects each category winner, with cash prizes ranging from $1,000 (Connecticut Short) to $10,000 (Social Impact). In 2017, the prestigious Social Impact award went to City of Ghosts, which was directed by Academy Award- nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker, Brunswick alum Matthew Heineman. “It’s always interesting to see how the cash awards are used,” says Stickel. “Matthew donated his money to the charity in the film—Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. The director of Crime + Punishment used the money to finance a social media campaign.”
Five Days for Five Years: Wednesday, May 29 – Sunday, June 2
Screenings & Event Locations
BOW TIE CINEMA
More than 70 events, including international and domestic film premieres, panels and networking gatherings
Soft opening film premiere and q&a / Wednesday, May 29
Changemaker gala & awards ceremony / Thursday, May 30 / L’Escale
Opening night premiere and after party / Friday, May 31
Epic anniversary party / Saturday, June 1 / Capitol Theatre
Special celeb performances, DJs, local bands and highlights from past years, plus light bites and cocktails. For a full schedule of events and ticket prices, please check greenwichfilm.org
All-access VIP passes and tickets to the anniversary party are available this month.
Film tickets will be available Wednesday, May 1.