MNFF to offer grants, guidance to new filmmakers


HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE are expected at Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival screenings this Thursday through Sunday, as well as after-show talks, like this one last year with director Anna Lueck. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
Speaking candidly, we consistently see more and better documentaries than narratives in the screening and selection process. It is time for us to encourage narrative filmmakers. — MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven

MIDDLEBURY — For four years, the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) has showcased many outstanding movies from folks just breaking into the industry.

Now instead of simply giving aspiring filmmakers applause for their great work, the MNFF will be able to give a hand up to young moviemakers seeking to take their scripts from paper to the silver screen.

With MNFF5 kicking off with opening night festivities on Thursday, festival founder and Producer Lloyd Komesar this week confirmed creation of the “MNFF Franklin Film Development Fund.” The fund is designed to stimulate the making of feature-length dramas and comedies by annually awarding $10,000 grants to two filmmakers whose narrative scripts are selected by a panel of judges. Only MNFF alumni will be eligible for the grants, which will need to be matched by the recipients for a total of $20,000 that each of the two annual winners will be able to use to breathe life into their projects.

And that’s not all.

Festival organizers, during the Aug. 25 closing ceremonies of this week’s fifth annual MNFF, will announce that a nationally known filmmaking company has agreed each year to offer one of the Franklin Film Development Fund winners what Komesar called “a first-look deal” for the filmmaker to further develop his or her film. That invaluable aid will include such services as budgeting, casting and polishing of the script.

While Komesar wants to keep the filmmaking company’s name under wraps until the closing ceremony, he did say the venture is co-owned by a Middlebury College alum.

“We’ve identified narrative filmmaking as an area that needs support,” Komesar said. “We want to go beyond simply showing films, to addressing a need. As a film festival, we feel we ought to create a monetary support for filmmakers who wish to create really good dramas and comedies. We want to be there for them. This is a significant first step for us in this way.”

And it wouldn’t happen without the generosity of Cornwall residents and longtime MNFF supporters Churchill and Janet Franklin, who made a substantial donation en route to what is a $100,000 goal. It’s a sum that would make the fund sustainable over several years.

“We hope that generous individuals and like-minded organizations will step forward with donations that will get us to our goal and beyond,” Komesar said. “And for filmmakers trying to decide which festivals to enter, let the potential of a Franklin Film Development Fund grant be a guiding factor.”

The Franklins issued a joint statement about their participation in the effort.

“We are thrilled to support this incredible film festival in our community with a special emphasis on narrative filmmaking for MNFF alumni,” they said. “It is remarkable what MNFF’s founders Lloyd Komesar and (Artistic Director) Jay Craven have done to date, and we hope and expect the Film Development Fund will contribute to the stature and quality of the festival.”

The inaugural submission window for feature film scripts will open Sept. 16 and close on May 15, 2020. A panel of judges will identify two winning scripts to be announced at the 6th Annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival next Aug. 27-30. Selected filmmakers will have up to eight months, ending April 30, 2021, to raise their matching amount. Subsequent rounds of funding will follow the same cycle, with a second script submission round beginning in mid-September 2020.

Craven is hoping the promise of financial aid will lead to more quality movies being made by those breaking into filmmaking.

“Speaking candidly, we consistently see more and better documentaries than narratives in the screening and selection process,” Craven said. “It is time for us to encourage narrative filmmakers, who must launch Herculean efforts to make good and effective films, only to find themselves stranded by a hyper-commercialized distribution process. Our fund won’t change this distribution issue, but it’s a solid step in the right direction — one that we hope will stimulate other forms of support.”

New filmmakers need talent and often luck to bring their projects to fruition. Komesar believes MNFF will help some filmmakers beat the odds.

“There are never any guarantees,” he said. “A lot of films go into development and in the end, some get made an some don’t. But the idea a company would essentially act as a shepherd and say, ‘We want to take this to the next step and see if it can be the film we all think it can be,’ it’s a huge thing for us.”

MNFF is a 501[c][3] nonprofit organization. For more information contact Lloyd Komesar ([email protected]).  Interested individuals wishing to send a check to the Film Development Fund may make it payable to MNFF and send to MNFF, c/o Komesar, 23 Catamount Drive, Leicester, VT 05733. Donations are also accepted online and securely at middfilmfest.org/donate.

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