When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a film director. I grew up on Steven Spielberg (he remains one of my heroes), and in class, I’d daydream of walking down palm-lined streets in Hollywood or being a VIP at the Tribeca Film Festival. I didn’t realize that there was so much more to the film industry. Festivals have mushroomed up everywhere, swarming with cinephiles, critics and filmmakers—and they even have them here in Upstate New York. It makes sense: The Capital Region has been the backdrop to countless hit films, including Billy Bathgate, Scent Of A Woman and Seabiscuit; and even was the birthplace and early stomping grounds for Hollywood royalty, such as legendary actor Kirk Douglas, an Amsterdam native, and a host of others. It turns out that the region also has its fair share of film festivals. One of the best options? The Adirondack Film Festival, Glens Falls’ own independent film fest, which takes place this weekend (October 18-21).
Founded three years ago by the Adirondack Theater Festival (yes, a theater company; more on that later), the Adirondack Film Festival has grown from just 150 applications for entry in its first year to more than a thousand in 2018. Attendance is on the up and up, too. Festival Director Chad Rabinovitz tells me that the first year, he thought about 100 festival-goers might show up—but ended up selling 2500 tickets. “We had nearly 3500 people watching individual films last year,” says Rabinovitz. “It’s growing rapidly.” He could be onto something. This year’s lineup includes 90-plus films, including the locally filmed Radium Girls, which will kick off the festival with its regional premiere on Thursday, October 18, at the Charles R. Wood Theater. Other highlights include Blaze, a biopic about Blaze Foley, the original Texan outlaw musician; Anna and the Apocalypse, a zombie flick with a Christmas twist; and Science Fair, a documentary about high schoolers competing in an international science fair (it won audience choice awards at both the Sundance and SXSW Film Festivals this year).
As with most (film) festivals these days, there’s tiered pricing for interested parties. For example, if you buy a VIP pass, you can also be one of the first to experience Google Spotlight Stories’ virtual reality (VR) short film, Age of Sail, directed by John Kahrs who’s worked on such blockbusters as Monsters, Inc.; Tangle and Frozen. Kahrs is perhaps best known for his 2012 Academy Award-winning, animated short film Paperman, which first played before Wreck-It Ralph (Kahrs worked on that film, too, by the way). At 12 minutes long, Age of Sail is the longest film Google Spotlight Stories has made so far and features the voice-acting of heavyweight Ian McShane (Deadwood). The VR film had its world premiere in early September at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, and the Adirondack Film Festival is only the third fest so far to screen it. “It’s something that the general public cannot get access too right now, and it’s brand new,” says Rabinovitz. “I was pleasantly surprised that Google gave us access to this film so early on, especially since we’re so early on. But the festival has gained national attention. We’ve gone from unknown to known pretty quickly, which allows us to get even better films.”
Rabinovitz, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in theater and business, is also the Producing Artistic Director of the Adirondack Theater Festival (ATF), a professional summer theater located in Glens Falls that officially manages the film festival. This gives the Adirondack Film Festival the distinction of being the only major film festival in the country to be run by a professional theater company. Since 1995, ATF has focused entirely on new plays (it’s produced more than 25 world premieres), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to expand the company’s horizons to new films as well. But Rabinovitz is quick to give credit to all the screening venues—the Charles R. Wood Theater, Crandall Public Library, The Queensbury Hotel, The Hyde Collection and Park Theater—which, from the start, were eager to make the film festival a reality. “It sort of grew organically out of the community,” Rabinovitz says. “All of the sudden there were all these screenings that were possible in one block, and ATF had the resources to do it. And because Glens Falls had the resources, too, we thought we could be a really successful place for it—be one of those hidden gems, like Sundance has become.”
The Adirondack Film Festival isn’t just about film screenings. In addition to those 90-plus movies on the schedule, there will also be more than 100 filmmakers, actors, writers and industry veterans taking part in special events and discussions throughout the weekend. These include a comedy panel on Saturday, October 20, at The Queensbury Hotel, featuring comedian and host of HQ Trivia, Scott Rogowsky; and the Adirondack Film School’s special screening of the Instagram series @starringkristine, which will showcase the micro-short film format (each “film” is just 10 seconds long!). There will also be a number of art exhibitions, parties and a “Best of Fest” audience choice awards ceremony on Sunday, October 21, to close out the festival.
With so much going on in just four days, it’s no wonder that the Adirondack Film Festival has been such a hit with film buffs so far. If the festival keeps growing, it could soon be said in the same breath as Sundance or Tribeca.