By Bill Clifford
11:15 AM EST, December 4, 2012
Hartford Flick Fest
Dec 6-9, various film times throughout the weekend
Spotlight Theater and Wadsworth Athenaeum
Connecticut's indie film community and fans come together this weekend at the new Front Street theater.
After a grand opening in mid-November, downtown Hartford's new Spotlight Theater will host the Hartford Flick Fest (HFF) on Dec. 6-9. Formerly known as The Silk City Flick Fest – named after Manchester, the city where the fest was first held in 2009 – the HFF will showcase the best in foreign films, student films, arthouse and independent films, with a focus on Connecticut films and filmmakers.
Speaking with the Advocate at the bar at the Spotlight Theater Bistro on the corner of Front Street and Columbus Boulevard, Justin Morales, a Manchester native, movie buff and independent film producer, relates his passion for film and why he was determined to bring a film festival to Connecticut.
"My inspiration came from attending the first film festivals I went to, I had such a blast," says Morales. "I thought they were a fantastic gift for filmmakers who worked so hard on their own movies. I went to the Woodstock Film Festival and then the Independent Film Market was another in New York City." Morales was particularly impressed with how at the Woodstock festival it seemed the whole community came out to the screenings, held at multiple venues across the town, and felt that Connecticut could benefit greatly from such an event.
Armed with his own film to promote, 2009's Busking The System — which documents street musicians trying to make a living in the subways of New York City — Morales established the event in his home town, holding screenings of about 25 movies at locations such as Cheney Hall, Hillard Mills, Manchester Community College and Buckland Hills Mall movie theater. His big scoop that first year was hosting a screening for Ron Colby's Pirate Of The Sea, which begat the Discovery Network television show, "Whale Wars."
In need of multiple and larger venues in the ensuing years, Morales took the festival to Hartford's Wadsworth Athenaeum Theater and the Connecticut Science Center. Landing "better movies and some pretty fantastic speakers," he proudly states that the festival has evolved and is now an established and well-run event.
"Each year we've gotten a little tighter on how we execute and how we treat our filmmakers and what we're able to offer them. Our attendance has grown, probably doubling every year," says Morales. "This year particularly having a home base, a place that identifies us, is just really exciting. "
Morales didn't do it all on his own. A small but dedicated group of volunteers have worked with him on the festival since day one, as have local sponsors, such as Hartford Distributors and City Steam Brewery. And looking to promote the event in the first year, he turned to Andrew Concatelli, the assistant editor and movie critic of the Vernon-based Reminder News, who wrote about the event and asked if there was anything else he could do to be involved. He took on the role of programmer.
"That involves screening films," said Concatelli, who spoke by phone, "evaluating them on a number of categories, and determining what's going to be included in the festival, and ultimately, what will win each of the categories. So it's a bit of a gatekeeper for the festival."
Having been involved with the Flick Fest since 2009, he, like Morales, notes that this year is "a huge jump forward" in the event's growth. "To go from being scattered all over Manchester to the premier theater in Hartford now, has been incredible growth over a few years," says Concatelli. "That's why we've changed the name from Silk City Flick Fest, to Hartford Flick Fest. We wanted to reflect the name of the city that's really embraced us."
The Flick Fest has developed a three-part focus, says Morales: "A, to showcase Connecticut film makers to the rest of the world; B, showcase foreign film makers and outside filmmakers and the outside film industry to Connecticut; and C, to really provide a home base in Connecticut for artists and film lovers to come out and enjoy themselves and get a film festival experience."
There are numerous films with Connecticut connections, among them Mike Basone's Life In Parallel and Zachary Mehrbach's The Last Intervention, both of which were filmed in Connecticut. Also, Rising Star, written and produced by Newington native Marty Lang and staring Bristol native Emily Morse. The film features the capitol city and many of its historic landmarks.
"Rising Star, being shot in Hartford, was really dear to my heart because I feel like Hartford was my surrogate city," said Morse, who spoke by phone from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I didn't grow up there, but I spent a lot of time within the arts and music scene in Hartford, and I am really proud of the work that is done there, and the sense of camaraderie in the arts scene within Hartford. The film community has been something that has grown on me a lot from the Rising Star film, and so getting to know so many of the people involved in the film scene in Connecticut was really beautiful."
Morse, along with many others from the film community in Connecticut, will be at Spotlight Theater on Thursday night for the opening night gala and awards ceremony.