Annual Ashfield Film Festival

  • Audience members gather for the film screenings in the Ashfield Town Hall for the 2017 Ashfield Film Festival. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The awards presented to winning filmmakers are handcrafted by Kurt Meyer, a local woodworker (not pictured). CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A young Film Festival attendee holds two tickets to the day of short-film screenings at Ashfield Town Hall, held this year on Saturday, Sept. 21.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • From left to right: Ashfield Film Festival Co-Founder Harry Keramidas, with current co-chairs Tamara Sloan, co-chair Christopher Seward and co-founder Tamsen Merill in front of the stage at the 2017 film festival. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Audience members fill the Ashfield Town Hall for the annual film festival screenings, with a feature film screening on Friday, Sept. 20 and the submitted short-film gala on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2019 6:00:17 AM

For 13 years, the Ashfield Film Festival has drawn together those who are passionate about film with others in their hometown to watch inspiring films and local shorts that engage viewers in a meaningful way.

“I love film as a medium to encourage dialogue and explore other thoughts and worlds beyond our community,” Ashfield Film Festival co-chair Tamara Sloan said. Sloan has served as the co-chair for the last three years of the festival.

This year, the festival weekend will kick off with a Friday, Sept. 20 screening of ”Sembene!” (2015) at 7 p.m. in the Ashfield Town Hall, one day before the festival. Anyone interested in filmmaking, Senegal, documentary films, or African history is welcome to attend the screening.

The feature-length, multi-award-winning movie offers a look at the life and career of Ousman Sembene, “the father of African cinema.” ”Sembene!” weaves together segments of Sembene’s most famous films with dialogue between the renowned filmmaker and Gadjigo, presenting an honest and fascinating profile of the African freedom fighter who used stories as his weapon to accomplish extraordinary things.

The film is co-directed by Jason Silverman and Mount Holyoke College Professor Samba Gadjigo. “Sembene!” has been shown at Cannes and Sundance, among other major festivals. Sloan first saw the film during a screening at the Academy of Music. She was so taken by the film that she immediately asked if it could be screened at the Ashfield Film Festival.

Following the Sept. 20 screening will be a post-film discussion with Gadjigo about his adventures with Sembene. The discussion will also feature a panel with other impressive guests. Each year, the festival gathers a panel comprised of a diverse group of local people — five guests and a couple of film festival committee members.

“We try to have a panel discussion after screenings so the community can have a dialogue with the panelists and not just go home and think about it alone,” Sloan said. “It has brought a lot of interesting dialogue into our small community that we wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.”

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, the Ashfield Film Festival will kick off its gala event, showcasing short films that were submitted by filmmakers from across the region. Each year the festival receives at least a dozen entries, all approximately five minutes in length, for the short films’ screening. If someone who does not live in the listed towns wanted to participate, Sloan said the only requirement for them to enter their short film was to have it be about, set in, or mention Ashfield in some creative way.

“Last year, someone submitted an incredible film with live footage of a bear trying to break into their bird feeders; at the end they said the bear was from Ashfield,” Sloan said. “The films run the gamut from really moving to slightly absurd.”

Throughout the evening Saturday, the original short films will be screened and judged. Contestants will have a chance to win $200 in cash prizes with a grand prize of $400, awarded to the film judged to be best in all categories. The films are rated on a simple structure, incorporating heart and emotion for criteria, Sloan said. Local woodworker Kurt Meyers will once again be handcrafting trophies for awards. 

Saturday’s short film entries will also compete for the Audience Choice Award, which consists of numerous gifts from Ashfield’s local merchants and will be awarded to the entry receiving the most votes of the attendees at the Gala Screening in Ashfield Town Hall.

There is no entry fee for films, and all residents of Ashfield, Buckland, or Shelburne were able to submit short films in a variety of genres, Sloan said. Categories include best documentary, best narrative feature, best youth-made film, best music video, and more.

The festival has screened more than 150 films, from filmmakers within the community. Each year the entries grow, demonstrating not only the cultural and historic diversity of Ashfield, but also a growing enthusiasm for the creative art of storytelling through film and video in the region.

The event is a beloved annual tradition for the greater Ashfield area, Sloan said. The weekend is a fun reason to gather with friends to have a drink, eat popcorn and watch a new crop of films that add to the sense of wonder and amazement for the community.

Sloan said participants occasionally dress up for the occasion — as if they were attending the Oscars. In the past, participants created a “Hillywood” sign for the screenings. The evening often opens with a humorous skit, based on events in the town.

According to its website, the Ashfield Film Festival began in 2007 as a community event to honor a local town hero and famous showman, Cecil B. DeMille. For the last 12 years, the town has come together to watch the feature films and competitive shorts. The festival has grown to include workshops to assist people with filmmaking and broaden the diversity of film entries.

“One of our missions is to engage people in film and encourage young filmmakers,” Sloan said, “We’re proud of the number of people who have grown up in the area and competed in the festival and have gone on to become filmmakers.”

Tickets for the Friday, Sept. 20 screening of Sembene! at the Ashfield Town Hall, 412 Main St., cost $6 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets with a limited supply available at the Ashfield Hardware Store, Elmer's Store in Ashfield, Nolan’s Neighbors in Ashfield, and Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls. The film fest is completely volunteer-run and is fiscally sponsored under the West County Arts and Culture.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at  zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-  0261, ext. 264​


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