Who doesn’t love feel-good stories of human-animal relationships?
That was Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival Producer Lloyd Komesar’s rationale when he set the theme for this year’s MNFF Selects film series, which runs from October to May at Town Hall Theater. Komesar is hoping the family-friendly animal-based films he’s screening will entice folks to bring the kids along — masked, of course — to the movies this fall and winter.
The first six films are rated G or PG.
“I’m inspired by the relationships that people I know in Vermont have with their pets and animals,” he said. “I’ve seen people relating so deeply to animals here.”
Komesar has had those relationships, too — and it may have been another reason he decided to dedicate the film series to the deep connection between humans and animals: He lost his 17-and-a-half-year-old dog last spring. “Biggie was a heck of a dog,” Komesar recalled. “As my vet said, he was living just for us. He had nothing left inside.”
“Let’s use film as a way to bring out these connections,” he said.
And the films look great — especially if it feels like your family has exhausted all the offerings on Disney Plus lately.
Here’s what’s coming up!
The series kicks off on Sunday, October 17, with a free matinee of My Octopus Teacher (rated G), which tells the story of a filmmaker who forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, and learns deeply as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. The film, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, won the 2021 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
On November 21, catch the documentary Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street (rated PG). The film dives into the hearts and minds of the “Sesame Street” creators, artists and educators who established one of the most influential and enduring children’s series in television history. (This film, and the rest in the MNFF Select Series, aren’t free. Adult tickets are $16; tickets for children under age 12 are $7.)
Up next, on December 30, is Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog. From award-winning director Lynn Roth, the film (rated PG) sensitively portrays the timeless and unbreakable bond between a boy and his faithful dog as it is put to the ultimate test in 1930s Germany. When the Nuremberg Laws are passed forbidding Jews to own pets, Kaleb, a German Shepherd, is separated from his Jewish family and his beloved 10-year-old master, Joshua. What follows is a story of love and courage during an unforgettable time in history.
January’s film (January 16) is From The Wild Sea (rated PG), a stunning and poetic documentary that portrays the heroic efforts of a network of marine wildlife rescue volunteers who work tirelessly to save sea animals from oil, plastic and escalating winter storms. In depicting the complex collision between humans and nature, the film deftly oscillates between the perspectives of humans and animals.
Cheetah-lovers, take note: On February 20, the film is Duma (rated PG), an exquisite and colorful film about an orphaned cheetah who becomes the best friend and pet of a young boy living in South Africa. Winner of the Humane Society’s 2006 Genesis Award for Family Feature Film, and inspired by a true story, Duma offers audiences a blend of excitement, adventure and compassion with a beautiful and grand landscape as its backdrop.
Finally, on March 24, catch Buck, a documentary (rated PG) exploring the life of acclaimed ‘horse whisperer’ Buck Brannaman, who recovered from years of child abuse to become a well-known expert in the interactions between horses and people. Directed by Cindy Meehl, Buck won the 2011 Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
The last two films — Grizzly Man and The Rider — are rated R, so more appropriate for a grown-ups movie night.
All the MNFF Select films are screened at Town Hall Theater. Attendees 12 and over must be vaccinated. Children under 12, and all other attendees, must wear masks inside the theater.