By Gene Carr, Eagle correspondent Nov 25, 2023
In the fourth episode of “The Eagle’s Eye: Catching up with Berkshire visionaries,” host Gene Carr catches up with Kelley Vickery, who has brought the art of film and filmmaking into the fold of Berkshire County’s cultural identity. Vickery is the artistic director and founder of the Berkshire International Film Festival and has been a visionary in the world of film for years.
Vickery started her career working at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and after living overseas, she came back to the Berkshires and founded the Berkshire International Film Festival. In 2006, Berkshire Magazine had the idea of starting a film festival, and 10 years later, it named her one of the Berkshires’ “Top 25 Most Influential People.”
Host Gene Carr caught up with Vickery for an interview, an abridged version of which appears below.
Gene Carr: Why did you think the Berkshires were the right place for a film festival?
Kelley Vickery: After I moved here, I thought we have everything that celebrates the arts. We have Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow and so much theater, but we don’t really celebrate film the way I feel like we should.
Carr: How does one construct a film festival?
Vickery: We look at many film festivals. I go out to Sundance and to Berlin. We open up submissions through FilmFreeway where anyone can submit a film to the BIFF. We have a group of 10 of us that pour through over a thousand submissions and curate it down to 80. Usually, we have about 24 different countries that are represented. And we have Berkshire films.
Carr: What kind of access and exposure do audiences get to the craft of making film?
Vickery: We have maybe 40 to 50 directors, producers, actors that come to the film festival. We have an intense day and a half of what we call the Filmmaker Summit. It’s very encouraging and welcoming to the filmmakers and they can network with each other.
Carr: Let’s talk about the world of independent film. How do people actually get into the business? How do they finance their films?
Vickery: Independent filmmakers are a different breed. All filmmaking is difficult, but independent filmmaking is really hand to mouth. It can be lonely making indie films and it can take years. It’s really a labor of love. I mean, you hear about things like mortgaging homes, taking out bank loans. It’s tough and you don’t make a lot of money, but it’s a labor of love and independent film is alive and well.
Carr: Give us some examples of how it’s alive and where you see the industry moving?
Vickery: Well, I went to Sundance last year and they had almost a hundred independent films. I saw 20 films in four days and 18 of the 20 were fantastic. I selected 16 out of Sundance last year for the BIFF, and the quality of filmmaking was incredible. Just as an aside, Noah Beck and Greta Gerwig have been at the BIFF twice. And to see them take this film “Barbie” and create this crazy success from this film, these are two indie filmmakers that didn’t make a lot of money, and they’ve had very small productions before. Now there’s an indie success story.
Carr: Weigh in a little bit about the pros and the cons and how you see Netflix and other streamers influencing the world of film.
Vickery: I mean, never before have we seen so many independent films on these platforms. I think it’s great that independent films, documentaries can have a lifeline that are on a streaming platform. It helps them in the long run. And there’s more money out there. It is paying these independent filmmakers to get on the platforms, maybe not a lot, but more than they would be making if they didn’t get distribution from your traditional distribution companies. So I think it’s actually positive.
Carr: I think we’d be remiss not to mention that this year saw the turnover of the Triplex Cinema (in Great Barrington, a major venue for the film festival) from one ownership to a new group who are going to try to reinvigorate film in Great Barrington, so hats off to that effort because it’ll allow you to continue. It’ll allow the Berkshires to have a home for the festival.
Vickery: Well, I think we’re just going to continue to do what we do and just make it as good as we can. The Triplex is a huge thing for us. We’re thrilled that this group has taken it over. They are great fun to work with. They are supportive. They’re about the community. BIFF is about the community. So I see us doing more throughout the year.