The WFF Story
1999 – 2000
The first abbreviated weekend in June, 1999 honored veteran director/ producer John Frankenheimer (Williams ‘51), who over two days shared anec- dotes and insights from his long career and engaged in a remarkable colloquy with an SRO house at the Clark Art Institute. Complementing Frankenheimer were screenings of three indie films, with their producers and directors present to describe fund-raising, casting, and actual shooting of their pictures. The success of this charter weekend – eight events in two days – demonstrated that an enthusiastic constituency existed for a more permanent festival, and plans were made for a second season.
As WFF started to take off, it became clear that it needed the services of a professional at the helm to take the festival beyond the all-volunteer nature of of the first season. In March, 2000, the Board named Steve Lawson as first Executive Director. Keen on expanding WFF’s artistic partnerships with both the Clark Art Institute and Images Cinema (one of the last single-screen independent theaters in the country), Lawson established alliances with the nationally-known Williamstown Theatre Festival and MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in adjacent North Adams. Building on connections in New York and Los Angeles from his past work with WTF and as a playwright and screenwriter, he booked indies from Cannes and Sundance, solicited new Board members to increase its breadth of vision and fundraising skills, and expanded WFF’s timespan from two days to three.
“WFF was a wonderful experience – I’m very grateful they saw fit
to honor me.”
The 2000 season featured half a dozen new films, all accompanied by post-screening audience discussions with their artists. All six were far above the level of the films shown during the first season, and three subsequently went on to theatrical release. Lunch seminars were held on the thorny process of adapting novel and theater into film. Thirteen actors from the Theatre Festival played 59 roles in the reading of a new screenplay. And the Festival paid tribute to David Strathairn, one of America’s most versatile yet non-star performers.
Not only was the second year marked by a distinct leap in both quality and quantity, but the size of the audiences for the films and panels showed an upswing. Fools Gold director Jeff Janger described his q-and-a after the screening in Williamstown as “the most enthusiastic and intelligent of any I have participated in” and hailed WFF as “a first-class happening with real charm.” There was an upsurge of interest as indicated by a wave of favorable publicity not only in the local press but on NPR and in the pages of the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. Efforts at outreach to potential new fans in New York and L.A. increased WFF’s stature in the independent film arena and on the national scene.