Southeastern Connecticut becomes a bastion of filmdom this weekend, with the arrival of the Moondance International Film Festival.
The fest has run for a dozen years in Boulder, Colorado, but it relocated to Mystic this year. It was a coincidence when Stonington resident and filmmaker Hans Hartman reached out to Moondance founder Elizabeth English to ask for advice on creating a film festival here. She had been wanting to move Moondance - and had even been thinking of Mystic as a possible site.
"I am thinking about moving Moondance permanently to the area," English says. "I want see the attendance and how it goes. But I just love Connecticut."
Moondance will offer screenings of nearly 100 films from around the world - some feature-length, some short, all selected from 500 submissions. It will also host events like a director's Q&A, networking parties and private consultations for a fee.
Two of the names previously announced as coming to the festival - Giancarlo Esposito, who starred as Gus on "Breaking Bad" and Major Tom Neville on "Revolution," and Linda Vilhjalmsdottir, line producer for HBO's "Game of Thrones" - have both dropped out because of work commitments.
English chooses what movies will be shown at Moondance.
"My four word criteria is: unique story, well told," she says.
That doesn't necessarily mean a story that's never been told before.
"Sometimes, a story is told differently. Sometimes, it could be 'Romeo and Juliet' but told differently," she says.
Among Moondance's guiding principles are to "help make the world a better place through film," English says. Part of that is screening films that deal with non-violent confliction resolution and with environmental issues.
One of Moondance's original goals remains as well: to "bring talents of women forward and to tell their stories," English says. She wants to provide an outlet for that, since big-budget Hollywood releases rarely have female directors or producers.
English spoke, for instance, about a documentary by Denise Gentilini titled "We Are Voices - for a Future Without Genocide." It's a different kind of documentary.
"It's almost like a music video that's an hour-and-a-half long, and it's absolutely wonderful," English says, adding that when she first watched it, she immediately watched it a second time.
"We Are Voices" will be screened at 8:05 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.
One of the big films on Saturday, with a screening at 7 p.m., is "a fish story," written, produced by and starring Sam Roberts.
"Sam came to Moondance, I think, in 2006 with a little short story - I mean, I'm taking about less than 10 pages, called 'a fish story,'" English says. "He won Moondance with best short story. He did a consultation with me, out in the park, under a tree, and I encouraged him to write it as a script. I thought it would make a marvelous film. He went away and did it and sent me the script a few years later. The full feature script won Moodance again."
He did another consult with English about possible script changes. He went off and made the movie.
So, English says, "he's actually bringing the film home."
It's based on a true story of brothers who want to finish a cabin that their father was building - but died before completing.
"It's a film that kind of reminds me of 'Field of Dreams.' Everyone who sees it is just basically in tears," English says.
Roberts - who also is the voice of the NBA on TNT - will be in Mystic for the screening and a Q&A; he will also give a workshop on "Never Give Up: Get Your Film Made No Matter What" from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.
A Sunday Moondance highlight is "Dovid Meyer: The Orphan from Jerusalem," screened at 2 p.m. Its storyline focuses on a British "non-practicing" Jewish family that hires an au pair. But the person who arrives is a 13-year-old Chassidic Israeli boy.
The man who wrote, directed and produced "Dovid Meyer: The Orphan from Jerusalem," Rabbi Moshe Mones, will be part of a Q&A at Moondance, as will producer Darren Schwartz.
"Dovid Meyer" was awarded Moondance's Gaia Award for spiritual values, and English says it's "a wonderful little film." Mones will give workshops on Friday about screenwriting and casting.