When the Wind-Up Fest comes to North Adams and Williamstown next week, it’s not only a debut of a new weekend event, but a whole new kind of event entirely that shakes up the foundations of traditional festivals. The new festival is a variant of the Williamstown Film Festival. It centers on documentary film, but builds out from that bulleye to offer a multi-media presentation of non-fiction narratives, including podcasts, storytelling, discussion and even a game show.
“We say that documentary film is the backbone of Wind-Up but it’s storytelling that is at its core,” said managing director Sandra Thomas. “The combination of documentary film, a nonfiction variety show, storytelling intertwined with short films, and podcasts with live performance, offer multiple ways for people to access the stories and the artists who created them.”
Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Kolbert will be conducting a post-screening discussion of the film Uncertain with its filmmakers, and sees it as a unique opportunity to not only further address the issues of the film, but to peel back the layers of the documentary form itself.
“Nonfiction is, in a sense, reality masquerading as fiction,” Kolbert said. “Reality is pretty messy, though, so there are a lot of decisions that get made about how to turn it into a narrative. I think people are really interested in that — I know I certainly am.”
Part of the goal of the festival is to reveal how these narratives are shaped amidst the messy reality that Kolbert describes. Filmmaker Penny Lane plans to dive directly in there with a clip from her upcoming film, Nuts, and then tear down the barriers in front of an audience as part of the Saturday morning “Short and Sweet” at Images Cinema.
“I’ll then deconstruct how it was made so I can show all the staples and duct tape and safety pins we nonfiction filmmakers use to take the chaos and mess of ‘reality’ and beat into the submission so it can read something like a ‘story,’” she said. “It will be an unusually frank look into how nonfiction storytelling actually works. I’m laying out a welcome mat in front of the epistemological and ethical hall of mirrors that is my artistic process.”
Lane will appear along with National Geographic TV host and humorist David Rees, and several short films.
At Friday afternoon’s “Variety Show” at Mass MoCA, various participants will take documentary to another level, like Rich Remsberg, whose History Jukebox, which doesn’t utilize documentary film exactly, but obscure news reel stories from the 1950s and ’60s that have long been forgotten, in a media mash-up that perfectly echoes the festival’s core intent.
“The whole thing will be presented in game show format — well, maybe more like a crooked game show,” he said. “And without prizes.”
That event will also feature Rees, photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally and musicologist David Rothenberg, along with three short films.
Taking the festival wholly away from film will be the debut of the October episode of popular podcast Love + Radio as part of “Radio 1–2–3.”
“If you ask a bunch of people who track such things what the most innovative podcast is, Love + Radio invariably comes up,” said festival director Paul Sturtz. “In a time when so many shows like This American Life and Radiolab have a formula, winning as it may be, Love + Radio is creating an unconventional classic that defies description.”
“Radio 1–2–3” will offer other radio-oriented presentations, including Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass acclaimed dance collaboration with “This American Life” host Ira Glass.
But at center will be documentary films — a handful, carefully curated by the festivals director, Paul Sturtz, chosen to work together to create a larger experience, rather than merely instances of individual movie-watching.
“Our programming of ‘Olmo & The Seagull’ is a tip of the hat to the Williamstown Theatre Festival where Chekhov has played a big role over the years,” Sturtz said. “It’s a stunning, behind-the-scenes look at a woman’s struggle to live a big life as an actress, a partner and a prospective mom.”
Among the other films screening will be Very Semi Serious, focusing on New Yorker cartoonists, and featuring an after-screening discussion with cartoonists Bruce Eric Kaplan and Liana Finck. There will also be Breaking A Monster, which follows a middle-school age band from YouTube sensations to music industry darlings with a critical eye. Director Luke Meyer will have a conversation with Pixies frontman and solo artist Frank Black following that.
The festival will also feature music events and dance parties in its mix of non-fiction offerings.
Wind-Up will wind down on Sunday with a show by live documentary performer Sam Green and his collaborative partner Dave Cerf, presenting a series of shorts including an ode to the telephone booth, the story of the golden record in the Voyager Space Craft and the home audio tapes of Louis Armstrong. Green is thrilled to be part of the first edition of Wind-Up.
“I’ve been to True/False, Paul Sturtz’s other great film festival, many times, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of this, because I think it’s a fantastic and timely idea for a festival,” Green said. “I just think it’s a smart notion for what a festival can be. This is the first one, but I’m very confident that it will become a real heavyweight in the festival world. Wind-Up Fest is the future, for sure.”