Monadnock Int’l Film Fest: High Culture in a Resurgent Town

Kyle Gilman with Kyle Turgeon, Jeff Stern
Kyle Gilman with Kyle Turgeon, Jeff Stern

We were honored to drive one of the artists to a local film festival held in Keene New Hampshire today.  Kyle Gilman is Mary’s son, and a well regarded film and video editor who lives with his wife Maggie in Brooklyn.

Maggie Lehrman wrote the film that we would be watching today, a 12-minute drama called Strange Past.

It’s a simple story of four friends in a bar who watch as things pull them apart.  Kyle said on a panel that he doesn’t like directing, and most of all, if it means directing himself.  The film was dark yet had a glimmer of humor in how the characters interacted with each other.

Shorts are always a little less predictable and explainable than features. That’s definitely the appeal, and why MONIFF decided to have two long sessions devoted to the short film. Other films we enjoyed today were one about a man who tells a very long narrative rhyming poem/story as we watch his subject, his 3-year-old-son, live the filmmaker’s own life following a guy dressed up like an owl, a life-size version of his child’s ‘lovey.’

Then a cartoon and animation mashup about an incident in a Montreal high school where motorcycle gang hoods showed up at a school dance and the principal was tasked with defending his charges. This one was hilarious, fast paced and sophisticated.

Then a tale from France about Iranian lifeguards who are vying to represent the country in a competition in Switzerland, animated and poignant.

Another film was set in Cuba where a young American couple visit the island and during dinner,  try to get over the awkwardness of the crazy economy of the island nation…where a woman they’re taking to dinner earns just $20 a month and there are two separate currencies. She explains that everyone in the country makes the same terrible low wage, and we see how complex it is when parallel systems make one envious of the other, yet still very proud. It’s hard to believe this was just a 17-minute film, as with all of the rest I quickly became engrossed and the time slows way down.

Amazing what you can do with a few minutes of good acting.

The final short was called Rabbit and told a brief tale of an inmate who is entrusted with the care and feeding of a pet rabbit to keep her company in her cell. A tough woman who finally softens, this was a sad tale.

After the fest we walked around the town in an area of Keene that was once a brownfield, an industrial section right near the town center.  “A railroad ran right through here,” said Ben Robertson, 46, an actor who lives in town. He said he’s sold his car, which to a New Englander is a bold step indeed. He rents a car when he needs to get down to Boston or New York for an audition.  He loves it up here and he’s on the festival’s board of directors.

Ben said that Keene has become a very popular retirement location, and there are many senior apartments right downtown, and everything is walkable.  Sounds like the city of tomorrow!