When Nicole Gregg joined the New Hampshire Film Festival team as executive director in 2003, “it was pretty much only known locally.”
The festival, which began in Derry in 2001 and moved to Portsmouth in 2004, has quickly grown into an international event. “The filmmakers we’re attracting are from all over the world … (the festival) has definitely gained respect as a viable festival for filmmakers and artists to submit their work,” Gregg says.
The festival returns to Portsmouth from Oct. 15 to 18, and though it’s scope and reputation have grown, the event is staying true to its Granite State roots. According to Gregg, about a third of the 100 films submitted this year were made in New Hampshire or by filmmakers from the state. Those films are showcased in the festival’s New Hampshire Day on Thursday, with films with local connections screening at The Music Hall and The Music Hall Loft. On Thursday night, New Hampshire films are honored at an award ceremony. (Full disclosure: this writer is a member of this year’s New Hampshire Night jury.)
“It’s basically a festival within the larger festival. That day is dedicated to our own local roots,” Gregg says.
Along with four days of film screenings, the festival also hosts panels on various cinematic topics. This year’s lineup includes a panel on New Hampshire-related topics that will look at everything from the heroin epidemic to the Portsmouth African Burying Ground Memorial through the lens of local film. Panelists include Jay Childs, the director of “Food Fight,” a documentary about the grassroots effort to restore Arthur T. DeMoulas as CEO of Market Basket in 2014; Michael Venn, the director of “Community > Heroin” and “It’s Time. Let’s Talk,” a PSA-style short about the region’s heroin epidemic; Nancy Vawter, the co-producer and co-writer of “Shadows Fall North,” a documentary about the African Burying Ground; and Jerry Monkman, director of “The Power of Place,” about the Northern Pass project.
“We’ve got a lot of great local filmmakers who are taking really important topics and using film to help further the message,” Gregg says. “I think it’s something really important to recognize.”
Vawter’s documentary uses the burying ground as a way to look at the history of African-Americans in New Hampshire. She’ll be showing a nine-minute preview at the festival and expects the full feature to be finished in 2016.
“I think we’d all be blind to say there aren’t race problems today. I think when you look at anything … if you don’t address an issue and say that it happened … how does anyone move on?” Vawter says. “I think that it’s great they invited us on the panel.”
Venn has had a film in the festival each year since 2009. “It’s Time,” filmed this summer in Portsmouth and released in September, has become a viral hit, according to Venn, with almost 80,000 views on Facebook.
“It’s a great forum to talk about something that needed to be talked about and has been kind of swept under the rug,” Venn says, adding that the panel at the festival is a way to get local audiences interested in issues that have a regional impact.
Gregg expects the festival to keep growing, always with a focus on celebrating local films and filmmakers.
“I still feel like the sky’s the limit, and we can continue to keep it local in some ways and international in a lot of other ways, and bring those two worlds together every year,” she says.
The New Hampshire Film Festival takes place Oct. 15-18 at venues throughout downtown Portsmouth. The festival’s “New Hampshire Night” is scheduled for Thursday at The Music Hall, and the N.H. Topics panel takes place Friday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. at the Discover Portsmouth Center. For a full schedule and ticket information, visit nhfilmfestival.com.