Annual film festival gets ready for its debut

Sam Norton
A&E Editor

It was just 18 years ago, when the city of Keene helped bring a magical game board to life through the film “Jumanji.” Fast forward, and the city is about to be brought to life yet again. However, this time there won’t be a stampede of wild animals running amok through the city of Keene; rather, actors, producers and directors will be showcasing their work where “Jumanji” was once filmed. After three years of planning and assembling the perfect pieces and characters, the Monadnock International Film Festival will debut on April 4 to April 6.

“We started planning it three years ago,” Laina Barakat, director of the Monadnock International Film Festival, said, “It was a group of organizational leaders and a couple of local filmmakers who realized that Keene is a really good place for a film festival and a really great way to bring people together.”

The first two years of organizing MONiff were focused on becoming a non-profit film festival, applying for grants, and building a steady board, Barakat said. Since 2012, Barakat has acted as the festival’s director, helping fundraise, plan and select venues. However, when it came to developing resources and establishing connections, Barakat said the organization was dependent upon community relationships to help sustain the festival.

Laina Barakat / Contributed Photo

Laina Barakat / Contributed Photo

“We have a great selection committee. The key to having a great committee is having active filmmakers who are on it because, especially for a first-year film festival, a lot of it is going to be personal relationships that help to bring people in,” Barakat said. From these relationships, actors, directors and producers, such as Matthew Gray Gubler, Jessalyn Gilsig, Adam Nee, Ken Burns and William Sanderson will not only showcase their work at this first annual film festival, but they will also be presenting on television and documentary panels.

Award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker Dayton Duncan, Academy Award winning filmmaker Victoria Mudd, and local filmmaker Alexander Mallis will present on the documentary panel on Friday, April 5. Gilsig, Gubler and Sanderson will be presenting on the television panel on Saturday, April 6, with Rae Dawn Chong as the moderator.

These filmmakers, actors, directors and producers are not only showcasing their work and educating the public on the film industry, but they are also helping MONiff establish a name for itself among the film festivals.

“Especially for a first-year film fest, you don’t get these kinds of names. You don’t get these kinds of names for a ten-year festival. We are so fortunate,” Barakat said.

The festival, which begins on Thursday night, will feature films such as the Academy Award nominated “War Witch,” ”Rules of the Game,” “The Kings of Summer,” “It Felt Like Love” “Polluting Paradise,” “ Central Park Five,” “Somewhere Slow,” and “The Learning Curve.”

“It’s been a lot of balancing and timing with getting the films. You have to find the big festivals that are close by to yours, where they [the films] would have already premiered, where we can have them,” Barakat said.

Barakat said that when determining which films to include in the festival, the selection committee, which is composed of five members, searched for films that were premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest and Cinequest Film Festival. The committee also used relationships with Keene State College’s Putnam Theatre to establish connections with various distribution companies.

However, this film festival is not only a way for the Keene community to establish relationships with the film industry, rather it is a chance for the KSC community to develop connections.

“Now that it’s such a big thing for its first annual, it’s only going to get better, and the opportunities for the students are only going to get better. I think that this is going to help our film department aspire to something greater,” Garrett Beltis, a KSC senior said.

Beltis said that the senior film production three and four classes have been spending the semester dedicating their time to creating trailers that will ultimately be submitted to the festival and played before some of the featured films.

“Our film is called ‘A Matter of Elevators.’ It’s a dark comedy about an accident that gets blown out of proportion,” Beltis said, “It’s a great opportunity for us as seniors and filmmakers to get our names out there. Anyone who knows the film business knows all your opportunities are networking.”

Barakat said she saw MONiff not only as a way to get involved with the KSC students, but also the college campus. In addition to the Colonial Theatre, the film festival will be using The Redfern Arts Center’s Main Theatre and Putnam Theatre as part of its venues.

However, it is not only the KSC film students who will have the opportunity to take part in the film festival; MONiff is offering discounts for all KSC students. Barakat said that the first 200 students who purchase tickets for the individual films will be offered a discounted price of $5, and film passes will be offered to students at a cost of $30.

“If anything I’m jealous of the freshmen, who are attending school now, who will be attending the next three film festivals,” Beltis said.

Barakat said, “A film festival is a valuable resource to a community and in celebrating diversity.”

But MONiff is not only a chance to bring the Keene community together–it’s a way for the city to be recognized among the film industry.

“Adventurers beware: do not start until you intend to finish.” And just like “Jumanji,” the Monadnock International Film Festival not only intends to finish in a big way—they plan on making film history yet again, just like the city did 18 years ago.

Sam Norton can be contacted at

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