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What's An International Film Festival Doing In A Place Like New Hampshire?

Over the next four days, 95 films will be shown around Portsmouth. It’s the state’s 12th annual New Hampshire Film Festival, and it got underway Thursday afternoon.

Less than 24 hours before the first film is scheduled to be shown, four well-caffeinated young people perch in front of laptops in a rented conference room. A mess of manila envelopes, DVDs, papers and cardboard boxes completely buries the oblong conference table. 

When festival director Nicole Gregg walks in, her right-hand woman Nicole Galovski delivers a rush of updates. They’re discussing their new social media strategy for this weekend’s festival.

Gregg is the NH Film Festival’s only full-time year-round staff member.  Galovski works part time, and the rest of the crew volunteers.  But, Gregg explains, this festival is no small town event. “With cash and in-kind, our budget is about 350,000.” To pay for that, Gregg says, “we receive sponsorships; we receive grants, ticket sales, submissions,”

It’s $12 admission or $35 for a day pass for moviegoers.  As for filmmakers, Gregg charges between $15 to $70 for each submission, depending on the film’s length.  This year, about 1000 films were submitted. Almost 10 percent made the cut. 

And some of them offer up some pretty big names -- like Labor Day, which stars Kate Winslet and Clark Gregg. Nicole Gregg, the event’s director, says “we have built some great relationships with some distributors and we do go after a handful of films that are going to be released in theaters but possibly not come to this community.     

Gregg says the festival doesn’t pay for a single film.  Instead, she relies on some special “industry connections.”

When I was in NY I worked for an indie film company called Shooting Gallery, best known for Sling Blade with Billy Bob Thornton.  My husband came along, and he said, ‘move with me to NH!’ And I said ‘what am I going to do in New Hampshire?’ And I said ‘wow, this would be an incredible place for a film festival.’

While the New Hampshire Film Festival is an international festival with movies from all over the world, Gregg dedicates the first day to films with New Hampshire people and themes. She says that part of the festival has been growing, as digital recording gear becomes more accessible to all kinds of people.  People like Dan Deering, who runs MacEdge, an independent Apple store in Portsmouth. 

Deering and I met at a crowded press party for the film festival earlier this month. “I got into film because so many of my customers were filmmakers,” Deering says.  So, he thought he’d give it a go.  His film is called Tech Roulette. 

It’s a short comedy, kinda about a guy who's having a bad day, but also who makes a really bad assumption about the tech support line he's calling.

Deering’s Tech Roulette got its premiere Thursday afternoon.  Like all of the films showing this weekend, his short is up for a variety of “Granny” awards. These are 10-pound trophies, hand-carved from granite. 

Of course, most of the films are not made in New Hampshire. The documentary “Blackfish,” about Seaworld’s deadly killer whale, premeired at Sundance in January.

For folks on the Seacoast, the New Hampshire Film Festival is a big deal. Katy Eveland-Sherman lives in Rye. Although the festival takes place just 15 minutes from her home, she and her husband get a babysitter for the weekend, and rent a hotel room in downtown Portsmouth. For her family, the festival is an annual tradition.

“ I always plan the babysitter about 6 months ahead of time, it’s a must-do, so we get the babysitter, and I reserve the hotel room, usually when we check out the year before.”

The festival’s director Nicole Gregg says Eveland-Sherman and her husband aren’t the only ones who make a “Staycation” out of the festival. 

“So there’s a great sense of satisfaction and reward when we see people filling up the theaters and flooding downtown sidewalks,” Gregg says.

Of course, she adds, come Monday, she’s looking forward to spending some quality time with her kids, for once.  

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