The only experimental film festival in New England found its heartbeat in downtown Haverhill last year.
Because of its success, the event is moving to a bigger downtown venue this year. It will offer more seating and expand from two nights to four.
Ten distinct shows will constitute the second annual Haverhill Experimental Film Festival presented by 25-year-old twin brothers Brendan and Jeremy Smyth of Bradford.
Doubling in magnitude from last year’s event, the scope of this endeavor has widened to include six competitive screenings featuring 57 films and videos, a live Super-8 film performance by Richard Fedorchak, an exhibition of Jodie Mack’s award-winning program, “Let Your Light Shine,” Georg Koszulinski’s newest feature-length documentary, “Last Stop, Flamingo,” and a music show featuring live musicians scoring silent 16mm films.
The 57 short films and videos were culled from 350 submissions, with about half coming from college professors in the United States and Canada and the rest submitted by fine arts students and others, Brendan Smyth said.
“The city leaders want to see this festival succeed as much as we do,” he said. “We were even granted a bank account with nonprofit status by the Community Arts and Education Foundation.”
This year’s film festival is the biggest cultural event and concentration of artists the city has seen in years, the brothers said.
“In short, we launched this festival to expose the art of experimental cinema to the Haverhill community,” Jeremy Smyth said. “Delving deeper, our goals have expanded greatly into the creation of a new artistic community that we feel can flourish in a city like Haverhill. Bringing more filmmakers to the festival will increase these chances.”
The bearded brothers, as they are often referred to, will dim the lights and switch on their Super 8, 16mm and HD video projectors when they kick off this year’s festival. The event is May 29 to June 1 above the Tap Restaurant, 100 Washington St.
“We’re expecting 15 to 20 filmmakers in attendance from all over the country,” Jeremy Smyth said.
Last year’s event offered 65 chairs for seating above the Peddler’s Daughter restaurant and bar on Wingate Street, and ran for two nights with a total of five sold-out screenings
One of the films to be featured this year is titled “Eudora” by Haverhill native Michael Bucuzzo, a 2009 Haverhill High graduate who went on to Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and is living in New York City.
Bucuzzo explained his film this way: “Eudora explores the family home through the eyes of a returning spirit: my grandfather. By navigating the lens through spaces and belongings of personal history, the camera becomes an attenuator for passed familial memories encased in a domestic tomb. As a ghost story devoid of characters, Eudora uses its images as a resurrective force to examine the ambiguity of memory and reality, and its further degradation through the act of recollecting.”
Through the success of a recent Indiegogo fundraising campaign and a donation from a local foundation, the Smyth brothers will be able to give money to every filmmaker interested in attending the festival.
“The community needs to be able to interact with these artists on a personal level,” Jeremy Smyth said. “Experimental cinema must be discussed actively, and what better way to do so than with the filmmakers themselves.”
Jeremy Smyth said Haverhill has captured the attention of artists and programmers from around the country. He and his brother described the long-term goal of their festival as a desire to create a new experimental cinematic hub in the United States, joining cities such as Austin, Chicago, Portland and New York.
With local institutions such as Emerson College and MassArt gearing their curriculum toward experimental cinema, the brothers hope to culturally revive Haverhill by establishing a filmmaking community.
“We launched this festival to expose the art of experimental cinema to the blue-collar Haverhill community,” Jeremy Smyth said. “We have noticed a trend of exclusivity in this art form and desire nothing more than to show people who have never experienced the moving image in this way.”
“Delving deeper, our goals have expanded greatly into the creation of a new artistic community that we feel can flourish in a burgeoning place like Haverhill, a city that recently was recognized as an official cultural district, one of 23 in Massachusetts,” Brendan Smyth said.
The brothers said the programming of the competitive films and videos this year will encompass an overarching narrative envisioning the demise of society, delving into a post-apocalyptic world, witnessing a rebirth of humanity, and hinting at another possible downfall — pointing at the repetitive nature of self-inflicted human suffering.
Brendan and Jeremy Smyth are 16mm experimental documentary filmmakers who explore the globe in search of cultural oddities. Their interest in visual anthropology has sent them from Mexico to Indonesia showcasing the economic plight of workers through unique methods of storytelling. The twins’ work has won multiple awards and has been screened at notable festivals including Antimatter, Big Muddy, Chicago Underground and Indie Grits. In June 2013, the brothers successfully directed the inaugural Haverhill Experimental Film Festival in upstate Massachusetts and are now gearing up for the second annual event.
The 2014 Haverhill Experimental Film Festival received a grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council, one of 16 grants awarded this year totaling $25,900 to support programs for the enrichment of residents of all ages, including the free summer Bradford Common Music Series, the downtown Make Some Noise performance series, and other arts and culture events.