“Brittany Runs a Marathon” will steal your heart. The opening film of this year’s Greenwich International Film Festival is a heartwarming and inspirational narrative feature that tells the story of a seemingly out-of-control young woman who decides to make a life change and run the New York City Marathon.
“Our team saw the film at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in February,” says Colleen deVeer, a cofounder five years ago of GIFF with Wendy Stapleton. “It’s not to be missed.” GIFF’s all-female team quickly fell in love with Brittany Forgler, the funny, hot mess of a New Yorker who turns her life around, one painful step at a time.
Played by Jillian Bell, Brittany knows how to have a good time, but at 27, her late-night adventures and early morning walks-of-shame are starting to catch up to her. She visits a Yelp-recommended doctor in hopes of scoring some Adderall, but instead she gets startling news that her liver is in trouble and she is overweight. So she laces up her sneakers and runs one sweaty block. Soon she runs a mile. But then what? You’ll have to see it to find out.
“We select films for our program that spark conversation,” says deVeer. “To have an entire weekend through June 2 of thought-provoking stories to choose from is wonderful. There is a great mix of emerging and established filmmakers represented in our program,” deVeer says by way of explaining the team’s modus operandi. “Some of these films were submitted to us via our preferred digital platform, FilmFreeway, and others we scouted and solicited from the festival circuit.”
There are 58 films in this year’s lineup, 38 of which will have cast and crew representing the films. GIFF’s 2019 star-studded festival boasts both international and domestic films from 20 countries from as far afield as China and Serbia, from Macedonia and Uruguay to France and the United States. Besides Bow Tie Cinemas, the Avon Theatre in Stamford and Greenwich Library’s Cole Auditorium will also play hosts. There will also be monetary awards for narrative feature, documentary, social impact and Connecticut Short. Actress Eva Longoria Bastón will be on hand to receive an award for her work to help Latinas build better futures.
GIFF will once again take up the gauntlet to probe topics and situations through narratives and documentaries that don’t make the cut for traditional filmdom. In addition, panels will be held to discuss topics that make headline news every day.
“We often hear that Hollywood films lack diversity,” says deVeer, “but rarely do we hear about the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the movies, When sexual orientation, race and gender are always at the forefront of this matter, what can we do to celebrate the actors who have overcome incredible obstacles and have achieved prodigious careers in entertainment?”
One actor hoping to forge a career in films is 20-year-old Chris Lopes of Fairfield, who has Down syndrome. “A Different Script” captures the heart of this young man who never gives up his dream of becoming a professional actor. While Lopes struggles to achieve independence, he lands a Hollywood agent and auditions for one big role that he hopes will be his big ticket to fame. The documentary explores the global disability rights movement and the unique challenges faced by people with developmental disabilities in the entertainment industry.
The Q&As sessions following the screenings are popular as are behind-the-scenes panel talks. This year’s behind-the-scenes program slated for June 2 at the Cole Auditorium will provide a sneak peek at the different stages of animation, from the designing of characters to the recording of voices. DeVeer estimates that there will be 10,000 visitors this year.
“It will feature a mix of animators and executives from the studio that has presented some of the best animated features to hit the big screen,” promises deVeer.
GIFF has other delights in store for fans that include an extravagant anniversary party heralded by pop singer Kesha at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y.
Like Brittany Forgler as she prepares to run her marathon, we just may have to lace up our own Converses because the GIFF weekend will be a film marathon for visitors. There is so much to see and talk about until next year’s festival rolls around.
For information about screenings, venues, dates and tickets, visit greenwichfilm.org. Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.