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The Monthly Column on Film and Media Arts
for the New England Entertainment Digest

By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive Director/CEO

(January 2005) The New Year brings with it change, energy and an opportunity to chart new directions. It is a time of renewal and rebirth on many levels. It is a time to regroup, re-assess and experiment.

For filmmakers in New England, it is a time to chart new projects, explore new territories and for many evolve in a business that is ever-changing and evolving.

With the proliferation of film schools throughout the region (and communications programs), there is a steady stream of graduates ready to ply their craft and have their voices heard.

Enter the film festival circuit. Unofficially, there are over 1900 world wide. In the United States alone, the number is quickly closing in on 700. That’s not only a lot of festivals, but a lot of demand for product to screen. What is amazing is that there is a steady stream with no end in sight of a shortage. Indeed, the festivals themselves have not oversaturated and each tends to build appeal and market the others. Everyone seems to know the words “Sundance” and “Tribecca.” Festivals are no longer elite events and even within certain niches, they have gained mass appeal.

In central Massachuetts, a new entity has emerged with bright promise. It’s called the The MassBay Film Project & Festival and is headed by Robert Newton of Worcester. He has a bold vision which is rather striking and one which holds great promise for film and media artists in the state. He has taken the focus off Boston and Providence and is building the infrastructure for something that provides a credible outlet for exhibition and experimentation.

I caught up with him recently and asked him to share a bit about himself and his creation.

GTM: What is The MassBay Film Project & Festival?

Robert Newton: The MassBay Film Project & Festival is a non-profit (501c3 pending) dedicated to bringing to Central Massachusetts (and sustaining) a full-fledged, multi-day, multi-venue film festival.

GTM: How did it get started and who are the principals involved?

Robert Newton: In 2002, I invited Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”) to Worcester to present his recent film, “Diamond Men”. The response was so favorable that when I next lamented to my wife, Cynthia, how cool the festivals in Boston, Northampton and Providence were and how Worcester didn’t have anything resembling that, she held me to task.

GM: What is the goal of the Project?

Robert Newton: Our goal is not only to present, through the festival and the monthly supporting screenings, some of the best independent films, but to encourage people to tell their own stories through connecting them with resources, and when we are able, to show them. We hosted FanzillaCon, the world’s first fan film festival, in June 2004, and have three films in production. Some of our crews are culled from our vast pool of interns and volunteers.

GM: What needs do you see being fulfilled for the community and why?

Robert Newton: Worcester is a city in transition. The culture scene cannot afford to mirror the city’s “wait-and-see” attitude. The effort must be made (and sustained) to keep this vital facet alive and kicking.

GM: What is your long term vision for the Project and Festival?

Robert Newton: By the 2009 season, we hope to be able to pass the torch to some younger folks (I’ll be 40 by then) and follow our dream of moving north to Maine. If successful here in Worcester, we plan to set up shop in either Portland or Bangor (or both).

GM: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and interests.

Robert Newton: I have been a freelance writer since high school, and recently released my first novelty album, entitled “Monkey Bismuth”, which actually won Best Novelty/Comedy Album at last month’s Just Plain Folks Awards (to which over 10,000 albums were submitted). I take my movie watching pretty seriously — we just added a private 20-seat screening room to our festival office, and are in the process of siting a 100-125 seat public screening room. My first film, “The Bobs Remain The Same”, will debut at the 2005 festival, with “Remaking History” and “Goddard’s People” to follow. I have six cats, one of whom (Louis), lives her at the MassBay office.

GM: Why do you think this enterprise is important to central Massachusetts and the Worcester area?

Robert Newton: I refuse to believe that the town that made me and keeps me to this day has no collective interest in the things that bring me joy. Worcester is so used to being told that it is gloriously free of Boston’s and Providence’s cultural trappings that it believes such garbage talk. I hope to be able to ride out the city’s current face lift and emerge bearing a big “I Told You So”.

GM: If you could have anything you wanted to realize your goals for the The MassBay Film Project & Festival, what would it be?

Robert Newton: Short of D.B. Cooper’s secret stash of cash, a better infrastructure. Sadly, some of the best-located, nicest and most historical screens in town are either in disrepair, off limits or overrun by pornographers.

GM: What role models have you had in building this entity? What has inspired your vision?

Robert Newton: That George Marshall guy seems to know what he’s doing. [Laughs.] Seriously, I have been to a lot of festivals, seen a lot of things I’ve loved, seen a lot of things I’ve hated. After having been in retail for half my life (I sold my last video store to Hollywood in August 2003), I have become attuned to delivering people what they want, and have incorporated that into MassBay.

GM: What would you tell filmmakers and audience about what to expect from the The MassBay Film Project & Festival?

Robert Newton: Whiter teeth, softer clothes and the secret to life everlasting. And if not that, then at least you will save a lot of money in gas and tolls by not having to schlep all over the Northeast (and beyond) to see the films we are collecting. We have a lot of surprises in store.

GM: Any closing comments you'd like to make?

Robert Newton: As convenient, inexpensive and breathtaking as it may be to watch films at home, nothing beats the communal experience of sharing a great film with a roomful of strangers. Support your local independent cinema, as they are doing it for the love of the thing, because Lord knows they’re not doing it for the money.

To learn more and to get involved, contact: Robert Newton, Creative Director, The MassBay Film Project & Festival, 4 Ash Street, Worcester, MA 01608; (508) 363-2424 [phone]; (508) 363-4747 [fax]; www.MassBayFilmProject.org or www.MassBayFilmFestival.org

About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director. He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College and speech communications and documentary film at Roger Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer of commercials and industrials for numerous business clients in the region and is currently completing the multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached at <flicksart@aol.com>