By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(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
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
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 &
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
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
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
GM: What is your long term vision for the Project
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
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
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
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 &
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