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Vermont International Film Festival Comes to Montpelier

Tilda Swinton stars in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria,” playing Friday, Nov. 4, at 7:45 p.m. at The Savoy. Photo courtesy of Neon.
For the second consecutive year, the Vermont International Film Festival will make a special stop at Montpelier’s Savoy Theater. The Burlington-based festival recently screened upward of 40 feature films across 10 days at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center. This weekend, Nov. 4–6, 10 of those films travel to the Savoy for an exclusive one-time showcase.

The must-see curiosity of the bunch headlines Friday’s screenings at 7:45 p.m. “Memoria” is the first English-language film from Thai cinema master Apichatpong Weerasethakul, starring Tilda Swinton as a woman hounded by the unnerving sound of a loud boom. She is unsure of its source, or if anyone else can even hear it. She journeys into Columbia’s Andes Mountains to discover the sound’s origin and, in her quest, excavates ancient wonders buried beneath the morass of modern life.

Weerasethakul’s films are magnificent and immersive experiences, where sound and image transport the viewer into charged zones of magic and myth. For this reason, Neon, the film’s distributor, has determined that “Memoria” will only be shown theatrically. It will not be released on video or streaming. “Memoria’s” engagements with the VTIFF are so far the only screenings of the film happening within the entire state of Vermont, so take advantage of this rare opportunity while you have it. 

Two archival-footage documentaries kick off proceedings on Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6. “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” playing Saturday at 1 p.m., is a feature-length documentary composed of only three minutes of film, dating back to 1938 — the last extant footage of the inhabitants of Nasielsk, Poland, just before the brutal Nazi invasion. Through a close examination of the film, frame by frame, researchers identify the places and people in the footage and uncover the stories once lost to tragedy. It’s an emotionally devastating documentary and a riveting work of scholarship.

Sunday’s lineup opens with a restored version of Deborah Shaffer’s and Stewart Bird’s 1979 documentary “The Wobblies” at 1 p.m.. This recent inductee into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress captures first-person testimony from original members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). At the time of the film’s production, most of the interview subjects were in their 80s and 90s, but they still remembered the labor songs and could tell plenty of stories from the bygone days of when workers banded together across trade, race, gender, and nationality to speak with a unified voice against corporate and governmental exploitation. 

The rest of the slate is full of intriguing selections as well. “Roaring 20s” (Saturday, 2:45 p.m.) is a scripted single-take city symphony that roves the streets of Paris just as people emerge from the spring of 2020 pandemic lockdown. “Costa Brava, Lebanon” (Saturday, 6:45 p.m.) is as much an eco-political fable as it is a touching and poignant family drama about how to raise children in a world gone wrong. And “Burning Days” (Sunday, 3 p.m.) is a taut political thriller that deals with climate change, fascism, and homophobia in rural Turkey — a few topics not wholly unfamiliar to American audiences.

In a Vermont-version of a midnight screening (Saturday, 8:45 p.m.), a sexy, fun riff on early 1960s greaser culture, “Please Baby Please,” brings some “Rocky Horror Picture Show” energy to the post-Halloween showcase. With lurid, campy musical numbers and BDSM-inspired dance sequences, “Please Baby Please” refracts questions of gender identity through a neon-saturated prism of “West Side Story” homage and beatnik poetry.

The weekend series finishes (Sunday, 6 p.m.) with maybe the gentlest of all protagonists ever put to screen. “EO” is about a donkey named Eo. In this dazzling, off-beat odyssey across Europe, legendary Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski puts the viewer inside Eo’s perspective. The foibles of humanity are especially strange when seen through the eyes of a beast who must share in the burden of what modern society has wrought. “EO” is the perfect capstone to a weekend of audacious, adventurous international cinema that wrestles with the environmental, political, and aesthetic challenges of our times.

Travis Weedon teaches and writes about film. He is a programmer with the Vermont International Film Festival and is on the advisory board for the Green Mountain Film Festival, which hopes to return to Montpelier in March 2024.