Though its largely unknown outside the northeastern United States, the town of New Hope, PA is a haven for arts and culture nestled along the banks of the Delaware River. Its charming downtown teems with antique shops, coffeehouses and art galleries. The town focal point is the 18th century Bucks County Playhouse, which has drawn a throng of noted stage actors since the early 20th century, including the likes of Paul Newman. Since the 1950s this community of just under 3,000 residents has cultivated an active and large gay community, while also welcoming motorcyclists and camping folk who often visit on the warm summer weekends.
Beginning this summer, New Hope hopes to further its cultural legacy with the advent of the first annual New Hope International Film Festival, a venture spearheaded by New Hope resident Doug Whipple, a former Wall Street banker and published author. After discussing movies one night with a friend, Whipple concocted the idea of launching a film festival in New Hope, hoping to further cement the town’s rich cultural history. He recruited close friend Thom Mulligan, a Southern California actor/producer to help oversee film submissions and the two went to work on crafting a first-rate film festival. Within a few weeks, submissions started flying in.
Of the 90-plus films slated to be screened during the weeklong event, highlights include the biographical Indian film The Soil and the People, detailing a rural Indian woman’s plight against charges of witchcraft; Black Field, a dark historical drama about two sisters on the Canadian prairie and the man who comes between them; and the documentary Bakhtiari Alphabet, which detail the seasonal migration of Bakhtiari tribe of Southwestern Iran.
The film’s opening night feature is Breathtaking (Dasak), a 32-minute Serbian psychological drama that chronicles the perils and power of the inner psyche. Though he’s not inclined to pick a favorite, admitting that all the films are dear to him, Mulligan does seem most pleased with Breathtaking, of which he notes, “I’m still so shocked it’s a student film. Every detail from the editing to the screenplay, it’s just got something special about it. I think when people see it, they’ll see why we chose it to be our featured film.”
While many of the entries come from within the United States, Whipple and Mulligan were able to procure a host of international films including works that hail from Mexico, Uganda, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, New Zealand and Turkey to name a few. The hot-button issue of immigration is presented in Not Here, Not There, detailing the rollercoaster journey of six Costa Rican siblings; and Home Across Lands, a focused study on a family of Ethiopian refugees who begin new lives in Rhode Island. In addition to international films, the festival also features 15 student submissions (including Breathtaking,) nearly 20 documentaries, as well as 12 full-length features (including “Black Gold”) and more than 40 shorts.
Though Mulligan had the arduous task of whittling down the 4,000-plus entries to 86, he gives most of the credit to Whipple. “Doug is as on-the-money as anybody I have ever met. Few people are as ingenious as he is. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a standup guy too. And quite honestly, I don’t think this film festival would be happening right now if it wasn’t for him. He just has what it takes and I know that New Hope is grateful to him for that.” While Whipple certainly deserves credit, Mulligan has certainly amassed a strong lineup, and one he admits will turn some heads. “I think the quality of films we have this year is definitely going to get people talking. And I think the strength of the films and the charm of New Hope is going to make this a great success. I really think that this film festival is going to be a huge positive for everyone involved.”
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