Ridgefield Indy Film Festival Rolling Through May 21

Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell, a RIFF board member, interviews producer Jina Panebianco and novelist Chris Belden. (Photo by Jarret Liotta)


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Hollywood arrived in Connecticut Thursday night when the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival kicked off its eighth year of programming with a screening of “A Little White Lie” at the Ridgefield Playhouse.

The film, which stars Kate Hudson, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson, is based on the comic-fantasy novel “Shriver” by Ridgefield resident Chris Belden, about a man who sets out to impersonate a famous writer at a small-town literary festival. 

“You don’t know what a miracle it is that this movie exists,” said Belden, who watched the slow progression of a production that took seven years to complete, including a 400-day shooting hiatus amid the pandemic. 

While he would have preferred his original title for the film, Belden noted that director and screenplay writer Michael Maren, a Bethlehem resident, and the production team made the process of letting go of the novel easier than imagined.

“I felt so lucky every step of the way,” said Belden, an accomplished singer-songwriter who also makes a cameo in the film singing with his ukulele.

“You hear so many stories of pissed off novelists. They’re shut out of the process, and even if it’s a great movie, they hate it,” he said. “It gave me some faith in the process.”

Joanne Hudson, director and founder of the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, said this film was a strong fit for opening night not only for Belden, but because of how it pokes fun at small-town art festivals.

“It’s very meta for us, and I can relate to all the jokes about that,” she said, including gags about the festival paying its keynote speaker with quarters and attendees hoisting their manuscripts upon people.

This year there are more than 50 films screening at different venues around town, including work by filmmakers from Europe, Iran and Mexico, as well as local auteurs. 

Hudson – no relation to the actress – is a California native who founded the event in 2016. She said she was glad to see her festival back on track after COVID pushed it online. 

“It’s wonderful to see the festival thriving after eight years and to see that there is still a need for it,” she said. “We’ve had an avid response from filmmakers this year, many of whom are traveling here from far and wide to see their screenings and participate in the festival vibe in-person.”

Jina Panebianco, a producer of “A Little White Lie,” said festivals play a key role for filmmakers, especially when they’re not affiliated with a large studio.

“When you talk about making an independent film, which is a labor of love and creativity, you need to have film festivals behind you,” she said.

Panebianco, who traveled from Los Angeles for the event, talked about the balancing act needed in filmmaking, where creative visions are sometimes tempered by financial obligations.

“Not only do you want to make the film you want to make, you want people to see it,” she said, noting that if investors don’t see a return, they’re unlikely to invest again.

“It is a balance, but you have to have the passion behind it,” said Panebianco, who has more than 30 producer credits to her name, including “Lansky” with Harvey Keitel, and “Mack & Rita” with Diane Keaton.

The producer said opportunities to exhibit that passion present themselves while trying to assemble all of the elements to make a movie. 

In this case, one of the lead actors of “A Little White Lie” was hesitant about committing to the project for a relatively low amount of money, but Panebianco offered to cook them a homemade lasagna and meatballs.

“I’ve made deals like this before, and people love my cooking,” she said, noting that the food clause was included in the actor’s contract.

Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell, a festival board member who moderated the question-and-answer session with Belden and Panebianco, said development of the festival has been a key part of Ridgefield’s creative community joining together.

“I think what Joanne has really set out to do is have a festival that highlights the bounty of the town,” adding that the festival is run primarily by volunteers and interns who are passionate about its mission.

The festival was also likely instrumental in the state’s Office of the Arts designating Ridgefield as the first Cultural District in Connecticut, Cambridge-Mitchell said. 

Bridgeport resident Maddie Robbins, a graduate student in Sacred Heart University’s film program who screened her comedy short “Seasonal Scaries” on Thursday, commented that film festivals are a key element in the creative process. 

“I think this is where filmmakers come, first of all, to show what they made and also to watch other films,” she said. “I think that’s one of the most important things about being a filmmaker – seeing your stuff on the screen as well as the work of others.”

The Ridgefield Independent Film Festival runs through May 21.