Enjoy cinema and scenery at the 17th annual Lake Placid Film Festival


Running October 26–28, the 17th Lake Placid Film Festival focuses on "Embracing Diversity." With some fifty films scheduled, the festival has doubled the size of recent editions. This year will also include a tribute to Kathleen Carroll, a Lake Placid native and former longtime film critic for The Daily News.

Carroll was instrumental in starting the festival after a special screening of The Sweet Hereafter with director Atom Egoyan and novelist Russell Banks proved so popular. It was obvious that an audience in the Adirondacks existed for independent film.

As Fred Balzac, operations manager for the Adirondack Film Society, points out, the focus of the festival from its early days has been screenwriting. Banks, a part-time resident, and other organizers set up workshops, master classes and panel discussions with guests like Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Steve Buscemi and the late Jonathan Demme.

One of the highlights of this year's schedule is Free Solo, the remarkable documentary about Alex Honnold directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. It's an especially appropriate choice for an area famous for its world-class rock climbing.

Free Solo will be screening at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, one of three venues used for the festival. Panels and some individual screenings will take place at the High Peaks Resort. Most festival events are at the Palace Theater, a fixture on Lake Placid's Main Street since 1926.

On opening night, Kathleen Carroll will be talking with Catherine Wyler, director William Wyler's daughter, about her father's work. The conversation will be followed by a screening of The Heiress, for which star Olivia de Havilland and composer Aaron Copland won Oscars.

The festival is also showing Making Montgomery Clift, a documentary about the famous actor who co-starred with de Havilland in The Heiress. Along with Free Solo, other documentaries at Lake Placid this year include Maria by Callas, which uses the opera singer's own words to examine her career; Moving Stories, about the Battery Dance company; Time for Ilhan, about the groundbreaking politician Ilhan Omar; Searching for Ingmar Bergman by directors Felix Moeller and Margarethe von Trotta; Frederick Wiseman's Monrovia, Indiana; the absorbing Bisbee ‘17, in which residents re-enact a mass deportation on the Arizona–Mexico border; and Rodents of Unusual Size, always an audience favorite despite its unlikely subject, nutria.

Festival organizers always try to highlight local filmmakers. This year's program includes The Song of Sway Lake, a coming-of-age story directed and co-written by Ari Gold and shot around the nearby Blue Mountain Lake.

Another local work on the schedule is Adirondack Holiday, a promotional film shot by Ken Richter, an Oscar-winner who lived in nearby Westport. Released in 1960, the film visited several towns and villages in Essex County. It was recently restored with the help of the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Adirondack Council. For the first time in almost 60 years, viewers will be able to enjoy Adirondack Holiday the way Richter wanted it to look.

Balzac also points out the festival's short film selections. ‘"North Country Shorts,’ screening Saturday night at 8, is a program of films made by people living in the area, or films about the North Country region," he says. "Michael Devine, professor of English and Film and SUNY Plattsburgh, will be curating part of that program with films by his students."

For many visitors, the main attraction will be the chance to see independent feature films that rarely make it out of urban centers. Like the Japanese drama Asako I & II; Burning, this year's Foreign Film Oscar candidate from South Korea; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; The Children Act, a courtroom melodrama starring Emma Thompson; and the sci-fi thriller Prospect.

Films for the festival were selected by curator Dylan Skolnick, with input from Kathleen Carroll and the members of the board of the Adirondack Film Society.

Along with The Heiress and Adirondack Holiday, retrospectives include The Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, and Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, with a remarkable performance by Victor Sjöström.

Although small in size, Lake Placid has a cosmopolitan feel, having hosted Olympics in 1932 and 1980. It's also at the heart of the Adirondacks, a six-million acre park that's larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Everglades and Great Smoky National Parks combined.

The town itself is easy to navigate, with a Main Street lined with shops that borders on the west shore of Mirror Lake. In the distance the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains are visible on the horizon.

"It's a relatively small event," Balzac acknowledges about the festival. "You can be up close and personal with our filmmakers and presenters, who for the most part will be here to introduce their films and participate in Q&A sessions. And between screenings, filmmakers are usually very available and happy to talk to people who love films."

For years the Palace had been operated by Reg Clark, who passed away in July. Clark used to work as an usher at the Palace before purchasing it in 1961. He and his family have maintained the theater's beautiful fixtures while overseeing its expansion to four screens. The Palace has been at the center of community events, sponsoring free screenings for children and offering its space to a variety of causes.

This year's festival is dedicated to Clark, whose family continues to operate the Palace.