The third annual Lake Champlain International Film Festival kicked off at The Strand Center for the Arts this week with this year’s celebration focusing on the contributions from women in the film industry.

The festival began Wednesday with a screening of the 2008 film “Frozen River.” The film, directed by Courtney Hunt, won the 2008 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize-Drama. Hunt was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

“Frozen River” tells the story of two women who meet near the Akwesasne Reservation of the North Country and work together to traffic Canadian immigrants into the United States for money during financial hardship.

Festival coordinator and Plattsburgh State assistant english professor Michael Devine said this film was “the key” to unlocking this year’s festival and was the inspiration for this year’s theme.

“You start to find a real legacy of significant women who have directed film and who have really put Plattsburgh on the map,” Devine said.

Hunt attended the festival’s screening of “Frozen River” and said it was a thrill to be back in the Plattsburgh area. She also said she “loves reconnecting with the community,” as it played a large role in creating “Frozen River.”

“I think because women are so incredibly minimized in film, that it is important whenever a female director or producer make something that connects people and is relatable, that it be highlighted,” Hunt said of the festival’s theme.

The film’s stars, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, were both nominated for several awards for their performances.

The festival will also feature a “Women in Film Panel,” conducted by PSUC Gender and Women’s Studies Chair Susan Mody.

“For women directors, it is generally harder for them to get funding, which makes film festivals like this one all the more important in providing opportunities to screen short films that otherwise don’t get access to audiences,” Mody said.

Other featured directors include PSUC alumna Charlene Fisk and her new film “The Founders,” which showcases the founding of the Ladies Professional Golf Association and Martha Wheelock’s film about the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s. Wheelock’s film, “Inez Milholland: Forward Into the Light,” will play tonight, during the “Short Films” segment and “The Founders” will be playing tomorrow at 7:45 p.m. following the film panel.

“From suffragist Inez Milholland to Courtney Hunt, the fest celebrates women who’ve changed the world,” Devine said in a press release. “But it’s much more. It’s a celebration of North Country culture, its problems and promise. And, of course, we’ll bring the world to Plattsburgh with international directors from Nepal and elsewhere attending.”

Tonight’s events also include the Lake Champlain International Film Festival Gala. The gala will feature films directed by Devine, “The Michigan” and “Harvest,” as well as several international short films and screenings on the 72-hour film contest winners. The three winners were “Memoriae,” directed by Harbus, Muniz and Proven; “The Phone Call” directed by Matt Hall and “XO,” directed by Funk, Grigoli and Singleton.

The 72-hour film contest gave participants three days to film short films using cell phones and provided prompts. This year’s prompt had to include dialouge of “What just happened?”, a coffee mug prop and a character named Tony “The Hammer” Jackson.

Other festival events include “Family Friendly Film Hour” and films discussing issues like drug addiction in the North Country and family relations. Tickets are $10 per day, but PSUC and Clinton Community College students can attend for free.

“We’re lucky to have this range of films coming to our area, and I am looking forward to viewing several films I haven’t seen before as well as talking with some of the women directors about their experiences and perspectives,” Mody said.

Email Marissa Russo at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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