New film fest director just the right fit

Karen Dillon, the new executive director of the Green Mountain Film Festival, sits in her office surrounded by past festival posters. STEFAN HARD / STAFF PHOTO

MONTPELIER — When it comes to becoming all things to all people — at least in the film world — Karen Dillon certainly fits the picture. As the newly appointed executive director of the Green Mountain Film Festival, she brings a depth and breadth of experience to the position with professional credentials in the film industry. She also has the personal experience of living abroad and working in film to help promote the international flavor of the festival. Dillon succeeds Rachelle Murphy, who ran the festival for the past three years and made a career move in May to run an event center at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. The nine-day Green Mountain festival celebrates its 21st anniversary next year as the state’s seminal celebration of cutting-edge indie and foreign films, hosting an average of 75 features and short films. Next year’s festival runs from March 16-24, and is a perennially popular indoor antidote to mud season. As a thank-you to faithful fans, a free screening next week will celebrate the 30th anniversary of “ The Princess Bride,” projected onto an inflatable screen on the State House lawn on Thursday, Aug. 24, at 7:45 p.m. Free ice cream will be served. Dillon already had a history here. She was the festival’s development director for a year before her appointment. She served on the programming committee, led the festival’s virtual reality salon and created a teen filmmaking workshop. She also advises students on their film projects in the pilot program at U-32, where her daughter, Annabel, will start middle school this year. Her husband, Stephen Pite, whom she met in film school in New York City, directs the MFA program in film at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The family lives on a seven-acre farm in West Berlin with a dog, four cats, 10 chickens and nine goats. It was also Dillon’s significant work teaching film in academia and as a professional filmmaker, both at home and abroad, that persuaded the festival’s Focus on Film board of directors to hire her. Dillon has directed, written, produced and taught film for over 25 years at Columbia University, the Art Institute of New York City, the Kansas City Art Institute, Gibbs College and the Ross School of East Hampton. She holds a master’s degree in film, writing, directing and producing from Columbia University. Now in her early 50s, Dillon and her husband decided to leave New York City four years ago, but went separate ways for a while to pursue separate but similar career tracks. Her husband tookthejobatVermontCollege of Fine Arts while she headed to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where she taught film to Emirate women in college and created an international women’s video installation that toured in Europe last year. Dillon returned last year to settle in Vermont and joined the GMFF staff. “The festival hired me to do development, to write grants over the past year,” Dillon said. “So, since last fall, I’vebeenworking behind the scenes, looking over Rachelle’s shoulder as the festival was happening. “It will be different when my hands are on the reins, but it was useful, at least from a distance, to learn what needed to be done. And it was tremendously helpful in terms of the handoff and training me, so I hope I can do a good job moving forward,” Dillon added. Dillon stressed that her academic background, teaching at home and abroad, had prepared her well for the job: overseeing the choice of independent films that provide a window on the world of different cultures and issues. “Most of my teaching has been focusing on empowering people who need a voice,” she said. “Certainly, my perception of Muslim women is they need more opportunity, they need more tools to give voice to their concerns ... what it means to be a Muslim woman in the world today,” Dillon noted of her work teaching film in the Middle East. Dillon also believes the film festival needs to continually evolve to adapt to changing trends in filmmaking and make it more accessible to anyone interested in the art. She’s planning a series of workshops for next year’s festival. New ideas, such as virtual reality, new technologies and greater access to filmmaking opportunities will also be a part of the film festival’s offerings. Dillon also hopes to encourage links to local content in festival films. “I feel film should be a skill that most people have at their disposal,” Dillon said. “We live in a media-saturated world and most people should know how to communicate with film. “It’s no more difficult than learning word processing, and we all have learned that. So, I would like to see more and more people feel like film is not something they passively observe, but something they use to communicate,” Dillon added. Dillon said the process for accepting film festival entries — with screenings of submissions beginning in the fall — and work on the schedule and other supporting events has already begun. For more information about the GMFF, call 917-1225 or visit www.gmffestival.org. stephen.mills@timesargus.com

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