Kent Jones was born in the Berkshires, and when he was younger he worked in one of the first video stores. Even then people asked him for his film recommendations.Then he went on to college where he was not a very disciplined student with some subjects, excelling at those that piqued his interest. And now he returns to his hometown as one of the most highly respected experts and writers on film living today. He will screen and discuss his latest film collaboration, with Martin Scorsese, A Letter to Elia in a Berkshire International Film Festival special event sponsored by the Berkshire Film and Media Commission. Pictured in the photo above are Martin Scorsese (l) with Elia Kazan (r).
It is a film about Elia Kazan and his work, his life and his controversial action of naming names during America’s witch hunt for communists. But, says Scorsese: “I didn’t want to make a movie about the blacklist. It’s been done and done well.” Then, says Jones, “The issue is: how do you talk about Kazan? Because, of course, you can’t not talk about his friendly testimony. But it’s just as important to not let his testimony overshadow everything else. I was fascinated by his autobiography, the way he circled around the topic over and over again – apologizing for it in a dream, rationalizing it, raking himself over the coals for it, moving past it, returning to it. It was completely unresolved.”
“So,” says Scorsese, “The important thing was to not judge him on the one hand, and to not lecture anyone on the other hand.”
Kent Jones has a lot to say about films, especially this one. He is well grounded in the craft.A past editor of Film Comment and a former programmer of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center Film Society and Walter Reade Theaters, Kent Jones is Executive Director of the World Cinema Foundation. Jones has authored several books, including Physical Evidence, a collection of his film criticism, and has worked closely with Scorsese not only as a co-writer and co-director, but also as a film archivist.
Jones and Scorsese’s latest collaboration, A Letter to Elia, was honored with a prestigious Peabody Award for 2010. The hour-long documentary explores Scorsese’s relationship to the work of the controversial director Elia Kazan, who made such seminal films as On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire, Gentleman’s Agreement, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and who became notorious for naming names during the McCarthy era’s House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings.
Jones will screen A Letter to Elia on June 4 at 1:30 pm at the Beacon Cinema, after which he will take questions from the audience about the film. Following the Q&A, Jones will screen Kazan’s 1960 film, Wild River. biffma.org
In a 2003 interview in Senses of Cinema, Jones cites his upbringing in the cultural Mecca of the Berkshires as significant to his future in film. Jones recalls his mother taking him to Scorsese’s film Mean Streets when he was just 13 years old, and notes seeing the great foreign films of the 1970s by such directors as Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman, and Antonioni in the cinemas of Pittsfield as formative to his future. He got his start as a critic while he was still a teenager, reviewing Berkshire summer theater productions, before entering into film criticism in the 1990s.
West Stockbridge filmmaker John Whalan, a member of the Berkshire Film and MediaCommission advisory board, had worked with Jones at a school for autistic children in the Berkshires when both men were in their early twenties. Whalan reconnected with Jones in early 2011 at a screening of A Letter to Elia and struck upon the idea of including Jones and his new film in the Berkshire International Film Festival. Kelley Vickery, the festival’s founder and executive director, agreed and invited Jones to be part of the 2011 program, and the Berkshire Film and Media Commission stepped in to sponsor the event.
“It is an honor to be able to present the work of someone born in the Berkshires who has risen to the pinnacle of his chosen field within the film industry. The Berkshires is an inspirational place that can encourage children to be creative thinkers and pursue careers in the arts, including film. Kent is a wonderful example of this. We are thrilled to recognize his latest documentary and his achievements in the film industry. He is one of several prominent film professionals with roots in this area whose work is included in the Berkshire International Film Festival, in addition to that of many others who have chosen to live and work in the Berkshires.” Berkshire Film and Media Commission executive director Diane Pearlman
“We are thrilled to have Kent Jones returning to the Berkshires with his fascinating documentary on the infamous filmmaker Elia Kazan,” said festival founder Kelley Vickery. “Kent is not only an internationally recognized critic and filmmaker whose writings and books have been published throughout the world, but he is also executive director of The World Cinema Foundation. It is exciting to have someone of his stature in the film world at the BIFF.”
The Berkshire Film and Media Commission is a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. For more information about the Berkshire Film and Media Commission visit www.berkshirefilm.com, e-mail email@example.com, or call 413.528.4223.