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ON THE SCENE: Film festival honors Kathleen Carroll

November 2, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Nineteen years ago, Kathleen Carroll co-founded the Lake Placid Film Forum, which this year has been renamed the Lake Placid Film Festival. On Thursday evening, Oct. 25, a gala was held in her honor at High Peaks Resort to celebrate her 30 years as the lead film critic for the New York Daily News, co-founding the Film Forum, and being its artistic director for the last 19 years.

In truth, Carroll is the soul of the Film Forum as it was her vision to bring filmmakers and film lovers together sans barriers so they could share their love of film.

The Film Forum initially exploded on the scene and within a few years was hailed as a bright new star rated by some as one of the top 10 in the country. The who's who of Hollywood directors and screenwriters along with many leading actors came to Lake Placid, held workshops in private camps on the lake and showcased their work.

Article Photos

Russell Banks and Kathleen Carroll
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Sponsors like Chrysler, Ralph Lauren Fragrances and Esquire magazine backed the fledgling Film Forum, but the program was hit hard by a downturn in the economy after its fifth year.

Organizers had little choice but scale back the program but even so came up with such creative programming as Sleepless in Lake Placid in which student teams from various university film departments had to write, cast, direct, edit and screen films within 36 hours.

"Kathleen was at the beginning," said Russell Banks, a co-founder of the Lake Placid Film Forum. "What she did, which neither you or I could, is she sustained it. Kathleen kept it going. Her presence at the center of it as a creative, imaginative and incredibly knowledgeable person about film when the rest of us, for one reason or another, peel off as we did. She stayed there. She held it together over the years, and it's become an institution now."

Through the flush and lean times, Carroll championed films by new talent, women, youth, Native Americans and Canadians screening a mix of documentaries, features and shorts often with one or more significant members of the production team introducing the film. Naturally, there was always a silent film showcasing the Palace's 1930-era Robert Morton Theatre Organ, one of three still in use. Free outdoor screenings at night were also a feature.

"While a lot of people got behind the idea, the creation of a Film Forum was the result of Kathleen's determined effort," said John Huttlinger, a co-founder of the Film Forum/Festival and president of the Adirondack Film Society. "Now we are at a different time of year and changed the name to a film festival, which we think is great. We have a new board filled with dynamic young people. Gary Smith, festival director, and Fred Balzac, operations manager, and they, the board and our volunteers and supporters have put in such an effort that we are on a new track and have a great future."

When the Film Forum was inaugurated, a June date was selected as a means of providing the event a bit of distance from such leading festivals as Cannes, Nantucket, New York, Sundance, Telluride and Toronto. Since the Film Forum was launched, two others joined the fray, Tribeca and Woodstock. The challenge of a June date was the long, sunny days, weather that lured people outside instead of inside the theater. Thus, Film Forum organizers prayed for rain. The worse the weather, the better they did.

The Film Forum's best asset was Carroll's Rolodex, her network of directors, producers, screenwriters and actors garnered over the years along with the deep respect the film industry had for her writing. Carroll, Rex Reed and the late Roger Ebert wrote for the "everyman," writing that was tough when it needed to be, loving when deserved and always clear so their readers could get a good sense of the film's promise.

"Most importantly, Kathleen has a heart as huge as these mountains," said Nelson Page, a founding board member and past president of the Adirondack Film Society. "She's dedicated a great part of her professional career to being part of this event. We really capitalized on her fame and connections within the film industry, and that's generosity of the first order. When you look at the photograph of Kathleen interviewing Robert Shaw on the set of 'Jaws' you know this lady had connections."

Those connections were on display during the Oct. 25 ceremony with film director Martin Scorsese followed by the late film critic Roger Ebert's wife Chaz extolling their love of Carroll linked in via Skype.

"I send my congratulations to Kathleen," said Scorsese. "She's done such a wonderful job with this festival over the years. I was there in 2004 for the screening of Luchino Visconti's 'The Leopard' and had a very good time."

These glowing statements were followed by proclamations, one first given by state Sen. Betty Little, and a second read by Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, who also declared Oct. 25 Kathleen Carroll Day.

Carroll nurtured emerging talent. One of her goals was to connect people who wanted to make films with those who did. One such example was the Film Forum's tech director who handled the sound, lights, portable screens and searchlights, Eric Granger, who is now an award-winning screenwriter and at this festival led a master class on screenwriting.

"I love the Film Festival," said Granger. "Lately I've been going to lots of film festivals, maybe five or six a year all over the United States. This one's got its own flavor and feel about it. It's more comforting. Meeting so many film directors and screenwriters at Lake Placid was very inspirational. Some of these people, I thought, if they can make it, I can make it, too!"

Carroll also championed the Toronto Film Festival, now one of the top three in the world, and doing so further gained loyalty and love from many in the industry. Going to Toronto with her is to experience how loved she still is, yet with all the hugs and kisses, she easily squeezes in seeing five films in a day dashing from one to another.

"Kathleen to me is a series of contradictions," said screenwriter Susan Charlotte. "I love that about her. The way she appears is the opposite of the way she is. She appears like a very lacy kind of a woman, which is fine, and she has this very outrageous film taste, which is so different than her persona. I love that."

Finally, it was time to bring Carroll on stage with the stunned look of a person who just won an Oscar that no critic had suggested would win, much less make the final five.

"Growing up in Placid was quite magical in a way," said Carroll. "I have a great love for this community and always love coming back here, but this time has been different. I had no idea that this tribute was being planned. I'm completely stunned. Thank you so much. I appreciate all of you who came."



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