WESTERLY — Two Westerly-based films, both shot locally and both featuring local people, will make their debuts this weekend at the United Theatre as part of Mystic Film Festival.

The films, "Keepers of the Land" and "Woman of the House," were selected by organizers of the festival — a four-day event that opens tonight and features 91 new, short and feature-length films, a screenwriting competition and filmmakers’ workshops.

"Keepers of the Land" is a short film produced by the Westerly Land Trust in partnership with Frame + Focus Media that "highlights the intersection of local agriculture and land conservation," according to Jennifer Fusco, land trust executive director.

"When we couldn't do our annual long-table farm dinner because of COVID," Fusco said, "so we had to reimagine."

Reimagine they did. And they came up with the idea to create a film about the farmers who typically prepare the food for the fundraising dinner. The dinner, once held on land trust properties, was transformed last year into a farm-dinner-to-go event when dinners were packaged and delivered to participants in big baskets. Tucked inside each basket was a copy of "Keepers of the Land" with a link to view it at home.

"We're really proud of it," said Fusco who worked with Frame + Focus to create the film, which sheds light on the idea that while the land trust is certainly dedicated to preserving land for recreation and for future generations, it is also interested in celebrating local food production and the efforts of local farmers.

Produced by Hillary Federico and directed by her husband, Matthew Andrew, the film features local farmers Cassidy Whipple, from Frontier Farm; Stephanie Bennett from Echo Rock Flowers; Tom Gardner from Watch Hill Oysters; Camille Abdal-Nabi and Bob Payne from Little River Farm; Jimmy Moran from Wehpittituck Farm; James Cruso from Vita Nova Compost and John Strafach and Bianca Paredes from Ever-Breeze Farm.

"It's beautiful," said Fusco one afternoon this week as she described the film and its development. "It shows the spirit of what farmers are doing and the importance of our local food system."

Additionally, she said, "Hillary and Matt were wonderful to work with."

"It became a passion project for them," Fusco said.

"Keepers of the Land" will be screened Sunday during the "Documentary Shorts Block 2" section from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. which also includes "Alice: At Home with Alice Parker," "The Secret Gift" and "Love, Lulu." After the screenings there will be a filmmaker Q&A in the cinema, followed by a Westerly Land Trust reception in the gallery.

"Woman of the House," written, produced and directed by Latina director Michelle Salcedo, a Watch Hill summer resident, will be screened later in the day on Sunday in the "Narrative Features" category.

Filmed in Watch Hill over the Fourth of July weekend, "Woman of the House" takes place almost entirely inside Sunnymere, the house where Albert Einstein used to stay in the 1930s, Salcedo said earlier this week from her home in Los Angeles.

"The lighthouse and the fireworks make it into the film too," Salcedo said with a laugh, "and my kids and my dog."

The film, which Salcedo said she's thought about making for years, is centered around a woman experiencing a midlife crisis who invites her friends to visit for an anniversary party. When her husband goes missing, the friends get "judgy," she said.

"Think of it as sort of an anniversary party meets the 'The Big Chill,'" she said, noting that the title is "a play on the phrase 'man of the house.'" 

Salcedo, who is married to Joseph Farnham III, said Sunnymere has been in her husband's family for generations and the family spends part of each summer in Watch Hill, with their sons, Jack, 9, and Joseph Farnham IV, 13, and their mini-dachshund, Maddy. They also spent extra time in Westerly during the pandemic, she said.

"We adore Watch Hill," she said. "I love running around on the beach with my kids and our dog. Watch Hill is magical."

Salcedo said she has long been fascinated by the history of Sunnymere and of the very presence of the house.

"I was inspired by the idea that Einstein was there," said Salcedo, "and by the relativity theory and by the idea of the house itself." 

"I am also interested in female-centric stories," she added, "and I love science, and am intrigued by the idea of multiple universes."

"I am really excited that it's screening locally," she said, adding that it was filmed "guerrilla-style," with a one-person crew and a low budget.

"It was a hoot to shoot and I really, really had fun making it," she said.

The festival features 91 new short and feature-length documentary and narrative films from around the world, a screenwriting competition, filmmakers’ workshops, and a celebratory flashback to the 1980s with a screening and costume dance party to honor filmmaker Susan Seidelman, who will be saluted with a lifetime achievement award.

For a complete schedule of films and a list of screening venues, visit https://mysticfilmfestival.com.

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