History of The Ashfield FilmFest

On August 12, 1881, the expectant Mrs. DeMille, who was staying at the inn in the village of Ashfield, went into labor. Fortunately, the doctor’s home was next door and she was brought there to give birth. And so Cecil B. DeMille came to be born in a house, between the current Ashfield Hardware/Country Pie Pizza and the Ashfield House, where a brass plaque now commemorates the event.

With the birth of “the greatest showman on earth” in our town, it seemed only natural to create a town film event honoring the famous native. That’s what ACC (Ashfield Cultural Council) chair and film enthusiast Tamsen Merrill thought in 2007. She brought the idea to the ACC, connected with new Ashfield resident Harry Keramidas, a motion picture editor from Hollywood (“Back To The Future” and “Children Of The Corn” among others) and thus the Ashfield FilmFest was born.

Committee member, illustrator and Ashfield resident Jane Lund created the Baby Cecil Trophy that is presented to the Grand Prize winner of each year’s FilmFest on the night of the event. During the year the iconic Baby Cecil Trophy remains in Ashfield, traveling to local establishments, adorned with a brass plaque, inscribed with the names of the Grand Prize winners of each year’s FilmFest. His presence is a delightful reminder of grand film events past and future.

The 1st annual FilmFest took place in September 2007 at the Ashfield Town Hall. A dazzling Tamsen, luminous in a golden dress worthy of a Hollywood red carpet romp, and an awfully dapper Harry in a full tux, presided over this occasion. There was free popcorn for all and great enthusiasm for this first event. The 200+ attendees enjoyed 12 very entertaining movies of 5 minutes or less - some with ingenious connections to the town of Ashfield. That 1st FilmFest won the Ashfield Cultural Council a “Gold Star Award” from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The 2nd and 3rd FilmFests were so popular and successful that such over whelming successes, people had to be turned away from our 450 person capacity Town Hall. The following 4th FilmFest was expanded to include a second venue, the Congregational Church across from Town Hall, to accommodate the growing crowds.  More than 500 people viewed the entries and enjoyed refreshments in front of Town Hall as they awaited the awards ceremony.  A surprise appearance by Baby Cecil aka Chris Rawlings wowed the crowd. His derby hat, sunglasses and golden diaper brought peals of laughter.

The 5th through the 9th FilmFests continued to bring entries from a very diverse group of filmmakers who chose a wide range of topics. Entries included stop motion animation on the topic of procrastination, puppetry with reference to composting, comedy including one about a chicken by two home schooled brothers, a film about a battle between a woodchuck and a gardener, and a another about a hapless superhero that saves the day.  Documentaries were always in the mix, ranging from the serious, (a woman that grew up in Ashfield, became a war correspondent and was killed while on assignment) to humorous looks at our town and it’s foibles.  Viewers also saw many music videos featuring local talent performing original music.

Each year the entries continue to improve, and demonstrate not only the cultural and historical diversity of our town but a growing enthusiasm for the creative art of storytelling with film/video. We have added workshops over the last several years to assist people with filmmaking and broaden the diversity of film entries. The FilmFest has now screened some 130 films, many of which were filmed within our community and by residents.

The town and increasingly the greater surrounding communities, looks to the FilmFest as a treasured annual tradition, and a reason to gather with friends, perhaps dress up, and watch a new crop of films that add to our sense of wonder and amazement for the community we live in.