The red carpet is down. The arch lights are lit. Producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, crews, and movie-lovers are hitting the streets as the 18th annual New Hampshire Film Festival gets underway. The independent cinema event will permeate Portsmouth streets for four days, Thursday, Oct. 11 to Sunday, Oct. 14.

This year’s partnership with ESPN Films instigated the festival’s motif. NHFF’s executive director, Nicole Gregg, explains, “As far as theme goes, we have these incredible stories of perseverance and overcoming adversity and odds. Really inspiring stories.”

 

Two ESPN documentaries are holding question-and-answer sessions post-viewing, giving audiences, “the chance to see these stories and to experience them with the directors and the writers firsthand, (providing) another level of interactive movie-going experience,” according to Gregg.

Victoria Arlen, who was raised in Exeter, will discuss her film, “Locked In.” The short documentary chronicles her story from paralyzed teenager to correspondent for ESPN, “Dancing with the Stars” contestant and award-winning Paralympian.

“Crossroads” takes viewers along on the journey of an at-risk teenage lacrosse team as they defy preconceived notions to not only just play the sport, but win games and championships. The director and coach featured in the film are scheduled to attend the festival.

Keeping with the topic of perseverance by children and teens, Portland, Maine-based producer Mika Holliday Lentz showcases what she calls “the growing crisis of behaviorally challenged kids” in “The Kids We Lose.”

The feature documentary provides a much-needed child’s perspective on what it’s like to live with issues like attention deficit disorder and operate defiant disorder, while trying to navigate outdated control techniques still used in school, legal, and judicial systems.

“A lot of the kids were very open and very understanding about what their challenges were and what their disabilities were. We were surprised about how many kids opened up to us and really talked to us on camera,” Lentz explains.

The NHFF has a tremendous impact on both the state and the city of Portsmouth, and NH’s growing number of movie-makers reciprocate this impact.

“I’ve been told many, many times by local filmmakers it’s the reason that they make movies. They’re still applying every single year, because they know there’s a platform. They know there’s a celebration waiting for them. … It nurtures the craft of filmmaking for local filmmakers,” Gregg explains.

Scott Millette seems to be the poster child for Gregg’s statement. After attending the festival for many years as a viewer, and a few as a presenter, this year marks his first as a filmmaker.

Millette has two shorts, of completely different genres, on the schedule. In one, after being rejected from Khloe Kardashian’s “Revenge Bodies,” Millette turns the camera on himself to document his almost 80-pound weight loss for “Man Gets Revenge on Khloe Kardashian in 7 Minutes.”

“Teddy,” his second, is a slasher throwback about a murderous teddy bear, which was partially shot directly after a chastising conversation Millette had with some friends at last year’s NHFF. He took a camera out that weekend and started shooting around what he dubs the city’s “free $20 million set.”

For Millette, the ease, enjoyment and acceptance of filmmaking makes this area alluring. “Portsmouth is one of those few places where, when you tell somebody that you’re a filmmaker, they go, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. What are you working on? What kinds of films do you like?” he says.

For more comedic fare, check out Katie Locke O’Brien’s “Have It All.” A Hampstead, N.H., native, O’Brien’s funny and sardonic short shows what it means to be a mother and to work full-time in a society that holds what she refers to as an “expectation that moms are supposed to seamlessly do both roles at full capacity without letting any of the cracks show.”

“Have It All” depicts what happens when a new mother unexpectedly needs to bring her infant son to the office.

Based on a real-life experience, O’Brien says, “I got home from that meeting that day, and I was so frustrated. How is this the way that we expect moms to be? I wrote it in one sitting.”

Hoping to divert from the ubiquitous, stereotypical motherhood tropes currently shown in comedy - that the mother is always overwhelmed by her unruly kids or that the mom is a horrible parent - O’Brien felt her normal life was humor enough. She says, “There’s so much of the Sisyphean task of the day-to-day that is plenty rich for comedy in itself.”

Careful not to place blame, O’Brien wanted to show the struggles, even when everyone is trying their best to make accommodations. “In the short, I was so conscientious of making sure it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We just aren’t, as a society, set up to support working moms,” she explains.

Another person screening a short film with maternal characters is Bow, NH’s own David Storch.

Also a first-timer at the NHFF, Storch and his partner, Abby Walla, wrote, produced and acted in “Holiday Hostage,” a short about a Jewish family who gets held up at gunpoint on Thanksgiving.

For Storch, getting into the festival is the fulfillment of a life-long goal. “The dream really was one day I want to have a film and come back and show it here. I know that sounds corny, but when you’re living in a small town, that is your dream,” he says.

The short stars Maggie Wheeler, who is most well-known for playing “Janice” on the TV show, “Friends.” “If you’re going to have someone play your Jewish mom, it’s gotta be Janice!” states Storch.

In addition to these and the more than 100-plus independent films showing over the weekend, the NHFF is full of after-parties, brunches, dinners, and interactive panels, providing a social, informative and entertaining experience for all festival-goers.

For example, attendees can bookend Saturday night’s popular Comedy Panel with the lower key Coffee Block session in the morning. This is an opportunity to chat with some of the directors, producers and writers at the film festival while having coffee and cider doughnuts. “It’s a really nice, casual, intimate environment for the filmmakers to really interact with audience members and tell them more about their projects. It’s a nice start to the day on Saturday,” Gregg states.

For more information on any of the films, festival events or to purchase tickets, visit nhfilmfestival.com. At the festival's website, you can also browse a Silent Online Auction going on throughout the festival with prizes for experiences on the Seacoast and beyond. There is also a N.H. Film Festival app you can download to your phone so you can access the schedule of events on the go.