Reeling in Possibility
Nicole Gregg and the New Hampshire Film Festival
Imagine the scene at the New Hampshire Film Festival: 10,000 attendees, 100+ films, and four full days of events. “For those four days, the only quiet time is between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m.,” executive director Nicole Gregg says wryly.
Gregg first brought the idea to life in Portsmouth in 2004, and last year, little more than a decade after its inception, the festival attained the distinction of being named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” Gregg has no intention of ceding that position. “At the close of each festival, we set a goal of making the next festival bigger and better than it was the year before,” she says. “It was a huge honor to be ranked among MovieMaker’s top 50 for 2013; they’re a leading industry publication and they evaluate between 4,000 and 6,000 festivals worldwide, so it was a great accomplishment for us to receive such recognition.”
Gregg views the ranking not only as validation of the event’s continued high quality, but also as a testament to Portsmouth’s charm and hospitality. “We have all the ingredients for a great event here, from the city’s infrastructure and the beautiful backdrop it provides to fabulous restaurants, great retail stores, and the amazing hospitality of the residents,” she says. “It’s a perfect recipe!”
A native of Queens, New York, Gregg got her start in the film industry with the Shooting Gallery, an independent film company based in New York City. The company closed its doors at roughly the same time she started dating New Hampshire native Zac Gregg, so she decided to relocate. Although Gregg was departing the place where she had grown up, she knew she could not leave the film industry behind. “Right after I moved to New Hampshire, I began thinking about starting a film festival,” she recalls. The last film she had worked on in New York was a short film, and when the director and producer took the work to festivals, she joined them. “I discovered that I loved festivals, and I realized that starting a film festival here in New Hampshire would be a great way to keep my hand in the business, stay involved with festivals, and bring greater attention to the city of Portsmouth, which I had come to love.”
Gregg’s idea quickly caught on, and despite the enormity of the undertaking, she and her co-founders have never looked back. “The amount of work that the festival takes borders on impossible,” she concedes. “There are so many moving parts to the weekend that I often feel like I’m managing air traffic control. The team and volunteers that help me organize and run this event every year are incredible.” Programming director Nicole Galovski is a valuable asset; she has worked alongside Gregg as the festival’s sole, full-time staff for the past couple of years. Gregg also acknowledges co-founder Dan Hannon, who handles the workshops, panels, juries, and special guests; John Herman, the director of the Young Filmmakers Workshop; Ryan Plaisted, the technical director, and his team; Dana Biscotti, the festival’s former screenplay competition director; and core volunteers Amber Day, Bill Delorey, Erin Kelly, and Susan Puckett. “Everyone just pitches in and does what needs to be done to pull the event off year after year, and with my festival responsibilities and two small children at home, I’ve become the very definition of a multitasker.”
Additionally, every year sees the arrival of more than 50 dedicated volunteers who work throughout festival weekend, manning stations at every film showing, party, panel, and workshop as well as at festival headquarters in the Discover Portsmouth Center. Gregg also offers plaudits to Vital Design, the Portsmouth-based marketing and web design firm owned and operated by her husband, Zac Gregg. “Zac and his team play a huge role in the festival’s success,” she explains. “Every year, a few weeks before the festival, the whole team drops everything and works on the festival for us. We’re extremely fortunate to have them!”
Nor is the daunting nature of the festival’s scope confined to the organizers. If you plan to attend, the plethora of offerings can be a bit overwhelming. First you must decide what type of ticket to buy: individual event tickets, an all-inclusive weekend pass, or a VIP pass, which affords the holder advance seating at all screenings—an increasingly valuable perk given the festival’s burgeoning popularity—and an invitation to an exclusive brunch at the 100 Club.
Once tickets are selected, Gregg recommends picking up a program at the Discover Portsmouth Center and spending some time reading through it. Look at film synopses, speaker bios, and workshop and panel schedules to get a sense of the entire event. Then decide which films appeal most to you and the screening times that work. Most films play more than once, so there is some flexibility. Then decide which parties to attend and finally which panels and workshops capture your interest.
One must-do is the annual comedy panel, a festival highlight. Over the past several years, guests have included Dale Launer, a screenwriter for the Steve Martin/Michael Caine hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Tom Bergeron, host of America’s Funniest Home Videos and former Seacoast DJ; actor and producer Mike O’Malley, known for Yes, Dear, Eat Pray Love, and R.I.P.D.; and actor Tommy Chong, the star of Up in Smoke, After Hours, and That ’70s Show. “The panel is a candid conversation on comedy and film and the art of making people laugh,” Gregg says. “It’s really two solid hours of laughter. There’s so much sadness and bad news in the world today, I think it’s really important to give people the opportunity to kick back and have a good laugh.”
And be on the lookout for celebrities. “You never know who’s going to show up,” Gregg says. Every year, celebrities attend the festival: from film stars such as Rae Dawn Chong, who appeared in Quest for Fire and The Color Purple and is also a member of the festival’s board of directors, and Ann Cusack, who appeared in The Informant and Crooked Lane (winner of the festival’s 2009 Film of the Year), to television actors like Adrian Grenier, best known as the character Vincent Chase on the HBO original series Entourage, and Homeland’s Morena Baccarin.
“Immerse yourself in the festival and then plan on taking a nice, long nap at the end of the weekend,” Greg says with a smile. “You’ll need it.” This year’s New Hampshire Film Festival takes place October 16-19. For information, visit nhfilmfestival.com