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Topia Arts Center screens Berkshire-made films free on Sundays with film and special-effects discussions
By Eli Jace Bulno, Special to The Eagle

Thursday, Aug. 13
ADAMS — Way back in 1938 the Topia Arts Center first opened its theatre in Adams. For 30 years it served as a popular social center for the community. It closed in 1968 and has remained nearly vacant since. This summer the theatre is back with Filmtopia, a weekly free series showing movies with connections to the Berkshires.

“We wanted to open the doors to get people coming back,” said Executive Director Nana Simopoulos.

With some reconstruction still going on, the space is back in commission and ready to entertain the masses again.

To kick off the series, the townsfolk of Adams were encouraged to “Pick the Flick,” filling out ballots with their favorite films and their reasons why. The films with the most interesting reasons given won, Simopoulos said.

On June 21, the theatre came back to life showing two films from opposite ends of the spectrum: The Jungle Book and Freedom Writers, what Simopoulos called “a phenomenal movie.”

The system of ballots garnered great responses and will surely be used again, she said, and added that along with showcasing movies, Topia Arts Center plans to have theatre productions in the future, as well as concerts.

All kinds of movies fit into the ‘Berkshire-made’ scenario. “Alice’s Restaurant” was filmed in Great Barrington and Housatonic and “2001: A Space Odyssey” had the authority of special effects pioneer Doug Trumbull, who is on the Board of Directors
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for the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Commission. The presentation he gave before that film, the Academy saw in Hollywood last year.

His influence spans many films including “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Silent Running,” also shown in the series.

Guest speakers have been invited throughout adding significant introductions to their films. They have all been ground-breaking in their adaption to technology’s role in film-making.

For the showing of “The One,” starring Jet Li, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Jeff Kleiser spoke about the varied techniques used in creating Li’s evil twin.

“This was the first instance of digital face replacement on such a large scale,” said Kleiser.

Many scenes have Li fighting a Li duplicate, he said, which required techniques like creating digital stunt doubles, optical flow effects and a particle effect that made characters appear to break up into dust.

“We pushed the envelope in terms of photorealistic digital stunt doubles,” he said.

Kleiser teaches computer animation at Williams College and is a member of the board of directors of the Williamstown Film Festival. He also founded Synthespian Studios, an animation studio with a home in North Adams, Williamstown and Hollywood, CA.

Diane Pearlman, the Executive Director of the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Commission, spoke for The Matrix on August 2. She was part of the team, along with Trumbull, that developed the famous slow-motion “bullet-time” effect in the movie.

She also worked on “What Dreams May Come,” which will be shown August 23. Both films won Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards back to back.

Pearlman called working in the Berkshires inspiring.

“With very little outside distraction,” she said, “we were able to conceive and create some of the most stunning visual effects ever seen in the film industry.”

Right now the Topia theatre is a wooden skeleton with a faint smell of saw dust swirling around. A 32-foot Hi-Def screen drapes before 100 red padded chairs and is a homey little spot to take in a film. The renovation is being stretched out in four phases with funds coming from state, federal, and foundation grants.

Donations will also serve the revival. “Founding 50” memberships are available. They would include permanent recognition and prime time seating at any and all events, but are limited to the first fifty individuals, families or businesses.

Coming up this Sunday at 2 p.m., Bob O’Haver will speak before “Stargate,” for which he was Visual Effects Producer. His wife, Jenny O’Haver, is also on the Board of Directors for the Berkshire Film Commission and came up with the idea for the summer series.

“We were trying to create a virtual surface that would respond like water when you touched it,” he says of the “mercury effect” in the film. “We had to write our own.”

The film came alive before digital had the stranglehold on the industry it does now, he said. The challenges they faced brought upon some unique results.

“That is one of the reasons I liked visual effects,” he reflected. “We always were working on something that no one had ever seen before.”

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