Silver Screen: Moby Dick Festival

By Carla Charter

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PITTSFIELD, MA. – This year commemorates the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth, born on August 1, 1819. He was the author of many writings including Moby Dick, the iconic novel of Ahab and his famous battle with the white whale.

Arrowhead, where Melville wrote Moby Dick, and the Berkshire Historical Society, will be kicking off this celebratory year by sponsoring the first ever Moby Dick Film Festival to be held at the Atheneum, Pittsfield’s Public Library at One Wendell Avenue.

“Moby-Dick was a colossal failure when first published in 1851 but in the early 20th century it began taking its place among the most highly regarded works written in the 19th century, today it is seen as one of the best books ever written. It has inspired plays, other novels and many films in many genres. This short festival explores only a few of the many versions, “ according to the Berkshire Historical Society.

The film festival schedule is as follows:  Thursday, January 17 – The Sea Beast (1926-Silent with Music) Starring John Barrymore and Dolores Costello; Thursday, January 24 –Assorted short films including ‘Willy, the Whale’ ‘The Whalers’ and Jack Aranson’s one-man show, Moby Dick;  Thursday, January 31 – Moby Dick (1930) starring John Barrymore, Joan Bennett and Lloyd Hughes; Tuesday, February 12 – Moby Dick, The Mini-Series, Part 1 Starring Patrick Stewart, Henry Thomas, Ted Levine, Dominic Purcell and Gregory Peck as Father Mapple; Thursday, February 14 – Moby Dick, The Mini-Series, Part 2; Tuesday, February 19 – Age Of The Dragons (2011) with Danny Glover, Vinnie Jones, Corey Sevier and Sofia Pernas; Thursday, February 28 – Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick, San Francisco Opera with Jay Hunter Morris as Ahab.

This Moby-Dick Film Festival was produced and compiled by the Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead with much of the conceptual work and planning being done by Peter Bergman., Director of Communications and Community Relations, Berkshire Historical Society  and is presented with the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum  All events are free and open to the public; all shows are at 6:30pm and include refreshments.

This is the first of several events planned in Pittsfield to celebrate the birthday of Herman Melville. There s a yearly Moby Dick Marathon held on August 1-4, where volunteers, alone or as part of a group, read Moby Dick aloud, from beginning to end at the Arrowhead barns. On August 4th there will be an annual hike up Monument Mountain to commemorate a hike which Melville took where he first met Nathaniel Hawthorne.  More information can upcoming celebratory events can be found at the Berkshire Historical Society’s website, www. and at the Arrowhead website at

Herman Melville lived at Arrowhead from 1850-1863. He was writing Moby Dick when he purchased Arrowhead in 1850 and the novel was published in 1851. He had previously spent time in Pittsfield when he was a young boy while visiting relatives.

As a young man, Melville spent time travelling and working on a whaling ship. Prior to writing Moby Dick he had had some success with two other books, Typee and Omoo.  “Moby Dick was not a real success in his lifetime. It became a great American Novel long after his death,” according to Kathleen Reilly Supervisor of Local History, at the Berkshire Atheneum.

In an unrelated event, a Melville novella, Benito Cereno, is coming to the small screen, albeit with a science fiction twist. Topic Studios is developing a new scripted TV series entitled Benito Cereno. The series is based on the 1855 Herman Melville novella of the same name, but set in space rather than the high sea. Inspired by Herman Melville’s 1855 novella, Benito Cereno reimagines Melville’s tale as a science fiction thriller that tells the story of an accidental encounter between two vessels in deep space – a human commercial ship and an alien slave freighter.

“It’s an incredibly thrilling tale from Melville, a writer we normally think of as being cerebral,” added Steven Katz, the series creator and writer.  “Although it does plumb his classic themes of good vs. evil and dark vs. light.”

“‘Benito Cereno’ is one of Melville’s most thought-provoking short stories, and Steven has been able to retain its essence, while reimagining it for modern audiences,” said Lisa Leingang, SVP, Programming & Content for Topic Studios. “The result will be something so innovative and radical that we can’t wait for audiences to see it.”

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