The Ridgefield Independent Film Festival is celebrating the best of independent cinema with over 100 films from 20 different countries at multiple venues around town Oct. 18-21.

The festival’s headliner, Wildlife, is actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut. Dano, a 2002 graduate of Wilton High School, wrote the adapted screenplay along with Zoe Kazan from Richard Ford’s novel. Wildlife stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, and focuses on the ensuing family drama after a teenage boy watches the ruin of his parents’ marriage when they move to Montana. Wildlife will be shown at the Ridgefield Playhouse the day before the film opens in a limited theatrical release on Oct. 19.

“We’re so honored to present Paul Dano’s extraordinary debut feature, Wildlife, at the festival this year,” Festival Director Megan Smith-Harris said. “Though Paul is only in his 30s, his career already spans more than two decades. The depth of his experience — both in front of and behind the camera — comes through in every frame.”

“We are focused on making this a very filmmaker-friendly festival. Without great films you don’t have a great festival,” she said. “We believe we will provide the community around Fairfield County and beyond with a terrific lineup of carefully curated films.”

The festival aims to educate and inspire with its documentary heavy lineup. The films cover a variety of topics; from alternative lifestyles to the immigration crisis and they are deftly and sensitively tackled.

This year’s festival pays homage to the late Ridgefield filmmaker Joe Consentino in launching the Joe Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award. Consentino, a former Boston Red Sox player and photographer/cinematographer/director, was best known for the documentaries Baghdad Diary (2007) and Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story (1996). He founded the Ridgefield Playhouse Film Society and was known for his dedication to the craft of filmmaking and support of new directors.

“I thought what a wonderful gesture. That would have made him so happy because film was so important to him,” his wife, Sandra Consentino said. “This is a great honor and a perfect way to honor his memory. Documentary film was important to him because he wanted to get out to people and show them what is going on but always being objective. He always allowed people to make their own observations and get what they wanted to get out of a film.”

Seven films by first-time feature filmmakers are in competition for the inaugural Consentino award: Are You Glad I’m Here directed by Noor Gharzeddine; Mary Goes Round directed by Molly McGlynn; The California No directed by Ned Ehrbar; Dad is Pretty directed by Park Soo-min and Kim Seung-hyeob; 2030 directed by Johnny Boston, Tre Maison Dasan directed by Dinali Tiller and High Resolution directed by Jason Lester. The winner will be announced Oct. 18 at the Ridgefield Playhouse. The Joe Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award is presented by Sandra Consentino.

“RIFF is proud to be one of the first film festivals fully committed to 50/50 gender parity,” says Smith-Harris. “We aren’t crafting a pledge or waiting until 2020 to represent women’s voices and sensibilities on the screen. We’re doing it now.”

Three of the six films nominated for the Consentino Award are directed by women. Among them is one by Lebanese-American filmmaker Gharzeddine, based in New York, who talked with this reporter about telling a bilingual story in her film, Are You Glad I’m Here. The film portrays the friendship between a young American woman teaching in Lebanon and an older married woman who lives there.

“There are a lot of moments in the film where there are natural [language] barriers,” she said, which happened when the two actresses rehearsed. “I let it keep going on the scene; you do feel like there is this ‘lost in translation’ moment, which contributes to a friendship particular to the place.”

Despite the conflict and drama, there are notes of comedy and lightness in the film. “I didn’t want it to to be this dark, gritty drama about horrible things happening. Not sticking to a strict format gave us the freedom to tell multiple types of stories … and include these aspects of life. Sometimes these horrible things are happening but somebody cracks a funny joke; we wanted to mirror life.”

A passionate filmmaker who delved into cinema as a teenager, Boston moved to America from his native England to pursue film. He grew up knowing the futurist who renamed himself FM 2030 and after his death made a documentary exploring his life and the possibilities of immortality. Boston has lived in Weston for 13 years.

“I interviewed probably over 100 people from the scientific community from Silicon Valley to the neuroscience community. I’ve learned what is coming down the pipeline  — what we can do and what we can’t do,” he said.

Asked about lessons learned from his film, he said, “There are obviously a lot of takeaways. The important thing is that we are thinking about what is coming down the pipelines as well as the ramifications. We have never been at a moment of such rapid technological change but change in every aspect how we live. My hope is that all the benefits of this rapidly changing technological landscape will be available to everyone, not just the rich and powerful.”

Among festival events are an opening night VIP Filmmaker’s Reception following the Wildlife screening, a talk with New Canaan native Allison Williams of HBO’s show Girls and Get Out on Oct. 20, at the Aldrich. The festival will also hold panels and Q&As with filmmakers.

For more information, visit riffct.org.