The Nantucket Film Festival is now underway and hopefully you checked out the first half of this itinerary, which I posted yesterday. Things really heat up as this festival goes on, rather than petering out, so with that in mind, here is the remainder of my recommended itinerary, beginning with this Friday’s program.
DAY 3: Friday, June 26
Today I suggest starting of with two important documentaries. The first one, What Tomorrow Brings is actually a work-in-progress and it is about the circumstances of women in Afghanistan, which it looks at through the story of a new all girls’ school and the woman who runs it. While the Taliban, which forbade women and girls from teaching and studying, has been ousted, their influence lingers. Director Beth Murphy takes on the subject presumably with the same sensitivity and honesty has used in making previous films, such as Beyond Belief (2007), which I reviewed for The Upper Cape Codder some years ago. This film is followed by Welcome to Leith, which tells a story that seems like it just could not be true. (In fact, I thought I was reading about a fiction feature at first.) A small, abandoned town in North Dakota finds itself home to a white supremacist named Craig Cobb who wants to kick off the “race war.” But the residents of the town, thankfully, are not interested in their hate-filled rhetoric and so they try to work with the system to rid the town of this scourge. This is one I have not seen, but I am very interested to find out how the real life situation turned out. You can read a little about the unwelcome resident here.
Chinatown screenwriter and this year’s screenwriter tribute Robert Towne will be in conversation with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for an intimate chat at 5 p.m. After that, you might want to check out Leslye Headland’s very funny Sleeping With Other People, which is really an updated version of When Harry Met Sally, although it won’t suit all tastes with its over the top raunchy humor (similar to Headland’s previous feature Bachelorette). And finally, an intriguing mix of fact and fiction The Stanford Prison Experiment dramatizes the infamous 1971 Stanford University study of power and powerlessness in which student research subjects were divided into prisoners and guards in a mock prison setup, resulting in a shocking lesson in how easy it is for people to descend to moral depravity with a little bit of power in their hands. The cruelty of the mock guards led to the study being shut down after just a few days.
If you have kids or if you just enjoy high quality animation in the tradition of Wallace and Gromit, get up a little early and head over to the Dreamland Theater for the 9:45 a.m. screening of Shaun the Sheep. It is a fun, nearly wordless claymation feature based on the British television program of the same name and will delight anyone with a sense of whimsy. Follow that up with one of the most talked about documentaries to come out of Sundance, The Wolfpack about six siblings who grew up in almost total seclusion in New York City and learned everything through watching and then reenacting movies. Truly bizarre circumstances yield a film that won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and that is headed to theaters soon after the festival circuit.
At 3:30 p.m. Liz Garbus’ What Happened, Miss Simone? gives us a documentary portrait of the enigmatic jazz singer Nina Simone, who passed away in 2003. Although the film will be on Netflix later this month, it should be noted that Garbus will attend today’s screening, providing an opportunity to learn more about the subject and the process of making this film. After that screening, everyone will want to attend the Screenwriting Tribute, which, as I explained in the first half of my itinerary, is an evening to honor legendary screenwriter Robert Towne, director/actress Robin Wright, and creator of the show House of Cards Beau Willinson, among others, hosted by David Steinberg. After the tribute, the film The Russian Woodpecker comes highly recommended to me by a documentary filmmaker I recently met who really knows her stuff. She saw it at Sundance and I hope to see it at Nantucket along with you. The film is an essay style documentary about the Chernobyl accident in Russia and it was filmed amid chaos and violence. It won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
DAY 5: Sunday, June 28
Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven has often made films that take place in New England and are actually shot here, as well. Last year, he shot Peter and John on location on Nantucket. Based on a Guy de Maupassant novel of the same name, the story is not set here, but in a French seaside town. Craven has adapted this psychological story for the screen and moved it to Nantucket, so it is of special local interest. The film stars Jacqueline Bisset, who will attend the festival this year along with Craven. You can read more about Craven and his previous work in an article I wrote for Provincetown Magazine. In the evening, check out the insightful documentary exploration of the televised “debates” between ultra conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and ultra liberal Gore Vidal from the 1960s. Best of Enemies does a great job of both showcasing these men’s verbal jousting abilities and also digging deeper to show us that while in some ways they were cut from the same economic cloth, the barely held back anger seething beneath the surface of each man is genuine and not something made for our viewing pleasure. It does a great job of exploring certain aspects of American culture that still keep us divided.
The festival offers what is perhaps the best documentary of the lot this evening. Listen to Me Marlon is an exceptional documentary about a most unusual, iconic individual, Marlon Brando. Using Brando’s decades of audio diaries as its basis, along with archival footage and imagery from his childhood through later life, the film unmasks a much misunderstood public figure and humanizes him in a way that rights the wrongs of our celebrity-obsessed culture. This is one to make sure you see.
Most of the films mentioned in my itinerary have multiple screening dates/times, so if you can’t adhere to my carefully mapped out itinerary, there may be other opportunities to see these films at this year’ festival. Have a great time, open your mind, and absorb the truths that only cinema can provide! Visit http://www.nantucketfilmfestival.org for all the details and to buy advance tickets. Some of these films are already selling out as you read this.