The Nantucket Film Festival (NFF) kicked off yesterday with their opening day film Finding Dory, an unusual choice for a film festival since it is a Disney sequel film and is already in theaters. But don’t let that fool you. The schedule this year is chock full of excellent fiction and nonfiction features as well as virtual reality experiences (new this year!) and panels and special events that celebrate the art of storytelling in cinema.
On the documentary front, there are a number of interesting choices. Under the category of documentaries by masters of the form, NFF is screening Miss Sharon Jones!, the latest from the legendary Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA; Wildman Blues; etc.), which screens Thursday, June 23 at 12 p.m. And, my personal favorite, Werner Herzog brings his unique approach to nonfiction film with his latest documentary Lo and Behold:Reveries of a Connected World, about the impact of the Internet and the multiplicity of screens that exist in our daily lives now, screening also on Thursday at 5 p.m. and again Friday at 9 a.m.
Although I have not seen many of the documentaries on offer, I did see Tickled, and I have to say that is one of the most bizarre stories ever to be captured on film—fiction or nonfiction. What begins as a fluffy human interest story about “competitive tickling” soon turns into a disturbing trip into the mind of a most peculiar character. To say more, unfortunately, would ruin the film for you. Trust me, you need to see this to believe it. It screens Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
In addition, I did see Cameraperson, a fascinating, non-narrative documentary by Kirsten Johnson, a cinematographer who has worked on many notable documentaries, such as The Two Towns of Jasper, Fahrenheit 911, and Citizenfour. With this film, she sits in the director’s chair and works with the outtakes from her career of shooting documentaries and puts together a piece that she asks us to see as her “memoir.” Although there are interviews that tell us powerful stories of loss, regret, and fear, it is not so much the verbal content as it is the imagery that demonstrates the overwhelming power of the visual. As someone who makes films, it taught me a lot about what images can have impact on an audience, aside from the usual focus on people’s faces. This film, which screens Thursday at 1 p.m. and Friday at 3 p.m., is meditative, but very relevant to the human condition through the films she includes.
On the narrative fiction side, there are several films I recommend. Little Boxes is a wonderful small film about a biracial family that moves to the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest. The father is a black novelist and the mother a white college professor. Their son is “just what we need around here” according to the local white girls who see his blackness as a way to up their hipness quotient. The story is moving, very funny, and very well written and well acted. It stars Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men), Armani Jackson, and Janeane Garafalo. It screens Saturday at 3:45 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
Captain Fantastic, screening Thursday at 1:45 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m., stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, a father of six with very unconventional views on child rearing. Having decided with his wife to raise their children in the wilderness, things take a turn when tragedy forces them to come out into the “real world” of other people. This clash of realities is at times hilarious, but also quite provocative.What is appropriate to tell a child? How much harm do we cause in protecting them from experiences? And what are the skills that we need to pass on to our children. Director Matt Ross has crafted an intelligent, funny, and resonant film here that examines parenting in a way we have not seen in the cinema before.
I also saw the Closing Night film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film by Maori writer/director Taika Waititi about a troubled kid who is adopted by a couple who live close to the bush in New Zealand. This film, too, starts out as one about culture clash, with the young boy having to reimagine himself outside of the urban, hip-hop environment he’s used to. Like in Captain Fantastic a tragedy beyond his control forces him to deal with the outside world when he and his adoptive father take off into the woods on the run from a maniacal child-welfare officer. It’s a very funny film and also quite touching. This is one everyone can enjoy, from kids to adults. It screens Sunday at 5:15 and 8 p.m.
Filmmaker Todd Solondz is known for pushing the boundaries of people’s comfort zones for over a decade now, since his debut film Welcome to the Dollhouse and later, the very disturbing Happiness. He’s on the festival circuit now with his new film Weiner-Dog, basically a collection of short stories about “weiner dogs” and the impact they have on the families who adopt them. This one is not for the squeamish, and despite its topic, it is not a great film for animal lovers. Solondz’ trademark cultivation of unease is on display here, sometimes making for hilarious entertainment, but more often veering into a contemplation of loneliness and the void that dogs often fill for people. If you’re someone who enjoys things that make you uncomfortable, this one’s for you, albeit not as brilliant as his previous films. This one screens at 9:45 p.m. Thursday and Saturday.
The festival also features a tribute to Oliver Stone, breakfast panels with various filmmakers (all of which are sadly sold out at this point), a suite of virtual reality experiences, and an In Their Shoes conversation with comedienne Molly Shannon. Hop a ferry and check out one of our region’s great cinematic celebrations. For all the details visit nantucketfilmfestival.org.