barbara kopple

Nantucket Film Festival Gets Underway

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.

HERO_cameraperson 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.

HERO_WILDERPEOPLE- Still 2- Julian Dennison (Ricky) Sam Neill (Hec) Credit 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.

 

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Time for the Nantucket Film Festival: Part One

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) accompanied by the Berklee Silent Film OrchestraThe Nantucket Film Festival, now in its 20th year, doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow (June 24), but it kicks off with a pre-festival screening of the 1925 silent classic The Phantom of the Opera tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Dreamland Theater. This stunning early horror film will be accompanied by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra playing a new score for the film and conducted by three-time Emmy nominee Sheldon Mirowitz (Outside Providence, Missing America). But this is only the beginning to one of our region’s best festivals, with its focus on screenwriting in the setting of lovely Nantucket Island.

Each year the Festival honors filmmakers with a special emphasis on screenwriters. This year, the major honoree is Robert Towne, author of Roman Polanski’s brilliant neo-noir Chinatown, which starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Towne has also written a number of other significant scripts, including cult classic The Last Detail (also starring Nicholson), Personal Best, Shampoo, and more recent films such as Mission: Impossible. Towne will appear in a live conversation with interviewer Chris Matthews  at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 26 and then be feted at the annual Screenwriter Tribute on Saturday, June 27, 6:30 p.m., along with actress/director Robin Wright and creator of House of Cards Beau Willimon.

Of course film festivals are all about the movies they show in addition to their signature special events, parties, etc. I have not had the chance to see all the films in this year’s festival but there are quite a few that should be on your list to check out. What follows is the first part of one possible itinerary for the five days of film you have to navigate. I will be posting my picks for the weekend tomorrow, but to get you started here are days one and two…

DAY 1: Wednesday, June 24
Opening Day

1:30 Peggy Guggenheim-Art Addict

4:15 Hot Type

7:30 The End of the Tour

 

Start your Nantucket Film Festival with a documentary about a fascinating woman who is one of the most important figures in modern art despite not being an artist herself. Peggy Guggenheim brought some of the most daring modern art to our attention. Finally, here is a film about this intriguing woman. Follow that up with legendary documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s (Harlan County, USA) new film about The Nation magazine. Kopple is a master of nonfiction form, so I wouldn’t miss this one. The Festival’s Opening Night Film is also one that has a lot of buzz about it. The End of the Tour is a fiction feature about a meeting between a Rolling Stone reporter (Jesse Eisenberg) and Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). According to reviews I’ve seen, the film mines the relationship between a journalist and his subject and issues of friendship and jealousy. Its Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Donald Margulies will be in attendance at this screening, so you can ask questions after the film.

 

DAY 2: Thursday, June 25

9:15 a.m. Almost There

1:15 Time Out of Mind

6:45 p.m. Jimmy’s Hall

9:45 p.m. Krisha

 

A slightly busier schedule for this second day of the festival, beginning with what looks like a fascinating documentary, Almost There about an outsider artist named Peter Anton. Although I have not yet seen this film, its story raises questions about documentary filmmakers’ relationships to their subjects, including the ethics and boundaries that need to be formed in those relationships. After lunch, I recommend Richard Gere’s new film, which he  produced and stars in, Time Out of Mind. I initially saw this film because I knew that a local Provincetown musician Billy Hough did some music for it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well done it is. Gere stars as a homeless man who has to navigate the system to stay alive, all the while trying to cope with guilt and regret over his relationship with his estranged daughter. This is an opportunity to see a very different side to Gere. Ben Vereen appears in a supporting role as well.

In the evening, I’m recommending two very different films. The first, Jimmy’s Hall is recommended on the basis of who directed it: legendary British filmmaker Ken Loach. Love him or hate him, the political filmmaker has created provocative films for over 40 years. This latest one is a biopic about Jimmy Gralton, an Irish communist who was also an American citizen and eventually was deported from Ireland to the US after leading a communist rebellion. The second, Krisha, is by a new filmmaker, Trey Edward Shults, and appears to have been made through an intriguing process. A fiction film, Shults cast his own family and shot in his childhood home, depicting a family’s struggles with addiction . Shults will also attend this screening.

 Come back tomorrow for Days 3 – 5!