Provincetown Film Festival Comes to a Close

This year’s Provincetown International Film Festival gave us another great lineup of events and screenings, showing that 18 years in, they still know how to do a festival right. The concept of “filmmaking on the edge” has always been the major identifying factor in this festival, which, while it takes place in a mecca for LGBT residents and tourists, has never been  a narrowly defined festival.


Ang Lee receiving the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival on Saturday, June 18, 2016. Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

The concept of “the edge” is a fluid one, and it can mean many different things, a fact that was not lost on this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge awardee Ang Lee. The Chinese-American director of such brilliant films as Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon said in his acceptance speech at an event in Provincetown Town Hall on Saturday evening, “I don’t know what the edge is and I don’t want to know. I like the mystery… I want to keep lying to you in the dark.”

Lee also spoke about the inspiration to become a filmmaker coming from the response he had to Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, a film he confesses he did not understand, but which for some reason stayed with him. “I saw the world differently.”

Asked by a young man in the audience what advice he’d give to aspiring filmmakers, Lee was frank in saying, “Don’t do it.” He explained it is such a difficult path to take that no one should go into it lightly. “I’m very fortunate to do what my heart tells me to do,” he said. “You have to really like it to do it, and if you do you don’t need my encouragement.”


Cynthia Nixon, the Festival’s Excellence in Acting awardee speaking about her work this past Saturday at Provincetown Town Hall. Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

The Festival also gave out an Excellence in Acting Award to Cynthia Nixon, who is perhaps best know for her role as Miranda in Sex in the City, but also has numerous award-winning credits in television, movies, and theater. In fact, she’s been performing professionally since she was 9 years old. Nixon, who is married to a woman, said she’d been working on the television movie Killing Reagan, which premieres this fall, and that this was her first time in Provincetown. “I’d just come from a month of playing Nancy Reagan… It’s nice to wake up from 1981 and see where we all are. It’s good to be here.”

When asked how her work for gay marriage in New York and in support of public education connected with her acting work, Nixon was clear, saying “When you make art with a political agenda, it often sullies in in a way… I like to keep my politics and my art separate.”


Agata Kulesza in The Innocents (2016), which won this year’s Audience Award for best narrative feature.

On Sunday, after the Closing Night film Strike a Pose, the festival film awards were announced. Of special note was the HBO Audience Award winner for Narrative Feature: The Innocents, a beautiful, heartbreaking film about nuns in a convent in Poland in 1945 who seek the help of a young French woman training to be a doctor with the French Red Cross when several of them find themselves in the late stages of pregnancy. Beautifully photographed and so well acted, it is no surprise this was chosen as the best narrative film of the festival.

In addition, the following awards were also given:

– HBO Audience Award / Best Documentary Feature (tie): The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, directed by Morgan Neville and Political Animals directed by Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares
– HBO Short Documentary Award: Territory, directed by Eleanor Mortimer
– The John Schlesinger Award, presented to a first time feature filmmaker (narrative): Blood Stripe, directed by Remy Auberjonois
– The John Schlesinger Award, presented to a first time feature filmmaker (documentary): Off the Rails, directed by Adam Irving
 – Here Media Award – Best Queer Short Film: One Last Night, directed by Kerem Blumberg
– Best Narrative Short Film: Thunder Road, directed by Jim Cummings
– Best Animated Short Film: Glove, directed by Alexa Haas and Bernardo Britto
– Best New England Short Film: Black Canaries, directed by Jesse Kreitzer
– Best Student Short Film: The Mink Catcher, directed by Samantha Buck
– Special Mention: ¡Mais Duro!, directed by Camila Saldarriaga
The Short Film Jury consisted of Ian Samuels (filmmaker, Myrna the Monster), Lisanne Skyler (filmmaker, Brillo Box (3¢ Off)) and Kim Yutani (Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival).

Woods Hole’s Own Kristin Alexander Kicks off the 2016 Season

Back in 2002, I started a film screening series in the basement of the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Chatham. We showed underground indie films by filmmakers from New York, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere in two 10-week seasons a year on Friday nights. That went on for a couple of years and then I began showing films at various venues on the Cape, including the Provincetown Art Association & Museum, the Woods Hole Film Festival Winter Series, WHAT in Wellfleet, and Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro.

Now the Cape Cod Film Society screenings are back, this time at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, right smack in the middle of the Cape, in South Yarmouth. Although the series is no longer a weekly program, this monthly format is going to be great, with screenings generally at 3 pm on the second Sunday of every month, September through May.

Woods Hole filmmaker Kristin Alexander is an extraordinary talent, with a background so diverse it includes dance, nursing, and of course, filmmaking. She kicks off our series this Sunday, January 10th at 3 pm with two short films she made about different aspects of life in Bermuda. One is about Mwalimu Melodye Micëre Van Putten, a fascinating educator bringing an Afrocentric curriculum to schools in order to rectify the systematic disenfranchisement of students of African descent, like many of the residents of Bermuda. The film, called Healing History, is an eye-opening account of Van Putten’s work and objectives that everyone needs to see.


The second film we’re showing, Trusting Rain, discusses water conservation efforts in Bermuda, which is something that should be of great interest on Cape Cod, even as we routinely waste water, in denial of the potential for drought.

I asked Kristin to answer a few questions to introduce you to her work. She will be attending the January 10th screening so you can ask your own questions of her at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod that afternoon at 3 pm.

Rebecca Alvin: When did you begin making films, and what drew you to fillmmaking?
Kristin Alexander:  I find filmmaking a creative outlet that also allows me to bring a voice to people and ideas that I feel are important.  Sort of visual advocacy.  I had some experience with film as a teenager, coming to Cape Cod in summer:  MAW productions, started by two brothers who made 8mm short films, which involved all the neighborhood kids in some way.  It was great fun and the films were quite good.  I studied communication and film for a time in college, in the days of linear editing.  When the digital revolution hit, I picked it up again.  At that time I was integrating film into dance performances on stage.  My first documentary Nothing without Joy followed 5 women on Cape Cod surviving cancer.  That was in about 2001.  I really enjoyed all aspects of making that film, from the cinematography to editing.  Since then I have completed 12 short documentaries, several of which have won awards on the festival circuit.  I have also assisted in several films as cinematographer, and participated in fundraising using my skills as a filmmaker.

RA: How did you come up with the idea for Healing History? What was your connection to it?
KA: Healing History evolved out of meeting Melodye, who is a teacher, poet and performance artist.  She is teaching African history from a new perspective, not one that most of us learned in history books.  I found her to be passionate and interesting.  We met through her husband, who had been in my film Trusting Rain [also screening on January 10th].  I asked if I could do a video portrait of her, and she declined.  I later asked again, and she looked at some of my previous work, and decided to give it a try.  She was skeptical, as her previous experiences with white folk had not been overwhelmingly positive.  She was teaching primarily black children and adults, to give them a sense of themselves and their history, teaching that they are descendants of genius, and are desperately needed in the world today.  The filming took several years, and spanned between her work in Philadelphia and Bermuda.  During this time it became apparent (via current events), that her work was even more necessary.


RA: What has been the reaction to the film?
KA: Healing History has been on the festival circuit, from Bermuda, to several cities in the U.S., Africa World in St. Louis and in Cameroon, Jamaica and the Pan African Cannes.  Interestingly, it has been invited to almost all of the Black festivals in which we applied, and only two of the mainstream festivals (as well as the Cape Cod Film Society).  It has been positively received, overwhelmingly in the Black festivals.  The Pan African Cannes and Bermuda Film Festival had a mixed audience, and the discussion was controversial at times, and quite extensive.

RA: Tell me about the film Trusting Rain? How did that originate?
KA: Trusting Rain is a film about rainwater collection in Bermuda, and the island residents’ relationship to water.  The island has no rivers or streams, and has historically been dependent on rain collected on roofs and stored in tanks below the house.  Times have changed, and as the island becomes more populated, this precious resource is dwindling.  Many tourists who come to Bermuda have no idea that the water used for drinking and showers is collected from rain.  I was fascinated by the stories of the ‘old timers’ and how careful they were with water, to the new generation and the overall waste, requiring desalinization plants to maintain the self sufficiency.

RA: That film seems to connect very directly to issues we have around water on Cape Cod. Do you agree?
KA: Potable water is a worldwide problem.  Certainly on Cape Cod, where there is seemingly not much concern about water shortage.  I had done a film about a scientist who is using a natural process to clean wastewater for re-use (Green Eco-Machine).  This kind of technology is so needed, but seems so foreign to people.  I feel clean water has become one of the great worries of our time.  We need to change our relationship to water, as a precious resource.

RA: You’ve made a lot of different films about different topics and in different styles.  Is there some sort of through-line in your work?
KA: My documentary films tend toward portraits of people, delving into their lives in various countries and at home.  I am very interested in people who are doing things to make a change in the world.  I enjoy filming nature, and finding positive work that is being done to help the environment.

RA: Are you working on any new films now?
KA: Currently I am finishing the edit on an older portrait, and have two ideas that I am working on, we shall see how that plays out!

Kristin Alexander’s films will be shown on Sunday, January 10, 3 pm at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, located at 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth, Mass. Tickers ($10) can be purchased in advance by calling the Cultural Center: 508- 394-7100,  or at the door that afternoon.

©2015 Rebecca M. Alvin All Rights Reserved

Nantucket Film Festival Continues Through Sunday


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

1 p.m. What Tomorrow BringsStanford Prison Experiment 2

3 p.m. Welcome to Leith

5 p.m. In Their Shoes… Robert Towne

7:30 p.m. Sleeping with Other People

10 p.m. The Stanford Prison Experiment


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.


DAY 4: Saturday, June 27SHAUN THE SHEEP 1

9:45 a.m. Shaun the Sheep

12:45 p.m. The Wolfpack

3:30 What Happened, Miss Simone?

6:30 p.m. Screenwriting Tribute

9:45 p.m. The Russian Woodpecker


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.


An archival still from the Showtime documentary Listen To Me Marlon. - Photo:  Mike Gillman/Courtesy of SHOWTIME - Photo ID:  ListenToMeMarlon_65.R Caption:  Marlon Brando with young Christian Brando

An archival still from the Showtime documentary Listen To Me Marlon. – Photo: Mike Gillman/Courtesy of SHOWTIME
Caption: Marlon Brando with young Christian Brando

DAY 5: Sunday, June 28

3 p.m. Peter and John

6:30 p.m. Best of Enemies

8:30 p.m. Listen to Me Marlon


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 for all the details and to buy advance tickets. Some of these films are already selling out as you read this.

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!