Ingmar Bergman

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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).

The Foreign Film Series Kicks Off January 28

When I first moved to the Cape, the discovery of Cape Cod Community College’s Foreign Film Series was a great coup for someone suffering cinema withdrawal after leaving one of the world’s great film communities – New York City – for an extraordinarily beautiful place that lacked enthusiasm for movies.

The series is a free program offered by the Department of Languages and Literature, so it’s somewhat surprising that the majority of films scheduled for this spring’s season are English-language films. Of the 13 weekly selections, 7 are in English, including 4 that are actually U.S. productions. Now, as I said, I am happy there is such a series here on the Cape, and I have included the entire schedule in my online calendar since it is the mission of the Cape Cod Film Society to advance film appreciation in this region, but it would seem the series programmer could use a reminder as to the need for foreign-language films to be shown theatrically here.

Be that as it may, there are some great films on the schedule. Most notably, Ingmar Bergman’s classic film Wild Strawberries (1957) is showing on Tuesday, April 1st. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to this film in high school, which I’m sure is a rare experience because the film’s themes and its formal approach differ strongly from what an American teenager would be used to. And yet this is a great example of the power of cinema: how a film can bring us to understand something outside our own lived experiences and make us better people. In Bergman’s film, an aging professor has a kind of existential crisis as he looks back on his life. The surreal dream sequences and a maddeningly quiet sound design, as well as masterful performances by Victor Sjostrom and Bibi Andersson make this one of Bergman’s finest films. It is also one of the first of his features to be shown and appreciated on the U.S.’s burgeoning arthouse film circuit of the late 1950s. Put this one on your calendar to see.

The second film that I would love to revisit is Venus, which features Peter O’Toole in one of his last starring roles. Again, the film deals with aging, but it does so in such a beautiful way, never reducing its main character to tired stereotypes, which in this culture vacillate between old fools and wise souls. O’Toole plays Maurice, a septuagenarian actor who is still very much a man in that he appreciates beautiful women and doesn’t always think with his brain. O’Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for that performance, but lost to Forest Whitaker, who also did an incredible job portraying Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

There are also a couple of films I haven’t seen, like the Turkish feature Watchtower, directed by Pelin Esmer, showing on March 11th, and the week before that, Off White Lies, an Israeli film directed by Maya Kenig. Both of these look promising as well.

It’s cold outside and probably will be for a while, so check out some of these films at CCCC. All films start at 3:30 p.m. and screen in Lecture Hall A in the Science Building at Cape Cod Community College, 2240 Iyanough Rd., W. Barnstable (Exit 6 off of Rte. 6). Parking is available in lots 5, 6, & 7 at CCCC. For more information call 508.362.2131 ext. 4453.