The 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
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
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!