Peter and John: On Tour

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, whose film Peter snd John is in the midst of a 100-date Cape Cod tour. It is currently playing in Chatham, but check his schedule because there are dates coming up all over the Cape and Islands.

The film, based on Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean, stars Jacqueline Bisset and Christian Coulson, and was shot entirely on Nantucket.

Here’s a link to the story I wrote for Provincetown Magazine:

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!


On “Boyhood” and Parenthood

Patricia Arquette reading to a 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," an IFC release.

Patricia Arquette reading to a 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” an IFC release.

When you become a parent, you fall in love. And then, you spend the rest of your life worrying about the love of your life getting hurt. It is a lifelong commitment to anxiety as you watch your child grow and make decisions/mistakes without you. This strange mixture of unmatched joy and constant terror bubbling just beneath the surface of your seemingly normal demeanor is rarely captured in a film. But in Richard Linklater’s latest film Boyhood, that reality is deeply felt.

Though the parents of the main character are not themselves the subjects of this story, it is their anxieties that we in the audience are made to feel most viscerally as we watch a young boy grow from about 6 years old to 18 years old. In that time, the boy grows up, falls in love, has his heart broken, graduates from high school, and embarks upon the journey to adulthood that begins with college. And every step of the way, Linklater gives us moments of tension that we think will build to devastating tragedy, but which, instead, play out just as they would in reality 99 percent of the time, without much drama at all.

For example, in one scene, an adolescent Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is hanging around with some older kids, comparing notes on sex. The idea of calling in some prostitutes is raised, likewise raising the hairs on the back of our neck. We’re bracing ourselves for a revolting display of tween sexuality, when it turns out it was just a game of chicken, and no prostitutes come. The discussion quickly moves to another even more frightening demonstration of masculinity and that youthful feeling of indestructability, when the group decide to hurl saw blades at a wall. Linklater takes great pains to show us a closeup of the blade, build tension through editing, and then allow the scene to play out in a stunningly non-dramatic way. It’s as though he is saying to the audience, “Scared you, didn’t I?”

So meaningful are these sequences, that they caused a bit of stir after the screening I attended at the Nantucket Film Festival where MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, who attended the festival,  asked about the intentionality of these sequences and why they were constructed this way. The producer attending for Q&A said she didn’t think they were intentional at all, which was shocking, because clearly they are. Instead, a member of the audience responded to Matthews: “because that’s how parenting is; you are always worried and most of the time nothing bad happens.”

Likewise, the parenting choices made by Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke) are sometimes questionable. They are, like all of us, flawed characters who sometimes give in to the pressures in their lives. Whether it’s the stream of bad relationships (on the mother’s part) or the inability to step up and be an adult (on the father’s part), these are all choices that feel real, and they are handled in a way that acknowledges the fact that bad choices don’t necessarily mean “bad parenting.” Ultimately, these are parents who, though divorced and wildly different from each other, love their children and would die for them. But they are not perfect.

Much has been made of this film’s production methods, in particular its timeline. The film went into production 12 years ago and stayed with the same cast, so what we see on the screen has a documentary quality to it as each actor–children and adults, alike–age in real life as well as in the fictional universe. No doubt, this is what drove many to add this film to their must-see list, and it is a remarkable display of commitment from all involved. Yes, the results cannot be imitated without going through that long production process, but it isn’t the reason this film should be seen and celebrated. Boyhood is remarkable for its even-toned realism. It is a slice of life–albeit a large slice of someone’s life–and it eschews any of the phony drama of most modern movies, in favor of the real drama that is real life.