Actor Matthew Modine Headlines 5th International Film Festival

Actor Matthew Modine Headlines 5th International Film Festival

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More than 50 international films promise to pack more on-Island punch this weekend than Earl did. The M.V. International Film Festival begins this evening, September 9, with a rooftop reception at the Mansion House and a screening of Miao Wang’s “Beijing Taxi.”

Actor Matthew Modine, whose latest Hollywood film, “The Trial,” plays Saturday, September 11, will receive the festival’s first Global Citizen Award. Island sculptor Barney Zeitz has designed a special “angel” statuette of hammered stainless steel for Mr. Modine, who boasts an impressive array of humanitarian achievements in addition to a successful acting career. The ceremony will take place Saturday night.

Festival founder and director Richard Paradise notes, “I’ve always thought it would be neat to give an award not for an actor’s film work — that has been done before — but for their other, charitable, humanitarian work. It’s unique. No other festivals do it.”

Also new this year is the Friday night juried competition that will award a $500 prize to the winning international short. A selection committee has chosen the winner from 10 finalists, whose films will be screened Friday, September 10. More than 200 films from 30 different countries entered the competition.

A special $100-a-plate, three-course fundraising dinner, Reel Food M.V., will support local farmers as well as the Festival Friday night. The limited seating dinner at Saltwater Restaurant offers diners the opportunity to meet Mr. Modine and filmmakers in attendance and includes an International Shorts film screening.

Mr. Modine, whose distinguished career includes work in film, TV, and theatre, plays a defense attorney in “The Trial.” In the film, the character’s despair over the death of his wife and children leads him to contemplate suicide, but by taking on a capital punishment case that changes his life, he demonstrates the redemptive power of helping others.

Mr. Modine grew up in California with a father who worked as a drive-in movie operator. The actor’s break-out role came as Pvt. Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film, “Full Metal Jacket.” He has worked with such celebrated directors as John Sayles, Robert Altman, Alan Pakula and Jonathan Demme. The actor’s most recent film endeavors are as a director and include “Wet Weather Cover.”

In college, Mr. Modine became a passionate student of oceanography, but lacked the math skills to pursue a career in the subject. He has since directed his interests onto environmental causes. A current New Yorker, the actor and humanitan founded Bicycle for a Day (BFAD), a movement to encourage biking as a major mode of transportation in the U.S.

Bicycling has risen in New York 30%, a fact that Mr. Modine attributes to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s support as well as BFAD. A protected biking lane on New York’s Columbus Avenue broke ground last month.

“If you can get 50,000 bicyclers, it’s going to change the city and make a better experience for tourists,” Mr. Modine says. He also emphasizes the health benefits of biking in a country where the current generation may be the first to die before their parents.

His biking project got its start in the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in 2006, when he directed a BFAD film for the Young Global Leaders forum at Davos. BFAD has expanded to have a global impact.BFAD’s goal is to buy and site shipping containers in communities worldwide that need bicycles. The containers, which are sturdy, relatively inexpensive and what Mr. Modine calls “one of the most ubiquitous things around the world,” can be used to carry old bikes and deliver them where they are needed. Once in place, volunteers can sell the bikes and set up a repair shop for teaching purposes. Another container could be used as a community center.

“My father used to say, ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime,'” Mr. Modine observes about the BFAD container project.

For an18-year-old girl working in a Honduran or Nicaraguan factory, a bicycle can have a tremendous impact, Mr. Modine points out: “It becomes a way to get to work and go to school.”

Another of Mr. Modine’s grassroots initiatives is the Card Carrying Liberal project. Available at cardcarryingliberal.com for a $10 donation, the cards are designed to reclaim the word “liberal” from those who have politicized it negatively. Mr. Modine appeared on the Bill O’Reilly Show in 2008 and presented the host with a CCL card.

Quoting his father again, the actor says, “When you meet someone contrary, plant a seed of love.” Proceeds from the cards go to the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Modine’s most recent humanitarian project is called Do-One, which the actor nicknamed his Smokey the Bear campaign for the environment. “So many people feel helpless,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “My environmental initiative is meant to make them feel empowered, that there are hundreds of things they can do as one of a nation of 300 million people.”

Mr. Modine describes his experience in Morocco while filming a movie, “Jacob,” for TNT. The crewmembers all used plastic bottles, something the local populace didn’t do. The actor found himself picking up after his associates and warning, “I’m going be walking the desert and a bottle will blow into the scene.” A local boy was then assigned to pick up the bottles, and later Mr. Modine saw a cloud of black smoke that turned out to be fumes from burning the bottle debris.

“I went to the mayor and told him that since only tourists drank from plastic bottles, he should put a deposit on them. It would give the local kids something to do, picking up bottles,” Mr. Modine said. “We have to remember there is no ‘away’ in throw-away. Nothing disappears.”

Mr. Modine is extremely excited to receive the Global Citizen Award. The film festival is providing his first visit to Martha’s Vineyard, an Island he describes as “that magical place everyone knows that famous people and presidents visit.”

Details on times and locations of MVIFF movies and events are available at www.filmfest.com, in last week’s MV Times festival insert and at the festival headquarters and box office at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven.