Look for 35 cozy sofas in the Chilmark Community Center this weekend, lined up for the 11th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF). Founder and Creative Director Thomas Bena and his crew have put together more than 20 documentaries, shorts, and fiction films for the festival, several on topics of local interest or produced by Islanders.
Food, music, and art are part of the entertainment. Many of the film directors, producers and production principals will attend and lead discussions.
The festivities begin Friday, March 18, with a 7 pm sneak preview of “Charlotte.” It is directed by West Tisbury summer resident Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte, who produced the Oscar-winning comedy, “The Kids Are All Right,” along with numerous other films. “Charlotte” tracks construction of Nat Benjamin’s gaff-rigged wooden schooner, named after Mr. Benjamin’s grandmother.
Mr. Kusama-Hinte will attend the screening and talk about the film, along with Mr. Benjamin’s business partner Ross Gannon, Mr. Benjamin’s wife, Pamela, and Director of Photography Brian Dowley. Mr. Benjamin cannot attend because he is sailing in the Caribbean.
Mr. Kusama-Hinte discussed “Charlotte” in a telephone interview from his New York office last week. He said a friend first introduced him to the Gannon Benjamin boatyard 10 years ago.
“Like many, I was entranced by it, and what they do there,” said Mr. Kusama-Hinte. He divides his time between the Vineyard and New York, where his production company, Antidote Films, is based.
The idea of making a film about the Vineyard Haven boatyard occurred to him immediately, and the opportunity came when Mr. Benjamin decided, after 30 years of building other people’s boats, to design and build one for himself, his family, and friends. Charlotte took four years to build, and the documentary follows its construction from beginning to end.
The director worked with cinematographer Brian Dowley. Because there were times when he was working on other projects and couldn’t be there, Mr. Kusama-Hinte relied on Mr. Dowley, who was well-suited for the project, since he lives in Cambridge and has family on-Island.
The team filmed for 60 days over a four-year period. “It was difficult,” Mr. Kusama-Hinte said, “like running a marathon.” But the toughest part was putting the footage together. “Charlotte” was shot cinema-vérité style on Super 16 mm film stock. With this technique, a hand-held camera is used, there is no narration, and the filmmaker works fly-on-the-wall style, catching events as they unfold rather than imposing a structure beforehand.
“We picked out 100 themes,” Mr. Kusama-Hinte said. “From that we just kept focusing it.” He loved the idea that “Charlotte” will have its first public screening on the Vineyard, where the sense of community is so strong and the audience will consist primarily of friends and family. He expects the audience’s input to help shape the film’s future.
“Nat used a lifetime of experience,” Mr. Kusama-Hinte said. “His relationship to the boat is incredibly intimate, like they’re part of one another.”
Mr. Kusama-Hinte sees the film as telling the story of boatbuilding and hopes it will give viewers a deeper appreciation of the craft and the people who practice it.
“Even the Rain,” a Spanish-language fiction film about a team of filmmakers who travel to Bolivia to make a film about Christopher Columbus, follows “Charlotte” at 9:15 pm.
On the schedule for Saturday, March 19, are six selections, including “Marwencol” at 10:45 am; an International Shorts program curated by local filmmaker Jeremy Mayhew, at 12:45 pm; “Crime After Crime” at 2:30 pm with director Yoav Potash leading a post-film discussion; and “Boy” at 5 pm.
The New England premiere of “Raw Faith,” a compelling documentary about a Portland, Ore., Unitarian minister, plays at 7 pm. The film records the spiritual crisis of the Rev. Marilyn Sewell, who will attend a post-screening discussion.
“Catfish,” directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, will screen at 9:15 pm on Saturday. This intriguing documentary tracks the cyber relationship of an eight-year-old Michigan girl and her family members with a 24-year-old photographer, leading to some unexpected discoveries. PBS’s producer of “POV” Yance Ford and Mr. Joost will lead a discussion after the film, along with producer Marc Smerling.
Sunday’s programming begins at 9:30 am with “Windfall.” In this documentary, director Laura Israel explores the impact of 40 industrial wind turbines in the small New York upstate town of Meredith.
West Tisbury mediator and facilitator Paddy Moore will lead a discussion with Ms. Israel and the audience after the film on how communities can keep from getting divided by controversial issues such as wind power.
“It was telling that the director initially did not accept Thomas Bena’s invitation to participate,” Ms. Moore commented last week. “She said she was tired of listening to debates about the pros and cons by people on opposite sides of the issue.
“We hope the Vineyard will be able to create a third wave,” Ms. Moore said, “and that some shared beliefs will come out of the discussion. But who knows where it will go?”
Ms. Moore, who has lived in West Tisbury since 1974 and raised six children there with her husband, architect Benjamin Moore, is the former assistant commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. She has worked as a mediator since 1985, dealing with public policy issues such as health care and elder care.
“Many families are ambivalent about wind power,” Ms. Moore said. She pointed out that new technology is developing rapidly, including underground storage for wind power.
“The First Grader” screens at 12:30 pm, with producer Sam Feuer in attendance. At 2:30 pm is “We Still Live Here,” a documentary about the efforts of a Wampanoag tribe member, Jessie Little-Doe Baird, to reconstruct the oral tradition of the Wampanoag language from documents written in the language. Director Anne Makepeace and Wampanoag tribe members Tobias Vanderhoop and Nonie Madison will lead a discussion following the film. “We Still Live Here” is preceded by Jeremy Mayhew’s short film “Brackish Water and the Infinite Above.”
Two documentaries will conclude Sunday’s screenings: “How to Die in Oregon, at 4:30 pm, with a post-film discussion led by director Peter Richardson; and “I Am,” at 7:15 pm. A new short film by Matthew Marsh, “Imagination Is Everything,” precedes “I Am.”
Food prepared by Kitchen Porch Catering will be available for purchase throughout the festival. Rob Meyers, aka Jellybone Rivers, will DJ and has organized live music by Gregg Harcourt and Mary Wolverton, David Stanwood, and Adam Lipsky.
Artist Audrey Van der Krogt will direct an interactive weaving project, using the theme of a future cultural center that could provide a home for MVFF.
“It’s on our wish list,” Mr. Bena says. “In the summer we’re limited in space — we sold out seven of our nine events. We’re looking at the next decade.”
He added the festival is always looking for volunteers and arrangements can be made for anyone unable to afford tickets.
“We want to put it out to the audience,” added Managing Director Brian Ditchfield. Production coordinators for the festival are Jennifer Christy, Molly Purves, and Lindsey Scott.
Individual film tickets are available for $12; $6 MVFF members. Day passes cost $50; $25 members. Weekend passes cost $120; $60 members. For information and advance purchases, visit tmvff.org.