The Summer Institute Film Series of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center (MVHC) starts its season this year with “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy” (“I Love You” in Mandarin), a film about a Jewish family’s adoption of an eight-year-old Chinese orphan. The film will screen at MVHC’s Harriet B. Freedberg Learning Center in Vineyard Haven on Sunday, June 19.
The Summer Institute Film Series has branched out this summer, after 10 years of relying on the Boston Jewish Film Festival to provide its films. Although some of its films will still be drawn from Boston’s JFF, they have also chosen from the Berlin Film Festival, the Israeli Film Festival, and a number of multiple-award-winning films.
“We wanted to expand the possibilities,” says Jerri Alpert. Ms. Alpert, who with her husband Larry divides her time between Edgartown and Boston, took over the reins of both the lecture and film series of the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute this year from Betsy Sheerr of Chilmark.
She and the center’s Film Committee screened several dozen films to find a mix that they thought the Institute’s audience would enjoy. Chaired by Shelly Eckman of Aquinnah and Sherbourne, the committee includes Joanne Breuer of Boston and West Tisbury, Dale Mnookin and Helene Lapman, both Bostonites who summer in Edgartown.
The committee hired Richard Paradise, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society (MVFS), as a consultant to facilitate the finding of appropriate films, distributors, and booking.
The opening film of the Summer Institute series, “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy,” uses cinema verité techniques to examine how Fang Sui Yong, who was living with a foster family in Guangdong province, adjusted to living with Jeff and Donna Sadowski, a Long Island couple who have two sons, as well as a Chinese-born daughter adopted at 18 months.
The movie’s fly-on-the-wall approach by director Stephanie Wang-Breal, who is first-generation Chinese-American, reveals how Yong, renamed Faith, changes, missing her foster parents and foster-sister Mei-Mei, then learning English and embracing her new American family. “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy” won the Sterling Award at the American Film Institute Silverdocs Festival and was aired on PBS’s “Point of View” series.
Other films in the seven-part Summer Institute series are: “Saviors in the Night” (6/26); “Nora’s Will” (7/10); “Precious Life” (7/17); “Anita” (7/24); “Five Hours from Paris” (7/31); and “Berlin ’36” (8/7).
In addition, the MVFS will present “Littlerock,” a story about Japanese siblings who visit the U.S., at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven on Saturday, June 18. And the Chilmark-based Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will coordinate with the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven to provide to its members a special, free screening of “Beginners,” the story of a father who reveals he’s gay to his grown son. Tickets for that film will also be available to the general public.
“Littlerock,” which as the spelling of the title indicates, is not set in Arkansas’s capital, takes place in a hole-in-the-wall California town, where a Japanese brother and sister land when their rental car breaks down.
While waiting for the replacement, they spend the night in a Littlerock motel, where they meet a group of slackers and druggies, including Cory (Cory Lawler). Cory takes them under his wing, and the sister, Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) who speaks no English, decides to stick around despite the departure of her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) for San Francisco.
As quirky in some ways, if not as droll as Jim Jarmusch’s classic comedy, “Mystery Train,” “Littlerock” meanders through the lives of the town’s young and aimless, as watched by a fascinated member of another culture who cannot speak the language or understand it. The mix of race, alienation, assimilation, and culture issues that come up give the film a ring of authenticity, particularly in light of a surprise twist at the end.
Members of the MVFF and the general public can also watch master actors Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer at work in “Beginners,” on Saturday, June 18. Eighty-one-year-old Plummer plays Hal, the recently widowed father of graphic designer Oliver, Mr. McGregor.
In a tale based on director Mike Mills’s life, the two men renegotiate their relationship as they explore — in Hal’s case — gay life, and in Oliver’s, heterosexual romance.
“Beginners,” Saturday, June 18, 7 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $9; free for MV Film Festival members. For more information, see tmvff.org.
“Littlerock,” Saturday, June 18, 8 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MV Film Society members. Doors open at 7:30 pm. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.
“Wo Ai Ni, Mommy,” Sunday, June 19, 7:30 pm, MV Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. $10 suggested donation. For more information, see mvsummerinstitute.com.