Oscar-buzzworthy flick “The Artist” to screen early on Vineyard

Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller, in Michel Hazanavicius's film "The Artist." — Photo by The Weinstein Company

Vineyard audiences will be among the first to view a new film that received a lot of attention (and the award for Best Actor) at the Cannes Film Festival this past spring and was just named best picture of 2011 by the New York Film Critic’s Circle.

The subject of all this praise, an ode to old Hollywood from France called “The Artist,” has made the rounds of the major worldwide film festivals and is in limited release right now in New York and Los Angeles. It’s not set to be released nationwide until later this month, but the critically acclaimed Oscar contender will be screened here at the Capawock Theatre on Friday, thanks to the Chilmark-based Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF).

Said MVFF’s managing director, Brian Ditchfield, “I love the idea of being able to share movies with Vineyarders before the rest of the country gets to see them.” The 10-year-old MVFF has a track record of grabbing lauded new films before they hit the theaters, thanks in part to the reputation of the organization’s annual spring festival, and equally to the nature of the audiences attracted by the festival and the MVFF’s summer series.

The Weinstein Company, U.S. distributors of “The Artist,” is one of a handful of those in the film industry that enjoys giving Vineyard audiences a first crack at new films. “The Weinstein Company has played a few things with us and they really like the Vineyard audiences,” Mr. Ditchfield said.

Though “The Artist” is a foreign production (French director Michel Hazanavicius was also selected by the New York Film Critics as best director), don’t be put off by its pedigree if you generally shy away from subtitled films.

“The Artist” is the story of a silent era star and so, appropriately, it is a silent film — with limited reliance on dialogue cards. The cast is mixed — two French stars in the leads with the rest of the roles taken on by American actors, including John Goodman and a number of recognizable character actors. The film is also shot — breathtakingly — in black and white.

If all this makes it sound like a film with limited art house appeal, check out the trailer. Judging by the preview scenes, the film is an effective combination of silent film high theatrics, modern day production values, and more nuanced acting.

The look is lush, the music highly cinematic, and there appear to be lots of the elements that make old films so entertaining: dance sequences, old fashioned romance, a big emotional meltdown, and even an Asta lookalike (the fox terrier from the 1930s “The Thin Man” who is an appropriate sidekick to “The Artist’s” hero who sports a Ronald Coleman pencil mustache).

Said Mr. Ditchfield, who doggedly pursued the film after catching it at the Toronto Film Festival in September, “In this world where we so often rely on 3D effects and CGI [computer generated imagery] this is a movie that reminds you why we love to go to the movies. It’s entertaining and heartfelt.” He added, “You never feel like ‘Why aren’t they talking?’ It’s got the pace of a modern movie. Some of the stars are just great physical comedians. It’s an absolutely charming movie.”

Mr. Ditchfield attends both the Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals every year in search of new films for the MVFF’s annual festival. “We solicit movies all the time,” he said. “We have our fingers on the pulse of what’s out there.” Now, he noted, the festival is in the enviable position of having production and distribution companies sending films to them.

Last year, MVFF experimented with a couple of winter screenings at the Capawock Theatre and this year, they plan to try scheduling a few more Friday nights at the Vineyard Haven theater, which is owned by Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall.

“Buzzy has been open and excited about it,” Mr. Ditchfield said. “We’ve really enjoyed working with him. He’s been incredibly supportive.”

Film: “The Artist,” 7:30 pm, Friday, Dec. 16, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10; $5 for MVFF members. tmvff.org. Following the film, Zephrus will offer 10 percent off meals for ticket holders.