The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center hosts its first filmmaker-in-residence, Lauren Greenfield, and two of her documentaries this week. The spotlight on Ms. Greenfield and her work begins August 1 with a talk by the acclaimed photographer and filmmaker in conjunction with Canon USA. “THIN,” about eating disorders, plays August 2; “The Queen of Versailles,” about a billionaire family’s mega-mansion woes, screens August 3.
After pursuing Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, Ms. Greenfield interned at National Geographic Magazine, then published photographs in magazines ranging from National Geography and the New York Times Magazine to Time and Vanity Fair. Much of her photography has been collected by museums across the country, and she was selected as one of the 25 most influential photographers working today by American Photo.
Ms. Greenfield’s first full-length documentary film, “THIN,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and played on HBO; it was accompanied by a book of the same title. Garnering multiple nominations and prizes, “THIN” chronicles the harrowing lives of four eating-disorder patients at the Renfrew Center in Coconut Creek, Fla. The Florida facility is one of two residential centers for treatment of eating disorders run by the Renfrew Foundation, which also operates 12 non-residential ones, primarily on the East Coast.
“Eating disorders are about hiding things and secrets,” says a Renfrew staff member in one of the film’s few explanatory comments about this illness. The camera watches as patients blow smoke from embargoed cigarettes into bathroom ceiling vents, support each other in getting forbidden tattoos while on release time, or purge into toilets. It also watches as these young women step on scales, weighing in at a median 85 pounds. One patient, Shelly, describes how she began counting calories from the age of 11. Brittany became a compulsive overeater at age 8 and began purging at age 15. It’s hard not to note the contrast with some of the overweight staff members.
Ms. Greenfield lets the situation determine what information the viewer learns about Renfrew and its patients. The advantage of this direct-cinema, observational approach is the sense of reality it offers of a world captured on film. The disadvantage is the lack of analysis or context provided. Even in our media-conscious world, the viewer has to wonder to what extent the presence of the camera influences what these eating disorder patients say and do.
Viewers will not leave “THIN” feeling uplifted or entertained, but this powerful film will give them an appreciation for the seriousness of eating disorders. It should also encourage them to learn more about an illness that has become endemic, particularly among young women, in our society.
“I have been shooting both [film and photography] side by side since I directed my first film, Ms. Greenfield said in an email from Ireland, where she is vacationing. “They tell different stories and complement each other.”
In “The Queen of Versailles,” which first played on Island to a sold-out audience last summer, Ms. Greenfield examines two years in the lives the billionaire time-share mogul David Siegel, his wife, Jacqueline, and their eight children. The viewer watches as the Siegels build their dream house in Florida, modeled after the Palace of Versailles in France. Ms. Siegel’s natural and unpretentious way of interacting with the camera turn her into an appealing character despite the appalling excesses of the Siegel lifestyle. Once the real estate bubble pops and the future of the Siegel mega-mansion turns bleak, “The Queen of Versailles” comments forcefully on the pressures in American culture that lead to compulsive materialism, and demonstrates Ms. Greenfield’s skill at wielding a camera to expose modern mores. Diana Barrett, a seasonal Islander, co-produced the film.
Ms. Greenfield’s next project addresses wealth and the American dream, using photography, video, and audio captured over the last 25 years. It will appear as a film, a book, and a museum exhibition in 2015.
German filmmaker Margrethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” plays on Sunday, August 4, as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute Film Series. The film covers four years in the famed philosopher’s life, when she went to Jerusalem to cover and write a controversial series of articles about the Adolf Eichmann trial for The New Yorker magazine. Co-screenwriter Pamela Katz, who worked with Ms. von Trotta, will discuss the film after the screening.
In collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the Film Center presents “This Is Our Island,” a rarely shown 1971 documentary made in honor of the town of Tisbury’s 300th anniversary on Tuesday, August 6. The late stage actress and Vineyard summer resident Katharine Cornell filmed the documentary with Nancy Hamilton, and Ms. Cornell narrates it. Author Tom Dunlop will introduce the film and offer background on its history.
On Wednesday, August 7, Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven accompanies his film “Northern Borders” to the Film Center and will answer questions. No film is scheduled for Wednesday, August 8, in Chilmark’s M.V. Film Festival series because of the annual Chilmark Firemen’s Barbecue.
Artist’s Presentation by Lauren Greenfield, Thursday, August 1, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven, free.
“THIN,” Friday, August 2, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center.
“The Queen of Versailles,” Saturday, August 3, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center.
“Hannah Arendt,” M.V. Hebrew Center Summer Institute Series, Sunday, August 4, 8 pm, M.V. Film Center. $12 suggested contribution.
“This Is Our Island,” Tuesday, August 6, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center.
“Where the Rivers Flow North,” Wednesday, August 7, M.V. Film Center. All tickets for M.V. Film Center screenings, unless otherwise noted, $12; $7 M.V. Film Society members. For further information on M.V. Film Center screenings, visit mvfilmsociety.com.