Authors Posts by Brooks Robards

Brooks Robards


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Ines Ramos attends Seed School at Native Seeds, in a scene from "Open Sesame." — Courtesy Open Sesame

“Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds,” a documentary about seed saving, comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Oct. 3, in conjunction with the Living Local Harvest Festival. The West Tisbury Free Public Library, Island Grown Schools, and the FARM Institute are sponsoring the free film screening as part of their new community seed-library initiative, to be introduced at the Harvest Festival on Oct. 4.

The West Tisbury library will serve as a center for free locally-saved and -adapted seeds, as well as providing information about seed saving. “We are thrilled to be the host site of the seed library,” says West Tisbury library circulation assistant Amy Hoff. “We see this as an opportunity to collaborate with our community in its efforts to share knowledge and preserve resources.”

The focus in the first year will be on seeds from self-pollinated tomato, lettuce, and bean crops. “These plants are relatively easy to grow, and represent both wet and dry seed processing, providing a good overview of how to save seeds for beginners,” says Rebecca Sanders, garden manager at the FARM Institute.

Sheree Brown in a scene from "Open Sesame." — Courtesy Open Sesame
Sheree Brown in a scene from “Open Sesame.” — Courtesy Open Sesame

The documentary “Open Sesame” draws its title from the Middle Eastern folktale, “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” in which the phrase “Open Sesame” serves as the password that opens a cave door where 40 thieves have stored their booty. The tale of these magical two words aptly fits a documentary about the ancient practice of seed saving, because sesame seeds are among the oldest oil-seed crops in the world, dating back at least 3,000 years. A drought-resistant survivor crop originating in sub-Saharan Africa and India, sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any known seed. It is indeed magical, and the theme of thievery fits the film’s focus on the loss of seed varieties in this country and other parts of the world due to the development of monoculture farming and the industrialization of agriculture by corporations like Monsanto.

Directed by M. Sean Kaminsky, “Open Sesame” interviews farmers and heirloom-seed advocates who oppose the growing dominance of GMO (genetically modified organism) seed stocks that have been patented by large agricultural corporations. The film provides shocking data on what is happening to this crucial component of our food supply. Ninety percent of our calories come from seeds, but 90 percent of the crop varieties of the past 100 years are now extinct. One example the film gives is how lettuce seeds have dropped from 497 varieties to 36. Heritage wheat, i.e. wheat grown from non-GMO seeds, is reaching extinction, yet modern GMO wheat varieties carry toxic levels of gluten.

A scene from “Open Sesame” shows Rachel, Addie and Dave Nevitt on the Washington, DC District Court Steps. —Courtesy Open Sesame

One of the problems with hybrid GMO seeds is that they don’t reproduce. Instead they degenerate, in contrast with open-pollinated seeds. GMO-originated monocrops also require toxic petrochemical fertilizers, like the phosphate herbicide Roundup. A 1980 court decision gave agricultural corporations the right to patent GMO seeds. As a result, corporate seed accounts took over 82 percent of seed varieties, and seed varieties became licenses to use seeds temporarily instead of being available to all. One of the benefits of heirloom seed varieties is that they do better in climate change. “Open Sesame” gives viewers access to a wealth of information about seeds and what is happening to them.

Ken Greene, founder of the nation’s first community seed library and owner of the Hudson Valley Seed Library company, is one of the open-seed advocates interviewed in “Open Sesame.” He will lead a seed-saving workshop at the West Tisbury Agricultural Hall on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 1 pm. He will teach participants how to save seeds from the three foundational crops the West Tisbury library’s seed initiative will focus on during its first year. Members of the community are invited to bring locally grown, non-GMO tomatoes, bean pods, and dry lettuce flower stalks, as well as other types of open-pollinated seeds to the workshop. This workshop will be the first in a series, in addition to other educational events and seed celebrations planned over the next year. For more information or to join the Seed Library mailing list, email

“Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds,” Friday, Oct. 3, 7:30 pm. Free. M.V. Film Center.  

Ken Greene seed-saving workshop, Saturday, Oct. 4, 1 pm. West Tisbury Agricultural Hall.

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Actress Lisa Carlehed in "The Fall."

Ten short films from around the world will play at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, Sept. 26, Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28, as part of the 17th annual Manhattan Short Film Festival. Vineyard filmgoers, along with others in more than 250 movie theatres on six continents, will have the chance to vote for their favorite short and their favorite actor.

Combining live action, animation, and special effects, the finalists were drawn from 589 entries and 47 nations. A breeding ground for cinematic success, the Manhattan Short Film Festival has produced Oscar nominees and winners as well as other international prizewinners.

Animations by Sam Chou in "Crime."
Animations by Sam Chou in “Crime.”

From the Netherlands, director Ben Brand tells a particularly topical story in “97 Percent.” The central character chases a would-be romantic interest through his smartphone. American directors Alix Lambert and Sam Chou employ animation for their powerful graphic novel–style, episodic documentary “Crime — The Animated Story.” Ms. Lambert has already directed a full-length documentary on Russian prisons and written a book on crime. “We wanted each episode to showcase a completely different visual style to complement the stories being told,” Mr. Chou said in an interview with Manhattan Short founding director Nicholas Mason.

“On the Bridge,” an English finalist by Sameer Patel, develops an original premise derived from an actual event that took place on Waterloo Bridge in London. One man sees another getting ready to jump off the bridge and assumes he is trying to commit suicide. The reality is shockingly different, and offers a fascinating exploration of courage.

A scene from "Mend and Make Do."
A scene from “Mend and Make Do.”

Australian director James Croke’s “Shift” revolves around an inventor who develops a device that allows him to vanish from one location, then reappear in another. “The Fall,” by Norwegian director Andreas Thaulow, uses the visually potent premise of mountain climbers to narrate its story comparing two kinds of trust, between climbers and between lovers. “We had an experienced crew of climbers and experts in charge of safety,” Mr. Thaulow has said. “The trickiest part was to get the equipment safely to where it needed to be.”

Outer space provides the setting for French director Thierry Lorenzi’s film “ON/OFF.” “[Science fiction writer] Philip K. Dick is one of my influences,” he said. “I wanted ‘ON/OFF’ to feel like a science fiction novella.” The film was shot in a studio, and the director uses special effects to create the illusion of outer space. “La Carnada,” the Mexican entry by director Josh Soskin, addresses the hot-button topic of immigration. Although it’s a fiction film, the director based the film on his time living and traveling in Mexico since 2008. Shot on both sides of the border in Tijuana and Sonora, “La Carnada” uses the perspective of a teenager to narrate its story about immigration and smuggling.

Actor Lindsay Farris in "Shift."
Actor Lindsay Farris in “Shift.”

“Mend and Make Do,” another finalist from England by director Bexie Bush, combines animation and live action for its interview of one of the elderly women who were clients in Ms. Bush’s grandmother’s hairdressing salon. Describing life before and after World War II, Ms. Bush said, “Lyn Schofield was one of my favorite customers, who would burst through the door every Tuesday exclaiming, ‘I’m here’ in a tuneful announcement with a giant smile on her face.”

A mother’s encounter in an elevator with two U.S. Army officers in “The Bravest, the Boldest” provides the theme of American director Moon Molson’s short. The news these officers have come to deliver is not something any mother would want to hear. The director evokes the setting in a New York’s housing project with shadowy tones of yellow, orange, and green. “Rhino Full Throttle,” the title of German director Erik Schmitt’s entry, reflects its use of magical-realist production values to explore a man’s romantic encounter with a mysterious young woman in his search for the soul of a city. Mr. Schmitt’s walks in Berlin provided the foundation for this unusual tale. He explains that he and a friend developed a variety of analog film tricks like stop-motion, pixilation, and playing with perspectives to convey his emotional story.

The 10 shorts range in length from eight to 17 minutes. Each filmgoer will be provided with a ballot to vote for his or her favorite short and actor, and the local winner will be announced after the two screenings. The worldwide winner will be announced by the Manhattan Short Film Festival on Monday, Oct. 5.

Manhattan Shorts Festival: Friday, Sept. 26, Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28, 7:30 p.m. M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $12 (MV Film Society members $9; 14 and under $7). For tickets and information, see

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After 20 years, Nancy Shaw Cramer, shown here with a painting by Leslie Baker, will close her Vineyard Haven gallery. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Shaw Cramer, the Island’s go-to gallery for contemporary art and crafts, has posted its closing sign after 20 years. The final day is Nov. 30, and most, if not all, of this Vineyard Haven gallery’s remaining holdings are on sale.

“Other people will come to the fore,” Nancy Shaw Cramer, who runs her second-floor Main Street gallery primarily by herself, says. “The problem is the scarcity of contemporary art on the Island.” Although Ms. Cramer invited the Island artists she represents to take over the gallery, turning it into a collaborative venture, they opted not to take that route. The result will be a major gap in the Island art scene.

Ms. Shaw Cramer, who grew up in Michigan and earned a degree in interior design— specifically space design — from Michigan State, began her career in art as a tapestry weaver. She became one of the top ten in the country, and sold more than 100 floor tapestries before opening her gallery. Her former husband’s career was in marketing, and as a result, she lived all over the country before settling on Martha’s Vineyard, where “the vibes were right.” She chose Vineyard Haven because she was living there and wanted to be able to walk to work. “I felt this to be a year-round town, unlike Edgartown,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone, but sometimes that can be an advantage.”

Art is on sale at the Shaw Cramer Gallery, which closes permanently Nov. 30; shown is a sculpture by Heather Sommers. —Photo by Michael Cummo

“I love the puzzle,” Ms. Shaw Cramer says. “I’m a designer at heart, so figuring out the business, the display, working with all the personalities, and being part of the art community have been extremely satisfying.” She has also helped design programs for the Island Community Chorus, and helped develop Vineyard Haven as a cultural district, including its Friday night art walks.

At the start, when Ms. Shaw Cramer was planning the gallery, she looked for how-to books but couldn’t find any. Instead, she enrolled in a SCORE workshop at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. SCORE is a national nonprofit organization for promoting small businesses. She found that her planning echoed the advice SCORE talks were suggesting. “It gave me an enormous boost in confidence,” she says. “I knew I was on the right track.” Although she took no salary, she ended the first year with all her bills paid. She listened to advice from friends, in particular that she needed to support her gallery, not the other way around. So her next step was to branch out, which she did by consulting on interior design planning for color and space and by making designer pillows. “I just hung in there,” she says. “And that brought in just enough.”

Initially, the Shaw Cramer Gallery filled a gap in the Island art community by concentrating on fine crafts: pottery, glass, weaving, jewelry, baskets, and sculpture, to name a few. Eventually, Ms. Shaw Cramer added painting to the gallery repertoire. “Six of the original artists are still with me,” she says. “A great number have been in the gallery for 10 years. Four hundred artists have been represented. It’s a big number.” As the gallery finishes its final season, there are 16 Islanders, including Ms. Shaw Cramer, represented, along with a number of off-Island artists.

Each year, Ms. Shaw Cramer tried to raise the bar and do better. The gallery’s success reflects that commitment to excellence. “This is a world of details,” she says. That includes finding the right location for displaying some artists, whether on a wall, a pedestal, or a shelf. She has always made sure that when a piece of art sells, something new goes into its place. Her new artists often served as a springboard of energy, and Ms. Shaw Cramer always made sure she showed them to the best possible advantage. Many galleries are closing across the nation, according to Ms. Cramer. She believes younger people are not necessarily opening galleries –– a business that requires a lot of work –– and that they don’t have the same interest in art as her generation. She thinks collaborative galleries will be the sign of the times.

“I’m sad about the end, but I’m very excited,” Ms. Cramer says. “I try not to think of the last day. That makes me sad. I try to remain upbeat.” Last winter she finished a tapestry, designed and sold nine wrap-around coats, and made 80 pillows. Those completed projects told her the timing was right. She anticipates four different kinds of work in her future. She’ll continue to make pillows and sell them at mini-trunk shows. “I’ve always sewn,” she says. “I find it peaceful.” Ms. Cramer will also continue to make signature clothing, like wrap-around coats and tunics. Rugs will be part of her work agenda, although she’ll use less complex designs. “That’s what I’m saying this year,” she says. She also is working on a new weaving design. “I’m going to work smaller to see if I can make this happen,” she says. “I’ll look for a national show that is exhibit-oriented. I’ll see if I still measure up design-wise. That would be very satisfying.”

Shaw Cramer Gallery may be closing in November, but that does not mean Ms. Cramer will walk away from the artists who have been her clients. “I worry about where my artists will go,” she says. “Next summer I’ll be doing a few mini-events, and some could involve other Island artists.” She will also continue to critique artists’ work. She’s looking forward to road trips, and plans to drop in on galleries along the way: “I’ll be seeing if the situation is right for any of the artists from the gallery.” And as if she didn’t already have enough projects planned, Ms. Shaw Cramer has written one screenplay and has plans for another.

So many of her friendships have developed from the artists she represents and from her customers. “They’ve been coming in to say goodbye to the gallery,” she says. “People who make things don’t usually retire. We just make different things.”

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A scene from "Granite Stoke," one of the Surf Night screenings. —Courtesy TMVFF

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in Chilmark has joined forces with the California-based High Line Festival of Surfing to offer Surf Night, a day and evening dedicated to surfing. This celebratory and community-oriented event on Saturday, Sept. 20, is free and open to all. It includes surfing lessons, music, films, art, and food.

Community and family surfing lessons will begin at noon at a location to be announced so that they can take advantage of the best wave conditions. The event is not limited to surfers, though. The beach gathering is open to all. Surfboards will be available at no charge at the Green Room, 6k6 Surf, and the Boneyard Surf Shop. A sunset potluck dinner will begin at 5:30 pm in the Chilmark Community Center with music by Alex Karalekas and friends, and the photographs of Ian Durkin will be on exhibit. Three short surfing films will follow, starting at 7 pm. A dock dance at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown will round out the evening’s events at 8:30 pm.

Planning for Surf Night began last year after MVFF managing director Brian Ditchfield bumped into High Line Surf Festival founder Ari Lurie at Morning Glory Farm. Based in Mill Valley, Calif., Mr. Lurie spends the fall on the Vineyard surfing and fishing with his wife and daughter. Once he met MVFF founder Thomas Bena, a 24-year surfing veteran, the two caught waves and began planning for Surf Night. “Surfers around the world speak the same language,” says Mr. Lurie. “It’s the same religion. Surf Night is really an open evening because that’s the nature of the sport.”

“I have been a fan of his for a couple years,” Mr. Lurie says of the New York-based surfing photographer Mr. Durkin. “A lot of his photography is based on the trips he takes with his friends up and down the East and West coasts.”

“It’s basically a celebration of the ocean,” Mr. Bena said in a telephone interview last weekend. The event also reflects the sense of community that characterizes the surfing world around the globe. Twenty people, age six to 60, had signed up for lessons by last weekend. There will be a variety of instructors for surfers at all levels of the sport.

Mr. Bena has selected three of the High Line Festival’s best films to screen at Surf Night. “High line” is a surfing term that references riding in the top third of a wave. The film “Granite Stoke” describes the surfing scene in New Hampshire, where a mere 18 miles of coastline and frigid winter temperatures still foster an active surfing community. The film’s title reflects New Hampshire’s label as the Granite State and the surfing term for the state of mind surfing inspires. Director Dylan Ladds will lead a discussion after the screening.

The 68-minute film program also includes “The Gathering,” a 22-minute Australian short that profiles the social and environmental activist surfer Dave Rastovich. The third film of the evening, “Catch It,” is about a Frenchwoman who spends her time surfing in Norway.

“It’s a very organic thing,” Mr. Bena says. “Music, art, and food are a big part of what we do.”

The Vineyard does not rank as a top surf destination, because of its lack of consistent waves and cold water temperatures. But Surf Night offers something for everyone, no matter the skill level. One of the advantages of the event’s surfing lessons is to teach beginners surfing etiquette. Novices may not realize that “dropping in,” the term for taking the same wave as another surfer, is dangerous to both. “That’s where we’ll begin,” says Mr. Bena. One important aim of Surf Night is to provide surfing education.

“It made sense to bring what we do in Mill Valley to the Island,” Mr. Lurie says. “We all go through the same trials and tribulations of trying to surf all year round.” He describes the surfing community as very bonded, with plenty of stories to tell. “Thomas and I really want to do this every fall,” he says. “The hope is that it becomes a really special gathering for the Island and surfing communities.”

For more information and to sign up for Surf Night, see

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Sunrise, West Chop, Tisbury. Photo by Vineyard Colors.

Vineyard seasons, colors, weather, houses, animals, birds, and boats — Moira Fitzgerald and Yann Meersseman have photographed them all, and plenty of other Vineyard subjects, for Vineyard Colors, a photo project they started in September 2010. The West Tisbury library will display 365 of their handsome and evocative images, in a two-floor exhibit, throughout the month of September.

The Oak Bluffs couple, who have been together for 10 years, began distributing newspapers to Island retail outlets in 2009 as a way to supplement the recession-battered income from their professional careers. Ms. Fitzgerald is an architect, and Mr. Meersseman, who is of French Belgian extraction, works as a computer consultant. Starting at 3:45 am, they deliver 16 different newspapers to 50 outlets in summer and 30 in winter. It takes them roughly three hours in-season, and two in winter.

In 2010, when friends visited from off-Island and Mr. Meersseman took them on an Island tour, he remarked how beautiful so many of the spots they were visiting looked at dawn. The friends suggested he take photos and email them. That’s how the Vineyard Colors project began.

From then on, the couple took photographs daily and emailed them to what started as a list of 20 family members and friends. The number quickly grew to 1,000, and then they began posting their photos on Facebook. “We’re hooked,” says Mr. Meersseman. Prints are sold at the Island Images gallery in Oak Bluffs and on notecards throughout the Island. The Vineyard Colors website carries 5,600 of the photos, and the couple expects purchases of prints in a variety of sizes will be available online starting this week. Realtors have liked their photographs enough that they have hired the couple to photograph real estate listings.

Neither Mr. Meersseman nor Ms. Fitzgerald has ever trained as a photographer. Mr. Meersseman said he had never picked up a camera before the project, although Ms. Fitzgerald has had darkroom experience. While they started with point-and-shoot pocket cameras, each now uses a Sony A77 digital camera, with wide-angle, telephoto, and regular lenses. One rule they have followed is to avoid including people in their images. With only a few kayakers and fishermen out at dawn, it’s not a hard rule to follow. One photo in the exhibit, however, includes the shadows of the two photographers.

“We rarely shoot in black and white,” Mr. Meersseman says. In the exhibit, only one photograph, of the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven, is in black and white. Landscapes range from Katama Bay to Pecoy Point Preserve, Nashaquita Pond, and Squibnocket Beach. Most –– but not all –– of the photos are horizontal, and they include shots of weather vanes, gargoyles from Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, watering pails, flowers, a wagon, an ivy-covered VW, and even the reflection on a shiny auto bumper. All is fair game, and every image contributes to the record they are making of the Vineyard’s appeal.

The couple shoots several hundred photos each day. “That’s the secret,” Mr. Meersseman says. “The more pictures you take, the more chances you have there is a good one.”

“It’s always a challenge to get a good picture, especially in bad weather,” Ms. Fitzgerald says. “Things look different in different weather.” The library exhibit features one picture for each day of the year, although the year may vary. “As it’s evolved, I think you can see that we’ve gotten better,” Mr. Meersseman says. Three friends, Sue Hammerland, Brenda Hughes, and Jane McTeigue, acted as photo editors, sorting through the shots and selecting one for each day. “People like to look for the picture on their birthday,” West Tisbury library circulation assistant Jennifer Tseng says.

A Vineyard Colors book may be in the works soon. Mr. Meersseman says that one of the comments they have been getting is that the number of photos in the exhibit is a little overwhelming. “So, why not a book? It’s a good winter project,” Ms. Fitzgerald says.

Vineyard Colors: 365 Days, by Moira Fitzgerald and Yann Meersseman, will be on display at the West Tisbury library through September. The artists will speak at the West Tisbury Library on Thursday, September 25 at 5 pm. See for more information.

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People gathered to share drinks and music after the last film of the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival. Photo by Michael Cummo.

Michael and Robin Deveau of Truro, Nova Scotia, were among the crowd of film lovers who toasted the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival at its closing reception on Sunday, Sept. 7. Since their marriage on Chappaquiddick in 2008, the couple has made the 16-hour drive to the Vineyard in September to vacation for two weeks and attend the festival.

“What a wonderful thing for the Island,” Mr. Deveau, a financial advisor, said. “No matter where you sit, you have a good seat.” Two of the friends they have made at the festival are Kathy Soscia, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs, and Pat Farley of Edgartown. Both women have volunteered at the festival since its inception nine years ago. “Every year we get together for a salmon dinner,” said Mr. Deveau. “We bring the salmon from Nova Scotia.” Mr. Deveau also emails with Festival and Film Center Director Richard Paradise in the off-season.

This year’s Festival had an earlier start, on Tuesday, Sept. 2, and its 16 programs represented a smaller number than in previous years because every film was shown at the Vineyard Haven Film Center. Each movie had a larger audience than in previous years, however, and eight films were sellouts. “This year I focused on narrative films instead of documentaries,” said Mr. Paradise. “I’m always surprised at how people love these noncommercial films.” In contrast, the Nantucket Film Festival emphasizes Hollywood and studio-driven films.

The Opening Party under a tent before the film at  the Film Center — THE TRIP TO ITALY. Photo by Richard Paradise.
The Opening Party under a tent before the film at the Film Center — THE TRIP TO ITALY. Photo by Richard Paradise.

This year’s M.V. Festival featured films from more than 20 countries. Its popular juried shorts program received a record-breaking 450 entries, out of which 10 finalists were chosen. The winner was “So You’ve Grown Attached,” a 15-minute comedy by Kate Tsang about a girl with an unusual imaginary playmate. It was selected by Diana Barrett of the Fledgling Fund; Tim Miller, film critic of the Cape Cod Times; filmmaker Matthew VanDyke, who won last year’s shorts competition; and Patrick Harrison, New York director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts. Prominent independent animator Bill Plympton returned this year to curate the animation program, which included two of his own films, and answered questions from the audience. “To make animation is such a pleasure,” Mr. Plympton said. Rather than go to the beach or sightsee, he spent so much time working on his latest project that he ran out of drawing paper. “We love Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “It’s our favorite festival.”

Mr. Paradise said this year Skype put audiences in contact with some of the films’ producers and directors, including “Land Ho!” co-director Aaron Katz. “It’s hard to get them to come to the festival, but Skype gives them an opportunity to participate. We will continue to use it all year long.” Equipment failures were almost nonexistent at this year’s event. “The Film Center is a well-oiled machine,” said Mr. Paradise. “It runs so smoothly because we do it all year long.” He has been joined this year by staff member Chloe Riley of Oak Bluffs, who serves as production and communications manager.

This year’s biggest hits were “Land Ho!,” “The Trip to Italy,” “Le Chef,” and “Hunting Elephants.” “Especially popular were the more comic, lighter films,” Mr. Paradise said. “People appreciated the skill, the storytelling, and the production values. Because we had a smaller program, we had fewer duds.” According to Mr. Paradise, fewer people came to the animation program. “People think animation is only for kids,” he said. “Not so.”

Particularly popular was a screening of “The Graduate,” with director and summer resident Mike Nichols attending to discuss his celebrated 1967 film, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. According to Mr. Paradise, Mr. Nichols plans to participate again next year to discuss films, like “A Place in the Sun,” that have influenced him.

The band Steel Breeze was on hand to play during the closing gathering at the MVIFF. Photo by Michael Cummo.

Architect John Wolff, who summers in Edgartown, and his houseguest Alistair Palmer of Vancouver watched 11 out of the Festival’s 16 programs. Mr. Wolff said his favorite was “May in the Summer,” a first-time effort by the Jordanian Cherien Dabis, who wrote, directed, produced, and acted in the comedy about a successful young woman about to be married to her Muslim fiancé. “Richard is amazing,” said Mr. Wolff. “I really like the way he’s combining the films with a better sense of how they are made.”

Next year the festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The program remains a secret, but Mr. Paradise said, “I’m planning to go all out.” The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society now has more than 1,900 members. This weekend, two of the most popular festival films will return: “Belle et Sebastien,” about a boy and a feral dog, and “The Trip to Italy,” a comedy about two food critics. There will be additional screenings of festival films in the coming weeks. In conjunction with Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week, the Film Center will play three documentaries next week: “Advanced Style,” about seven over-60 New York fashionistas; “Mademoiselle C,” about former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld; and “Yves St. Laurent,” a biopic about the celebrated French fashion designer.

All films screened at M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $12 (M.V. Film Society members, $9; 14 and under, $7). For information and tickets, see

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Saturday, Sept. 6, brings to the Island a dazzling array of five first-rate movies from the six-day Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival.

The action starts at 10 am with the French film “Belle and Sebastian.” After this compelling boy and dog story comes a bad-boy and maid story from Singapore called “Ilo Ilo” at 1 pm. The always popular George Plympton’s “Animation Showcase” screens at 4 pm, and the French comedy “Attila Marcel” follows at 7 pm. The evening winds down with a music documentary, “Austin to Boston,” at 9:15 pm.

The show time for “Belle and Sebastian” suggests it’s a film aimed at children, but it deserves a much wider audience. It’s not really appropriate for children under 10, since it opens with a particularly dramatic and harrowing rescue sequence. Sebastian is a six-year-old who lives with his adopted grandfather César in the remote French alpine region of Saint Martin. Based on a popular novel by Cecile Aubry that was made into a TV series in 1965, the story takes place during WWII after the Germans have occupied France.

Director Nicolas Vanier takes full advantage of the breathtaking snow-covered Pyrenees with beautiful cinematography. The film opens with Sebastian and César hiking through the mountains. They hear a shot fired and the camera watches as a mortally wounded deer tumbles down one of the precipitous cliffs. It’s a doe whose fawn is left bleating on a ledge. César quickly ties a rope around Sebastian and lowers him down the dizzyingly sheer cliff to rescue the fawn.

After this opening sequence, the film turns toward the search for what César grumblingly calls “the beast,” because he believes it has been attacking his sheep flock. It is a feral mountain dog that Sebastian, convinced that the animal is not responsible for killing sheep, befriends and names Belle. German soldiers who have entered the area seem more of a threat than the dog as they search for local Resistance fighters who have been helping Jews escape through the mountain passes to Switzerland. That is what Sebastian thinks is America, where he’s been told his mother has gone.

These multiple narrative threads, in combination with the glorious scenery, will keep the viewer interested and satisfied. The only false note in the film is the magical way Belle changes color from dirty gray to pure white after a quick bath in a stream.

“Ilo Ilo,” a film from Singapore by Anthony Chen that won the 2013 Cannes Golden Camera award, is far more somber. Jiale is the classic bad boy, acting out in response to the tensions between his parents, who both hold down busy jobs. Added to the mix are the deteriorating economic conditions in Singapore. Jiale’s mother, Leng, who is pregnant with the family’s second child, has decided to hire a Filipino maid, Teresa, to help run the house and take care of Jiale. Jiale, of course, quickly challenges Teresa’s authority, but as the story unfolds, the audience will see how Teresa balances a firm hand with sympathy for her alienated charge.

The pleasures of “Ilo Ilo” come through its illustration of family life in Singapore, an affluent city-state that mixes democracy with rigid rules. Both Jiale and his father respond to Teresa’s kindness and contrast in personality to Leng, who rules the family with an iron hand. The film works best through its unspoken and understated story telling, most evident in the way it shows how Teresa establishes her position in the family.

“Belle and Sebastian” and “Ilo Ilo” represent just two of the many weekend offerings of the M.V. International Film Festival, which is screening all of its films at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven for the first time this year.

“Belle and Sebastian,” M.V. International Film Festival, Saturday, Sept. 6, 10 am.

“Ilo Ilo,” M.V. International Film Festival, Saturday, Sept. 6, 1 pm. All films at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For a complete listing of Festival films and screening times, visit  

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Left: a painting of Charlayne Hunter-Gault by Glenn Tunstull. Right: An abstract by Deborah Colter.

Four artists headline the latest show at Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs. Paul Goodnight has charcoals on exhibit, painter Mark Zeender returns to the gallery after almost 30 years with new landscapes, Glenn Tunstull displays his “dashilist” watercolors, and Deborah T. Colter presents her mixed-media abstract paintings. In addition, artists who exhibited in July share space with these headliners in the gallery’s final exhibit of the season.

"Window of the Sol" by Paul Goodnight.
“Window of the Sol” by Paul Goodnight.

An artist who works in a variety of mediums, Mr. Goodnight is showing his black-and-white charcoal sketches as well as pastels. Concentrating on the human figure, his work conveys an intensity and complexity of composition.

Mr. Zeender’s marinescapes capture the color and nuances of water and shore in near abstract style. An Islander, he has exhibited at the Vineyard Artisans Festival as well as Cousen Rose. In his artist’s statement, he quotes poet Emily Dickinson: “Exultation is the going of an inland soul.”

Mr. Tunstull has had an active career as a fashion illustrator in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s Wear Daily, and The New York Times, in addition to being an educator at the New School of Design, Marist College, Pratt Institute, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I have a preoccupation with water and light, which drives me to paint a particular setting,” he says in his artist’s statement. An extensive traveler, Mr. Tunstull creates watercolors that vary in subject from the Hudson Valley, Brazil, Australia, Bali, England, France, and the Caribbean. His Vineyard landscapes are executed in a style he calls “dashilism,” or brush strokes with rhythmic swirls.

Ms. Colter has lived on the Island since 1982. She works in mixed media, employing acrylic paint, prismacolor pencils, conté crayons, pencil, and pastel. Her highly geometric abstracts often use layers of cut paper and collage, and she sands, scratches, and paints to create multiple effects. In her artist’s statement, she says, “Often I think of the view from an airplane window and how the surface below is mapped out by the intervention of the human hand. The roads, the buildings and homes, congestion in contrast with open spaces and how those elements interact with natural elements and each other. There is an ordered sense of chaos, a quiet beauty, when the landscape is viewed from above.”

Emily Levett, assistant to Cousen Rose Gallery owner Zita Cousens, is celebrating her 15th year at the gallery.  A librarian at the West Tisbury School, Ms. Levett, a Vineyard Haven resident, has a master’s degree in art history.

July Meets August show, Cousen Rose Gallery, Oak Bluffs. Show runs through September 13. For more information, visit

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"Rouge Triptych" by Charyl Weissbach.

Louisa Gould Gallery opens its seventh annual abstract show on Friday, August 29, with the work of nine women. They are Tracy Spadafora, Susan Morosky, Cheryl Clinton, Linda Cordner, Charyl Weissbach, Kellie Weeks, Kay Hartung, Laura Roosevelt, and Roberta Gross. A reception for the artists will launch the show on Saturday, August 30, from 5 to 7 pm.

"Cells Surfacing" by Kay Hartung.
“Cells Surfacing” by Kay Hartung.

Ms. Spadafora has on exhibit a series of three constructions, all named “Vestiges.” Already known for her encaustic (hot beeswax with color pigments) work, she constructs boxes and decorates them with mixed media in “Vestige (Part 1).” The four boxes look like small towers with floral vegetation and miniature tubes on the bottom and vertical black-and-white scripts in what looks like handwriting on the top. Color is kept to a minimum. “The layering, obscuring, deconstructing and preserving of images helps me address a complex and shifting relationship between man, his biological roots, and the shaping of our natural environment,” she says.

Ms. Morosky celebrates color in compositions that demonstrate considerable variety in composition. “Blue Shallows” is a 12- by 48-inch work that combines shades of blue with touches of green and dark red in lively swirls. The artist works almost exclusively in shades of blue for “Coast Winds I and II” to create a very different effect. Layering, adding, and removing paint from the canvas add depth and subtlety to these compositions.

"Sea Winds" by Susan Morosky.
“Sea Winds” by Susan Morosky.

Ms. Clinton describes her photo transfers with acrylic as “a developing story…part autobiography with a dash of Grimm’s fairy tales around the edges.” This artist evokes a surprising number of moods and seasons in her work, from the winter feel of “Walking 6” to the stormy sense of “Flooded Brook Combo.”

Linda Cordner’s encaustic on board paintings express a dreaminess through muted palettes, as in the soft blues of “Still Water” and the more cerebral “Striation.” She likes to layer her paintings and preserve accidental traces of drips and blurs.

Boston-based Ms. Weissbach’s work demonstrates two very different styles. In some, her encaustics on Belgian linen, she creates a sense of graphic design through patterns of flowers and leaves or trees. In Metalscapes – Lavender, executed in encaustic, resin, and metal on panel, she hones down her composition to a minimalist evocation of color and form. The Balsam Poplar Series is based on a tree in the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.

Ms. Weeks employs her vibrant sense of color with pigment sticks and encaustic in works such as Fragments of Illumination. Intermittent is particularly striking in its use of texture to evoke what might or might not be a crescent-shaped shoreline. She describes her work as illuminating “the human spirit and the journey it is on.”

Ms. Hartung, who works with encaustic mixed media, says, “I have been looking at electron microscope photographs and am inspired by the abstract organic shapes and intense colors of this hidden world. I imagine the energy and interactions that go on in my body and the mind to produce action and thought.” Her egg-like shapes in the abstract sculpture “3 Orbs” are rich in color. Encaustic mixed media such as “Microcell 11” share vibrant color with a delightful sense of form.

Ms. Gross, who divides her time between Philadelphia and Aquinnah, suspends mysterious, cloud-like forms in a geometric background in “Spring Orchard,” while texture unites a pale aqua background with an amorphous white shape in the foreground in “Seafoam.” Ms. Gross curated the show and experimented with burning Tyvek, a synthetic substance used by builders.

West Tisbury resident Ms. Roosevelt explores the shapes and distortions made by water in her abstract photographs.

Part of the pleasure of the Louisa Gould Gallery’s Abstract Vision show is the variety permitted by exhibiting so many different artists.

Abstract Vision: The Colors and Forms Behind the Everyday, opening reception, 5–7 pm, Saturday, August 30, Louisa Gould Gallery, Vineyard Haven. Show runs through September 18.

Curator’s Talk with Roberta Gross, 5 pm, Friday, Sept. 5.

For information, visit

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— Martha's Vineyard Film Society

An expanded Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, opens Tuesday, Sept. 2, in what festival director Richard Paradise calls a soft opening.

After two additional days of film screenings, the Festival’s grand opening takes place on Thursday, Sept. 4, at Saltwater Restaurant, followed by A Trip to Italy, starring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Also for the first year, the festival films will be screened entirely at the state-of-the-art Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven.

The Polish movie IDA screens on Tuesday, Sept. 2, followed on Wednesday, Sept. 3,by Land Ho from Iceland, followed by appetizers and Icelandic cocktails at The Port Hunter in Edgartown, with live music by the Mike Benjamin Band.

The documentary Austin to Boston, playing Saturday, Sept. 6, in its U.S. premiere, epitomizes what is best about the M.V. International Film Festival. This independent film is a gem not likely to be found at the local multiplex. It follows the 2012 road tour across the U.S. of a group of primarily British musicians, traveling more than 4,000 miles in five VW buses. Starting out in Austin, the group travels from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Nashville, New York, and Woodstock, N.Y. before ending up in Boston. Narrator-musician Gill Landry says, “What drew me into this trip was the ridiculousness of it.”

Beautifully photographed and edited, Austin to Boston, directed by James Marcus Haney, captures the youthful exuberance of a group of scruffy-looking musicians who have none of the slickness of musical headliners but all of the natural talent that the best of them offer. Playing guitar, drums, and bass, as well as other instruments, Ben Howard, the Stave, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bear’s Den, and Communion convey a sense of pure joy performing their folkie-based music. The musical odyssey is for some of them their introduction to America, reminiscent in tone of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 hit, America. By the end of the tour in Boston, one member of the group says, “I didn’t think I’d fall in love with America the way I have.” Along the way, the movie illustrates what it’s like to be a musician on tour. “It’s a damn good time,” says another member of the group.

More new elements of the M.V. International Film Festival include post-film coffee discussions at Nat’s Nook Café in Vineyard Haven, and a Closing Night Party at the Film Center with music and refreshments. Reel Food returns on Friday, Sept. 5 with hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and spirits at Saltwater Restaurant. Following that is the Juried Competition of International Shorts with nine finalists from more than 450 entries. Bill Plympton’s signature Animation Showcase screens on Saturday, Sept. 6.

“What I like best each and every year is the reaction and feedback of the audiences, whether good or bad,” Mr. Paradise said in a telephone interview this week. “The more you can learn about other cultures, the more you understand your own culture. The tolerance for differences is very important.”

Other films playing over the six-day event include Child’s Pose from Romania, Metro Manila from the Philippines, the children’s film Belle and Sebastian from Switzerland, Ilo Ilo from Singapore, Attila Marcel from France, May in the Summer from Jordan, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter from Japan, Hunting Elephants from Israel, and A Five-Star Life from Italy.

Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, Tuesday, Sept. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 7, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven, For screening times, additional information, and tickets, visit