"Favela Rising"
Straight from the favelas (ghettos) in Rio de Janeiro, festival organizers say "Favela Rising" is a must-see.

Sharing the power of story

Posted March 16, 2006

Bigger, bolder, and ready to blow the late winter doldrums away, the 2006 Martha's Vineyard Independent Festival returns this weekend to the Chilmark Community Center with a roster of films ready to prod, provoke, stimulate, and move audience members. From avant garde short films to cutting-edge work by internationally acclaimed directors, the festival covers a broad spectrum of work that's unified by the power of film to strike a direct connection to our intellectual and emotional core.

One of the stars of the special shorts for kids program
One of the stars of the special shorts for kids program. Several of the filmmakers, some of them children will attend the screening for a discussion afterwards.

The 2006 lineup of 32 films explores the slums of Brazil ("Favela Rising"), lyrical mariners ("Fisher Poets"), Native American rights ("Homeland"), Middle Eastern politics ("West Bank Story"), the anguish and ecstasy of marriage ("In-laws and Outlaws"), law and gender in Cameroon ("Sisters In Law"), transsexuality ("Breakfast on Pluto"), and the undeniable beauty of Paris ("Paris, Je T'aime"). The selection includes work from directors Wes Craven, Greg Araki, and Neil Jordan. Panel discussions will include dialogues with writer/director Drew Emery ("In Laws and Outlaws"), octogenarian Zelda Kaplan (subject of the documentary "Her Name is Zelda"), producer Jeffrey Levy-Hinte ("Mysterious Skin"), and other filmmakers. An art installation by visual artist Rhonda Hershey will compliment live music by Angus Martin, Cara Bertman, Wes Look, and Isaac Taylor. Savory cooking by Scottish Bakehouse wizard Danielle Dominick will satisfy appetites between screenings.


"Frog," at three minutes long, will get a laugh out of you.

Festival founder Thomas Bena, Assistant Programmer Anna Molitor, and creative ace Jeremy Mayhew have spent months assembling the festival with help from over 42 individuals and businesses, ranging from projectionists Chris Mara and David Kann to Cape Air and Barnes Trucking. Festival founder Thomas Bena says the growth in the festival has been a remarkable phenomenon.

"The initial impetus was more like a hunch," he says. "I had no idea that it would grow into a three-day international film festival. We simply imagined what our ideal movie watching scenario would look like and created it."

While the lineup includes films from national and international artists, many of the feature films reflect the demographics of the Island community. The documentary "Favela Rising" explores the struggle for rights and dignity amid Brazil's dangerous slums, while the festival has teamed with the Wampanoag Tribe to present "Homeland," a piercing look at the efforts of four Native American tribes to fight the US Government's ongoing pollution of native lands. The Net Result fish market is cosponsoring "Fisher Poets," an homage to the fishing culture that has been a vital piece of the Island's history.

Neil Jordan's "Breakfast on Pluto"

Neil Jordan's "Breakfast on Pluto" will be the closing night's film.

Mr. Bena says the open format of the festival, with screenings punctuated by live music and exquisite food, is designed to foster interaction and community development.

"Our mission is to create a space where community dialogue is encouraged," he says. "I often feel like most screenings I attend are missed opportunities, where people gather together to witness a powerful film and then, within minutes, everyone is in their cars racing home." The festival's post-film discussions and lengthy intermissions are designed to encourage attendees to relax and interact with each other. In line with the socially conscious theme of many of the films, the festival offers sweatshop-free merchandise and works with sponsors (Prius, Equal Exchange, Steaz Organic Sodas) that conduct business in a socially responsible manner.

As the festival expands each year, the dynamic between change and continuity creates a creative tension that opens the festival to a broader range of artistic expression. Yet Mr. Bena maintains that one common denominator remains: the power of film to move the viewer.

"As we grow, one thing is certain," he says. "Our work is to share the power of story."

For more information and schedule, click here.

For more photos, click here.

Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival starts Friday, March 17, at 7 pm; Saturday, March 18, at 10:30 am; and Sunday, March 19, at 12 noon. For more information and a complete schedule, go to