Film fest is smash success

MJ Bruder Munafo of the Vineyard Playhouse, with film festival co-directors Richard Paradise and Nevette Previd. Photo by Ralph Stewart
(From left) MJ Bruder Munafo of the Vineyard Playhouse, with film festival co-directors Richard Paradise and Nevette Previd. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Brooks Robards - September 21, 2006

Film enthusiasts, directors, and other celebrants who gathered Sunday night for the closing reception of the first annual Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, may have differed about their favorite movie, but they all agreed about the festival. It was a resounding success.

So many partygoers showed up at the Vineyard Haven Marina to listen to the Beetlebung Steel Band and talk about the movies they'd seen that more food had to be ordered from Mediterranean Restaurant next door. Champagne and raspberry martinis were two of the popular drinks served.

Co-directors Richard Paradise and Nevette Previd were still totaling receipts this week to determine how much money the festival made, but they agree that it will return on the same week next September. Ms. Previd felt confident that the festival more than broke even. They reported that many of the more than three dozen screenings were sold out.

Stanley Nelson. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Stanley Nelson, director of
"Jonestown," at last weekend's film festival.

Rainy weather during the first part of the weekend meant the festival didn't have to compete with outdoor activities. Starting Thursday night, crowds of moviegoers gathered outside the Katharine Cornell Theatre and the Vineyard Playhouse in hopes of wangling a seat inside.

The only part of the four-day event that experienced sparse attendance was the children's afternoon series. Mr. Paradise said that aspect of the festival will definitely change next year, with an emphasis on family films rather than ones strictly for children. Also, they will be shown later in the afternoon so as not to compete with other activities.

The festival kicked off Thursday night with a reception at the Mansion House that was packed with moviegoers. The opening night film, "The Science of Sleep," is the latest by director Michael Gondry, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, "The Science of Sleep" follows the life of a whimsical young man who can't tell the difference between dreams and reality.

On Friday evening festival goers had to choose between several acclaimed films, including summer Oak Bluffs resident Stanley Nelson's "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple." The documentary includes footage never seen before of messianic preacher Jim Jones and the People's Temple, eventually relocated to Guayana, where more than 900 members of the temple committed mass suicide. Mr. Nelson introduced the film and answered questions from the audience after the screening.

Another Friday night selection was the latest film by 83-year-old Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, "Moolade." A fictional story about the African practice of female circumcision, the film is a powerful yet balanced indictment of an obsolete cultural tradition. The Manhattan Short Film festival coincided with the International Film Festival, so moviegoers who chose them were able to vote on the one they thought was the best.

The Katharine Cornell Theatre
The Katharine Cornell Theatre balcony is a good place to watch the film festival offerings.

On Saturday afternoon National Geographic Photographer Michael Yamashita introduced his film, "Ghost Fleet: The Epic Voyage of Zheng He," to a sold-out audience. That film narrates the story of a legendary Chinese explorer whose adventures have disappeared from the annals of history. The evening's events ended with a Brazilian Samba party at Outerland.

With help from Island singer/songwriter Kate Taylor, New York-based director Mark Becker introduced his documentary, "Romantico," about a Mexican mariachi performer who decides to return home. It was the final screening of the festival. The audience sat patiently through a series of equipment problems, and after the film they peppered Mr. Becker with questions about how he made the documentary and managed the problems of filming an impoverished family.

Co-director Paradise estimated that 20 percent of the audience for the festival consisted of visitors to the Island. He said Vineyard Haven restaurants were booked solid, in part from reservations by festival-goers over the weekend. Some Vineyard Haven merchants extended their hours to take advantage of the film fans. The event is an outgrowth of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society, which brings independent, international, and documentary films to the Island year-round.

As well as winning the support of many Island businesses, the co-directors landed a number of off-Island sponsors. These included National Geographic, Boston Common Magazine, Home Goods, and Boisset America.

"We tried to spend our money in positive ways," Mr. Paradise says. "We weren't trying to maximize profits. We wanted to people to have a good time."

If funding permits, the festival will bring more international directors to the Island next year. Half a dozen did come with their films, and co-directors Paradise and Previd aim to attract a dozen or more next year.

Mr. Paradise summarized the festival's first year by saying, "This first time was a good learning experience. I think it will pay big dividends to the film society. Many more young people volunteered. I see it as a great addition to what the film society is all about."