Indies on Island

Film Festival

By Julian Wise - March 15, 2007

Leaner. Sharper. More diverse. The 2007 Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival returns this weekend with a rich offering of documentaries, features, shorts, and international films. As in previous years, the festival is a bright light in the gray doldrums of March, blending film, music, food, and between-show camaraderie among viewers.

The festival began in 2000 as a simple one-day affair and has since morphed into a gala three-day event that brings in actors and directors to participate in panel discussions after the screenings. Several of the films from previous festivals have gone on to win Academy awards, including "Born into Brothels." This year's menu of films is among the most diverse to date, ranging from family films ("Souvenirs") to sociological documentaries ("Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa"). The Academy Award-winning animated short "The Danish Poet" (2007 selection for Best Animated Short) will be shown, as well as the searing Iraq war documentary "The War Tapes," which will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Stephen Pink and Paul Rieckoff, founder and executive director of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America).

Film Festival

A new wrinkle on the festival is the addition of guest director Allison Prouty, who is working alongside festival founder Thomas Bena. Ms. Prouty arrives with an extensive background in theater and event production, including stints on Broadway, Off-Broadway, the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, the Hartford Stage Company, and the Williamstown Theater Festival. She has collaborated with playwright Eve Ensler and produced film premiere events in India and Mexico.

Ms. Prouty, Mr. Bena, and the selection committee have broadened the scope of this year's programming to include more fiction, comedy, and romance, including the love story "Broken English" starring independent film icon Parker Posey.

The Chilmark Library has donated the use of its conference room for the festival for MVTV to give demonstrations of video editing. As always, the Chilmark Community Center will be the hub of the action, with locals relaxing on plush couches during the screenings and congregating out front to enjoy savory treats from the Scottish Bakehouse and music from New York City disc jockey Rob Flow.

Film Festival

"The cornerstone of our festival has always been the intimate space that we create and our desire for the audience to experience something very special," Mr. Bena says. He attributes the success of the festival to the countless hours logged by dedicated volunteers who transform the community center into a cozy, offbeat film forum.

"Our volunteer staff is the backbone of the festival's success. We simply could never do it without the crew of local supporters that we are lucky enough to have on board."

While Mr. Bena and the selection committee don't consciously set out to pick a theme for each year's films, one tends to emerge from the final choices. The 2007 selection has the motif of family and community, from the film "Islander," a drama set in coastal Maine, to "Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa," which examines the efforts of an ecology-oriented community in New Mexico.

"Each film looks at the complex nature of relationships with family," says Mr. Bena, "whether they be family by blood or by choice and destiny."

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.


Film Festival

This year's Martha's Vineyard Independent Film festival offers a broad spectrum of animation, documentaries, comedies, and shorts. Below is a sample of the offerings.

"Islander"
Hollywood Reporter called this drama set in coastal Maine "an effective and graceful portrait of courage." The film chronicles the travails of Eben Cole, a fisherman determined to regain his stature in his community after causing a tragic accident at sea. The film has special resonance for those whose lives are still connected to the sea.

"Broken English"
First time director/writer Zoe Cassavetes casts Parker Posey as Nora Wilder, a woman in Manhattan who struggles to find and maintain relationships in modern society. Drea De Matteo and Gena Rowlands appear in the film as her friend and mother, respectively.

"I Have Tourettes But Tourettes Doesn't Have Me"
This film separates fiction from fact about the neurological condition that elicits repetitive, involuntary motor and vocal tics. The documentary focuses on children ages 8 to 13 who struggle with the condition and casts a delightfully human face on the disorder.

Film Festival

"Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula"
If you thought hula was just a wavy, grass cloth dance that accompanies Don Ho records, this film will set you straight. The film shares the journey of master hula teacher Robert Cazimero and his pupils at the males-only school in Hawaii as they prepare for competition in the world's largest hula festival.

"World Ever After"
Local artist Janis Vogel's 11-minute short film asks whether a random encounter with a subway musician can shift your perspective on the world.

"The War Tapes"
In March 2004, members of a National Guard unit arrived in Iraq armed with video cameras. "The War Tapes" is the first war movie filmed by soldiers themselves and offers a unique perspective on the conflict. Soldier and filmmaker Steve Pink culled over 800 hours of footage and winnowed it down to this 97- minute film.

"An Unreasonable Man"
Is Ralph Nader a heroic crusader who took on the political establishment by running for president or a delusional, ego-driven ideologue who threw the 2000 election to George Bush? This film gives audiences a chance to draw their own conclusion.


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Schedule of Events

Friday

6 pm opening reception, DJ Rob Flow, Scottish Bakehouse dinner.

7 pm "Banana Ghost," 2 min.

"Islander," 97 min. Discussion follows with filmmaker Ian McCrudden

8:45-9:30 pm reception, continues DJ Rob Flow, hors d'oeuvres by Scottish Bakehouse.

9:30 pm "Dirty Martini," 1 min. Director Eva Saks.

"Broken English," writer/director Zoe Cassavetes.

Saturday

10:30 am coffee served.

11 am family program. "Eskimo Disco," director Nick Herbert.

"Frog," directed by Christopher Conforti.

Film Festival

"A Pizza Man," writer/director Eva Saks.

"Two of a Kind," writer/director Eva Saks.

"The Danish Poet," director Torill Kove.

"I Have Tourettes, But Tourettes Doesn't Have Me," director Ellen Goosenberg Kent.

12 noon-1 pm lunch intermission. Food by Scottish Bakehouse.

1 pm "Butterfly Man," director Samantha Rebillet.

"Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula," director Lisette Marie Flanary.

2-3 pm intermission.

3 pm International Shorts

"Invisible Man," directors Adam Roffman and Wayne Kimball.

"I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You," directors Alan Webber and Anthony Matt.

"Mimes of the Prairie," director John Hansen.

"World Ever After," director Janis M. Vogel.

Film Festival

"A Girl Named Kai," writer/director Kai Ling Xue.

"Slip of the Tongue," director Karen Lum.

"Gossip," animator/director Elena Wen.

"Some Good Eatin'," director Bob Kimberly.

"Pizza Surveillance Feature," director Micah Laaker.

"World On Fire," director Sophie Muller.

"Infinite Justice," director Karl Tebbe.

"Loom," director Scott Kravitz.

"Fortification," director Elena Wen.

"Don't Nobody Love the Game More Than Me," director, Martha Pinson.

Film Festival

"Under the Water," animator Pablo Lopez, director Clare Muldaur Manchon.

4-4:45 pm intermission

4:45 pm "Souvenirs," directors Shahar Cohen and Halil Efrat.

6-7 pm dinner.

7 pm "The Final Frontier: Explorers or Warriors?" writers/directors Trace Gaynor and Stephen Sotor.

"The War Tapes," director Deborah Scranton.

Discussion follows with filmmaker Steve Pink and Paul Rieckhoff.

9-9:30 pm intermission.

9:30 pm "Black Irish," writer/director Brad Gann.

Film Festival

Sunday

10:30 am doors open.

11 am "Say I Do," writer/director Ron Vignone.

Discussion follows with Ron Vignone.

12:45-1 pm intermission.

1 pm "Nobody's Business," director Alan Berliner.

2-2:30 pm intermission.

2:30 pm "Number One Fan," director Jolyon Hoff.

"Naming No. 2," director Toa Fraser.

4:30-4:45 pm "How Wal-Mart Came To Haslett,"

director The Meerkat Media Collective.

"An Unreasonable Man," directors Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan.

7-7:30 pm dinner.

7:30 pm "Conversion," director Nanobah Becker.

"Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa," directors Jeremy Stulberg and Randy Stulberg. Discussion follows.