Summer screen lights up in Chilmark

Chilmark Community Center
The Chilmark Community Center draws a crowd to the Independent Film Festival. Photo by David Welch

By Pat Waring - July 5, 2007

Always intense and enthusiastic, Thomas Bena is more excited than ever when he talks about the Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival's summer film series that opens July 11 at the Chilmark Community Center. He has spent the last few weeks racing to finalize details for this fourth annual series, which features films for both children and adults on Wednesdays during July and August.

The summer series is a spin-off of the popular Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival held each March. Mr. Bena says it's a unique opportunity for summer visitors and year-round Islanders to meet.

"My idea was to really mix the crowds," he said in a recent conversation at the Times, his dark eyes sparkling. "They're side by side watching a powerful film and that, to me, is very exciting."

Ugly Ducklings
A contemporary update of Hans Christian Anderson's fairytale includes top-notch 3-D animation.

As committed to creating community as he is to screening top-notch films, Mr. Bena says the summer experiment has taken root and he has high hopes for this fourth summer. To enhance the opportunity for people to gather and socialize, meals and snacks will be served, continuing the tradition of the March festival. Danielle Dominick and her Scottish Bakehouse crew will provide the food, much of it organic and homegrown. And, Mr. Bena promises, there will be real popcorn from the newly acquired popcorn maker.

Children's shows at 5:45 pm run about one hour, leaving time for the family to share a meal before the adult film at 8 pm. Those coming to the 8 pm show can arrive early to enjoy an early supper before the screening.

Mr. Bena was quick to cite the participation of Comcast as sponsor for the Second Annual Series for Kids and Teens as the biggest new development of this summer festival. Having the financial backing of this major company has been invaluable, he said, because of the challenge it is for the non-profit festival group to make ends meet. "If Comcast didn't step up and sponsor it, the children's festival wouldn't have happened this year," he said.

Darius Goes West
"Darius Goes West."

In addition, thanks to a chance conversation with an Island friend, Mr. Bena made a connection with organizers of the New York International Children's Film Festival. That group agreed to curate the Vineyard series, choosing all the films, which Mr. Bena says will ensure a knowledgeable and appropriate selection of programs for youngsters. "A huge loophole in our culture is kids seeing really strong films," said Mr. Bena.

He said he is delighted that, along with offering a program for adults, the festival has expanded to serve the whole family. "We did not want to keep ignoring that part of the community," he said.

The New York group not only has the familiarity with current children's film but also the ability to gain access to selections that Mr. Bena, representing a small, local festival, could not. Each program is carefully age-rated, so families can feel comfortable sending their youngsters off to the movies, although many parents will tag along to enjoy the varied and colorful fare.

Among the highlights of the series will be "Help, I'm a Fish," the animated undersea adventure of three children, and "The Ugly Duckling and Me," the much-acclaimed contemporary update of the classic fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson in 3-D animation.

The Freak
"The Freak," gleefully disturbs an otherwise "normal" Drone world. Screens August 8 as part of the International Short Film Program.

Also on the program are two tantalizing programs of short films, and a dark yet light-hearted comedy directed by Marcus Rosenmuller titled "Grave Decisions," in which a boy finds a unique way to deal with the guilt that he may have caused his mother's death (which he didn't).

Mr. Bena promised that the adult program will be equally good, mixing a variety of independent documentaries and features along with talks by filmmakers. He and his assistants sift through countless films when choosing the program, reviewing submissions, getting recommendations from movie fans, attending other film festivals. This summer's program moves away from an earlier emphasis on social issue documentaries to include other genres including feature films and a musical, and documentaries focusing on varied subjects.

"We're trying to play films that will attract a more diverse audience," he said.

New Year Baby
"New Year Baby."

A thought-provoking opening night on July 11 shines a spotlight on birth as medical emergency or natural process. "The Business of Being Born" will be followed by a panel with physicians and a nurse-midwife discussing the many options along with executive producer Ricki Lake and filmmakers Abby Epstein and Paulo Netto. Distinguished filmmaker Alan Berliner hosts a question-and-answer period along with his documentary, "Nobody's Business" and other selections on August 8. Doug Liman's "Go" on August 1 follows several friends through a rowdy Los Angeles party scene and the warm-hearted documentary "Souvenirs" screening on Aug 22 follows a father-son duo on a very personal and somewhat quirky pilgrimage throughout Europe. Screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal wraps up the series on August 29, sharing stories of what happens to films on the way to being made.

Despite his single-minded dedication to organizing and promoting the Film Festival's summer series, Mr. Bena said that it's the support of many others that keeps the event alive. "This wouldn't exist if it weren't for the community wanting it," he said.

Along with several talented staff he cited Cronig's Markets and the Black Dog, along with nearly 50 local companies, which make monetary or in-kind donations.

Several dozen board members and volunteers also do their share, from setting up chairs to selling tee-shirts and tickets and distributing posters and other promotional material around the Island. He is particularly pleased that more than 120 individuals have signed on as members, lending their support to the festival. Another generous donation comes from Claudia Miller of Point Way who provides housing free of charge for visiting filmmakers at her former Edgartown inn.

"The thing I can proudly say is that it's truly a community festival," said Mr. Bena. "And, you never know who you're going to see there.

For Kids and Teens
Wednesdays at 5:45 pm

July 11
"Help! I'm a Fish."
Animation. Directed by Stefan Fjeldmark.
Ages 4 to 10; 84 minutes.

July 18
"Grave Decisions"
Feature. Directed by Marcus H. Rosenmuller.
Ages 10 to adult; 102 min.

July 25
International Short Film Program
Ages 3 to 8; 65 min.

August 1
International Short Film Program
Ages 8 to 14; 61 min.

August 8
Feature. Directed by Santosh Sivan
Ages 7 to adult; 87 min.

August 15
"The Cat Returns"
Animation. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita.
All ages; 75 min.

August 22
"The Ugly Duckling and Me"
Directed by Michael Hegner, Karsten Killerich
Ages 4 to 10; 90 min.

For Older Viewers
Wednesdays at 8 pm

July 11
"The Business of Being Born"
Directed by Abby Epstein, Paulo Netto.
Panel discussion follows.
Documentary. 84 minutes.

July 18
"Four Minutes"
Directed by Chris Kraus
Feature. 112 min.

July 25
"Darius Goes West"
Directed by Logan Smalley
Documentary. 92 min.

August 1
Directed by Doug Liman
Feature; 103 min.

August 8
An Evening with director Alan Berliner
"Nobody's Business" (Documentary; 60 min.) and other clips.

August 15
"New Year Baby"
Directed by Socheata Poeuv
Documentary; 103 min.

August 22
Directed by Shahar Cohen, Halil Efrat
Documentary; 75 min.

August 29
"Adventures in the Screen Trade":
An evening with screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal.

Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival Annual Summer Film Series, Wednesdays July 11 through Aug. 29. (No children's film on Aug. 29.) Children's series 5:45 pm; adult series 8 pm. Chilmark Community Center, South Road, Chilmark. $10, $5 for members. For more information, call 508-693-0396 or visit