Film

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"The Theory of Everything" premieres this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Courtesy of Focus Features

English cosmologist Stephen Hawking, author of the best-selling book A Brief History of Time, is considered by many to be the most brilliant physicist since Albert Einstein. James Marsh’s film, The Theory of Everything, which plays this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, portrays Mr. Hawking less through his complex theories than his struggle with motor neurone disease and his 25-year marriage to Jane Wilde.

The Theory of Everything offers viewers an unusual and richly satisfying subject for a love story. The film has earned Oscar nominations for Eddie Redmayne, who plays Hawking, and Felicity Jones, who plays his wife Jane, along with a Best Picture nod. Based on Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the memoir by Ms. Wilde, the movie explores the impact of Mr. Hawking’s struggle with a paralyzing disease that doctors predicted would kill him in two years. Viewers meet Mr. Hawking before the onset of motor neurone disease, a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, when he is a 21-year-old graduate student at Cambridge University.

Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, and Felicity Jones, who plays his wife Jane Wilde in the "Theory of Everything." – Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, and Felicity Jones, who plays his wife Jane Wilde in the “Theory of Everything.” – Photo courtesy of Focus Features

He meets and falls in love with his future wife in those early 1960s days, and once the disease manifests itself, tries to end the budding relationship. Jane, however, is determined to commit herself to this brilliant man, who in many ways is her opposite. A graduate student in foreign languages, she is an active member of the Church of England, while Stephen, with characteristically wry humor, says he has “a slight problem with the whole celestial dictator premise.” The doctors’ prediction of a death sentence proves wrong — Mr. Hawking is now 73 years old — and the couple marry and have three children. Ms. Jones creates a far subtler portrait of Jane than the usual cinematic, self-sacrificing wife.

With prosthetic teeth and ears and a 15-pound weight loss, Mr. Redmayne’s remarkable depiction of Stephen’s growing physical disability employs a contorted wrist, drooping head, stooped posture, pigeon toes and an unruly mop of hair that transform the actor. Mr. Redmayne kept a chart of Stephen’s debilitative progress and spent time with ALS patients. Equally compelling is Ms. Jones’ portrait of Jane, who struggles with her husband’s illness in ways that are as heroic as Mr. Redmayne’s. As hard as the two work to sustain their relationship, the marriage ends after 25 years. Jane finds emotional support from widowed choirmaster Charlie Cox (Jonathan Hellyer Jones). Emily Watson appears in a cameo as Jane’s mother Beryl. After a life-threatening bout with pneumonia, Stephen finds romance with his nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake) whom he eventually marries.

While a fuller explication of Stephen’s theories would have been a welcome addition to The Theory of Everything, the movie remains a rich and rewarding portrait of a marriage that goes well beyond most Hollywood romances.

The Theory of Everything, Thursday, Jan. 22, and Sunday, Jan. 25, 7:30 pm; Friday, Jan. 23, 4 pm. For tickets and information visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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The late actress Patricia Neal, an Edgartown summer resident for over 30 years, will be honored on her birth date — what would be her 89th birthday, Tuesday, Jan. 20 — by Turner Classic Movies with showings of a number of her films. Ms. Neal, who died in 2010, won the first Tony Award for Best Actress in 1947, as the lead in Another Part of the Forestby Lillian Hellman, another longtime Vineyard resident.

The Kentucky-born Ms. Neal co-starred with Gary Cooper in King Vidor’s 1947 adaptation of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead, and made headlines for her affair with Mr. Cooper, who was married. Ms. Neal’s career in Hollywood earned her an Oscar for her performance in Hud opposite Paul Newman in 1963. Other memorable screen roles came in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd in 1957 and in the 1961 film classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Ms. Neal’s marriage to writer Roald Dahl produced five children, and was followed by a series of tragic events in her personal life. In 1960 her 4-month-old son Theo suffered brain damage after he was hit by a taxi in his baby carriage, and Ms. Neal’s daughter Olivia died at age 7 from measles-induced encephalitis in 1962. During Ms. Neal’s fifth pregnancy in 1965, she suffered several incapacitating strokes that left her in a coma and confined to a wheelchair until she relearned how to walk and talk, and was able to continue her acting career. An Oscar nomination for The Subject Was Roses followed in 1968. In 1971 Ms. Neal won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in her role as Olivia Walton in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which led to the popular TV series The Waltons. In one of her last film roles, Ms. Neal starred in Robert Altman’s drama, Cookie’s Fortune. She published her autobiography, As I Am, in 1988.

Photo by Jaxon White
The late Patricia Neal with Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo in the summer of 2009. – Photo by Jaxon White

On the Vineyard Ms. Neal provided a memorable and much-beloved presence at many cultural events over the years. She helped raise funds for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society by appearing at screenings of A Face in the Crowd and Hudin the West Tisbury Grange Hall and by participating in question-and-answer sessions after the films. Following renovations in 2011, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, one of Ms. Neal’s favorite summer haunts, showed their appreciation for her support by naming the stage in her honor. She was a staple at the annual Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, and in 2006 the “dream” donation of cocktails and dinner with the actress garnered $6,000 for the organization. Her death came at her Edgartown home on August 8, 2010, from lung cancer. She was 84.

Turner Classics programming of Ms. Neal’s films begins on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 6 am with The Hasty Heart, co-starring Ronald Reagan; and Operation Pacific, co-starring John Wayne, at 11 am. Bright Leaf follows at 1 pm, co-starring Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall; A Face in the Crowd with Andy Griffith screens at 3 pm; and The Subject Was Roses at 5:15 pm.

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"Foxcatcher" stars Channing Tatum as a wrestler trying to find success. — Photo by Scott Garfield

Foxcatcher, the gripping story of two wrestling brothers and their wealthy would-be mentor, comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Directed by Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher is based on the true story of Olympic gold medal winners Mark and David Schultz and their relationship with multimillionaire John du Pont.

Unlike many sports films, Foxcatcher makes wrestling the backdrop for an intense study of far more complex issues, like the controlling power of wealth and the nature of male camaraderie and familial relationships. The film opens with a capsule life of Mark Schultz, who won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles, played by Channing Tatum. In the aftermath of his Olympic success, Mark leads a solitary, sad-sack existence — working out, living on a diet of ramen noodles and occasionally giving pep talks to high school students. Trapped in his musclebound body as if it were a cage, Mark depends emotionally on his older, more easygoing, gregarious brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo.

While Mark remains damaged by his unhappy blue-collar childhood, David acts as his protector and father figure. David’s more normal life includes his wife Nancy, played by Sienna Miller, and his two children, in addition to his wrestling career, while Mark remains obsessed by the need for success as a wrestler.

More than any other sport, wrestling suggests an erotic-tinged intimacy underlying the action between two competitors. The director, also responsible for Capote and Moneyball, explores in Foxcatcher the relationship between the two brothers through close-up scenes of their workouts. Once this sporting world is established, it is turned sideways by the appearance of multimillionaire John du Pont, himself a would-be wrestler, who uses his money and influence to set up a training center for wrestlers at his Pennsylvania estate. As portrayed by comedian Steve Carell wearing a prosthetic nose, du Pont is a stunningly awkward eccentric who entices Mark, along with a group of other wrestlers, to live on his estate and train for the upcoming Seoul Olympics. With his proboscis perpetually in the air and his halting speech patterns, du Pont proves even more isolated than Mark. Vanessa Redgrave, playing du Pont’s disapproving mother who raises horses and dismisses her son’s wrestling as a “low” sport, fleshes out the intricacies of du Pont’s psyche.

Once du Pont replaces David as his brother Mark’s mentor, the more corrupting aspects of the relationship emerge. The millionaire introduces Mark to cocaine, and trains him to give speeches describing du Pont as his hero. Eventually du Pont transfers his obsessions to David, and persuades him to move his family to the du Pont estate. From there, the situation spirals out of control and into disturbing and destructive behaviors. Foxcatcher’s shocking finale brings into the foreground the dark undertones of a story that can only be described as heartbreaking. Mr. Miller’s capable direction, combined with accomplished and nuanced acting by all three of the principals, has created an exceptionally strong film.

Foxcatcher, Friday, Jan. 16, and Saturday, Jan. 17, 7:30 pm.; Sunday, Jan. 18, 4 pm. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.  

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This week at M.V. Film Center and Entertainment Cinemas.

Photo by Anne Marie Fox

With a Golden Globe nomination and multiple regional wins under her belt, Reese Witherspoon strips away her movie-star image to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild.” Already playing at Edgartown’s Entertainment Cinemas, “Wild”opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Jan. 9.

Like “Tracks,”the story of a woman who crosses the Australian desert with four camels and a dog; “Into the Wild,”where a college grad hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild; and “All Is Lost,” about a shipwrecked sailor’s struggle to survive alone, the appeal of “Wild” comes from the challenge an individual faces to survive on her own in the wilderness. Adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed’s popular 2012 memoir of the same title, “Wild” follows the trek of a young woman grieving the loss of her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern. Cheryl travels from the Mojave Desert near the Mexican border to Washington State.

Cheryl has led a life of dissipation, taking drugs and having promiscuous sex, after her mother’s premature death from cancer. As the movie, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée — also responsible for “Dallas Buyers Club” opens, Cheryl has decided to change her ways by hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Her goal is to recapture the person her mother believed her to be. She begins carrying a backpack so large she can hardly hoist it. Other hikers along the trail call her bag the “monster,” and eventually she is able to relinquish some of the paraphernalia that as an inexperienced hiker she has packed.

Filmed in Oregon, “Wild” follows Cheryl through breathtaking landscapes. Her hike brings plenty of challenges. She loses one of her too-small hiking boots down a ravine, throwing the other one after it in frustration. Using duct tape, she modifies a pair of sandals to wear until she’s able to get new boots. In the 94 days she spends on the trail, she meets a number of other hikers, mostly men. A reporter interviews her for his story on hobos, even though she insists she’s not one. A rancher who at first seems threatening takes her home for a hot meal provided by his wife. Two hunters she encounters come close to molesting her, but other hikers along the way are friendly and helpful. Her ex-husband, played by Thomas Sadowski, supports her by providing mail and supplies at prearranged sites. As Cheryl moves along the trail, she writes in her diary and enters fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson and others into the trail records. Flashbacks return the viewer to the life Cheryl experienced with her always cheerful single-parent mother and her brother as she grew up. Taking up almost a third of the movie, they also fill in details of her earlier drug-taking and sexual misadventures.

“You can always quit,” her best friend Aimee, played by Gaby Hoffman, tells Cheryl, but that is not a choice this determined woman wants to make. At times it is hard to ignore the movie-star sheen Ms. Witherspoon’s natural beauty evokes, and as her mother, Ms. Dern can be a little too perpetually positive. But as a journey of self-discovery, “Wild”is an entertaining and satisfying excursion for the moviegoer.

At M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven: Friday, Jan. 9, and Saturday, Jan. 10, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Jan. 11, 4 pm; Thursday Jan. 15, 7:30 pm.

For tickets and information, mvfilmsociety.com.

At Entertainment Cinemas, Edgartown: Thursday Jan. 8, 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

For tickets and information, entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown/.

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'National Gallery' and 'Force Majeure' premiere at the MV Film Center this week.

In his 39th documentary, Frederick Wiseman applies his considerable cinematic skills to interpreting art with a three-hour trip through one of the world’s great museums. National Gallery plays Friday, Dec. 19, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. It’s an exhausting and exhilarating excursion. Opening this weekend is Force Majeure, a domestic drama about a Swedish family’s ski trip.

Throughout Wiseman’s career, this master of cinema vérité or observational film (terms he avoids) has used the camera to explore the nature of institutions. One of the earliest films of the Boston-born lawyer turned filmmaker, Titicut Follies (1967), portrayed Bridgewater State Hospital patients in such graphic detail that it was banned in Massachusetts. More recent films include Boxing Gym, Crazy Horse, and At Berkeley.

Now 84 years old, Mr. Wiseman opens National Gallery with a Rembrandt painting, then moves outdoors to a shot of the lions that grace the entrance to the world-famous London museum. A cinematic anatomy of the National Gallery follows, alternating cleaning staff, viewers, docent lectures, administrative meetings, and conservators at work with shots of individual pieces in the collection.

These cinematic images are selected with such care that the film audience can absorb far more than any three-hour excursion through the museum would offer. Mr. Wiseman taps all of the devices that film uses to communicate — cuts, montage (editing), close-ups, establishing shots, to name a few. The soundtrack is the one exception, with the filmmaker relying entirely on the natural sounds and dialogue occurring as the camera moves through the museum exploring its many facets as an institution.

Administrators debate how or whether to market the museum in ways that will draw a wider and different audience. Docents trained in art history talk about the symbolism of a distorted skull in a 16th century Hans Holbein painting and the background behind the 18th century painter George Stubbs’s choice of horses as a subject. The camera looks in on several live-model classes of artists drawing nudes. A group of blind visitors is given Braille-like reproductions of a painting to study and discuss. Museum staff explain the care that goes into hanging paintings in a new exhibit and the way paintings “talk” to one another.

If the film’s length seems taxing, National Gallery presents the audience with as much richness as an entire course in art appreciation. Not to be forgotten is the way Mr. Wiseman animates an essentially static subject through the many cinematic techniques at his command. He reinforces that message in the closing sequences by showing how other art forms, including video, poetry, music, and dance interact with art. And last but not least comes the capacity of film to find inspiration in an art museum.

Avalanche rules Force Majeure

A family on a ski vacation in France provides Swedish director Ruben Ostlund with the opportunity to poke fun at marital trials and tribulations in Force Majeure. The term in the title is a legal one. A little like “act of God,” force majeure is a contract clause that frees the parties from liability for an unavoidable accident. The force majeure in the film is an avalanche.

Tomas is taking time off from a demanding job to spend time with his wife, Ebba, and two children, Harry and Vera. A family-portrait photo op on the slopes opens the film and signals what the subject will be. Soon after, the camera watches Harry from behind as he pees into a bathroom waterfall, suggesting that the mood will be comic. After the scene has been set, day two of this Scandinavian vacation finds the family about to eat lunch on a deck overlooking the slopes. A massive avalanche arrives, looking as if it will bury everyone, and Tomas abandons his family to seek safety inside.

More than a little irritated with her husband’s cowardice, Ebba recounts to friends over dinner what happened. Tomas claims he saw events quite differently from his wife. The avalanche frames the battle of the sexes that follows and incorporates the two children.

Mr. Ostlund captures life at a ski resort and domestic strife with style and sophistication. He peppers the story with an understated humor that perhaps epitomizes a Swedish take on family life. If Force Majeure doesn’t inspire belly laughs, it does offer plenty of chuckles.

“National Gallery,” Friday, Dec. 19, 4 pm.

“Force Majeure,” Friday, Dec. 19, and Saturday, Dec. 20, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Dec. 21, 4 pm.

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—Photo by Michael Cummo

Did the shrill cries of children and haunted harpsichord melodies seeping out of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse make you mistake Monday night for this Friday’s Halloween? If writer Truman Capote, actress Deborah Kerr, or Monday night’s host, Jamie Alley from Island Entertainment Video, had a say, they hoped you were among the fortunate audience who received this early cinematic trick or treat. Monday kicked off the Playhouse’s classic film series with Jack Clayton’s chilling 1961 thriller The Innocents.

If you have yet to experience the gloriously renovated Vineyard Playhouse and the Patricia Neal Stage, one of the Island’s foremost film aficionado’s, Jamie Alley, is thrilled to offer a “quirky but interesting curation of classic films in this equally wonderful venue.” A film fan since the age of 12, a theater professional, and the decades-long manager of Island Entertainment Video in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Alley’s expertise was demonstrated as he gave the introduction to the first in what should be a wonderful film series.

The Innocents, adapted from the Henry James novella The Turn of The Screw, did not fall prey to what so many slashers did at that time,” Mr. Alley said. “Instead, they produced something far more classy and elegant.” Mr. Alley went on to present technical tidbits, screenplay stories, casting choices, and production points as naturally as if we were sharing a seat in his own home theater.

Co-written by Truman Capote, this fantastically chilling and often overlooked Gothic ghost story stars Deborah Kerr as a naive, and perhaps neurotic, nanny charged with two precocious children in an English manor haunted with memories. “Kerr was underrated as an actress, but she’s so great in this role because it required intelligence, a psychological horror she does beautifully,” Mr. Alley said before the screening. “I chose this film to start the series because it’s Halloween week of course, but it’s a little less known than The Haunting and others of the time. It’s really nuanced, and really scary.”

“We had tried a classic film series a couple of years ago, but now with the renovation we thought it would be more successful,” Mr. Alley explained. “As you’ll see, the digital projection is beautiful and the space is intended to host a wide range of events: cabaret, spoken word, and film.” To see The Innocents on such a grand screen was breathtaking, but to hear the haunting soundtrack in such acoustic perfection was the real treat.

A look at the tentative schedule easily turns the Monday night moody blues into Monday night movie memories. Screenings begin at 7:30 at the M.V. Playhouse. $5 cash only.

Nov. 3: The Trouble with Harry (1955, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)

Nov. 10:  All That Heaven Allows (1955, directed by Douglas Sirk)

Nov.  17: Sitting Pretty (1948, directed by Walter Lang)

Nov. 24: Miracle on 34th Street (1947, directed by George Seaton)

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From left, Alfred Molina as George and John Lithgow as Ben. —Photo by Jeong Park, Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Love at the movies usually concerns the romantic life of young couples. Not so with Ira Sachs’s new film, Love Is Strange. This director’s love story explores and celebrates the long-abiding love of two aging men, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina). The film, which opens this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, offers viewers an unusually rich view of urban domestic life. Love Is Strange opens on the morning of Ben and George’s wedding in Manhattan. The camera work quickly signals that while this couple’s world may not include the usual Hollywood signifiers — movie-star good looks and youthful, toned bodies — it seeks out unusual perspectives and lingers in unexpected places. The film lovingly immerses the viewer in the urban landscape that is so much a part of this gay couple’s life together, in some of the ways Woody Allen has paid tribute to New York in his movies. By relying on Chopin and other classical music, the soundtrack reinforces yet another element of the couple’s world, since George is a piano teacher and choral director.

The post-wedding party, held at Ben and George’s co-op apartment, uses none of the clichés so often found in movie versions of parties. Instead it introduces us to the couple’s distinctive extended family. Ben’s nephew Elliott (Darren Burrows), a filmmaker, is there with his novelist wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenaged son, Joey (Charlie Tahan), whose remarkably subtle performance will make the viewer realize how inauthentic most movie teenagers are. On George’s side are Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez), the gay cop couple that are George and Ben’s next-door neighbors. The slightly kookie Mindy (Christina Kirk) is significant primarily for living outside of Manhattan, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. What is important about Ben and George’s extended family is that they are recognizable less for their connections to gay culture than to any middle class world.

The classic model for romantic comedy keeps its putative couple at odds, or at least apart, at the start and ends with their happy union. Mr. Sachs up-ends that convention by starting with marital bliss and finishing with separation. The switch is particularly appropriate for a gay couple, since Ben and George have already lived together happily and successfully for many years, while their marriage marks society’s recent legitimization of gay marriage. The twist that separates Ben and George physically, if not emotionally, situates the story in the real world, where bigotry rears its ugly head even in the wake of social change.

George loses his job at a Catholic school because his marriage defies Church doctrine. Like so many other Americans, George and Ben (who is retired) are then tossed on the shoals of economic distress. They must sell their co-op apartment and move in with family and friends. The world of New York real estate being the space-challenged place that it is, no one has enough room to house both members of the couple. Ben, a chatty amateur painter, ends up with his nephew and family, sharing bunk beds with a resentful Joey, and workspace with novelist Kate. George, who favors solitary pleasures, finds himself on the sofa of his ex-neighbors, Ted and Roberto, who always seem to have a party in the making. The friction caused by overcrowded living arrangements generates plenty of gentle humor.

Love Is Strange’s masterful acting, headlined by Lithgow, Molina, and Tomei, brings rare depth to this story of domestic life. It is a quintessentially modern story, one told with care and great affection rather than sentimentality or melodrama.

Love Is Strange, Friday, October 24, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, October 25, 4 p.m, M.V. Film Center. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.

Updated, Thursday, October 2, 10 pm. Note that the correct date and time for The Hungry Heart showing is Friday, October 10, at 7:30 pm.

“The Hungry Heart,” a new documentary film on prescription drug addiction and recovery in Vermont, will be screened at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, October 10 at 7:30 pm. Director Bess O’Brien will run a Q and A session after the screenings. The Martha’s Vineyard community is welcome to be a part of the conversation about this issue. The Martha’s Vineyard Times, a media sponsor of the event, has covered the prevalence of opiate addiction on Martha’s Vineyard in an ongoing series.

HH TRAILER-VIMEO from Bess O’brien on Vimeo.

According to a press release from Kingdom County Productions:

“The Hungry Heart” has toured across New England to more than 100 towns and was presented in Washington, D.C., by Senator Patrick Leahy and Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Produced by Kingdom County Productions, “The Hungry Heart” provides an intimate look at the often hidden world of prescription drug addiction through the work of Vermont pediatrician Fred Holmes, whose patients struggle with this disease.

Dr. Holmes works closely with his patients to provide them with therapy and outpatient programs. In addition, Dr. Holmes is part of the Suboxone treatment program. Much like methadone, Suboxone helps many addicts in their recovery process. For some, taking Suboxone is a crucial steppingstone to long-term recovery. For others, Suboxone is abused and diverted onto the street. Through the film, Dr. Holmes struggles with these challenges, trying to make sense and keep the faith in the midst of many contradictions.

The film is not ultimately about Suboxone, or the medical treatment these young people receive from Dr. Holmes. It is about the simple but profound connection that Dr. Holmes creates with each patient, and how important listening and respect is for these young addicts as part of their recovery process. The film shines a light on the healing power of conversation, and the need for connection that many of these young addicts yearn for but do not have in their lives.

In addition, the film interviews a number of older addicts and family members who share their stories of struggle and redemption. The road to recovery is paved with success stories and strewn with relapses, downfalls, and tragic losses. However, throughout the movie the viewer meets the many faces and diverse populations of addiction, and their continued search for a life of recovery.

Best-selling author David Sheff, who wrote the book “Beautiful Boy” about his own son’s addiction, called “The Hungry Heart” “a brilliant and beautiful film that captures the true lives of people in recovery.” MSNBC called the film “deeply moving.”

Geoff Kane, M.D., chief of addiction services at Brattleboro Retreat, raves, “‘The Hungry Heart’ displays the unflinching honesty necessary for addiction recovery. Dr. Fred Holmes displays the unwavering respect, hope, and accountability that people need to get there.”

“The Hungry Heart” opens up dialogue around many issues connected to addiction and recovery, and serves as a jumping-off point for discussion and action steps that many of our communities need.

To watch a trailer of the film or for more information, visit kingdomcounty.org or call 802-357-4616.

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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 mvfilmsociety.com.

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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 tmvff.org.