Film

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— Jean Claude Lother

Two of the Island’s independent film venues are screening documentaries this weekend, and the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute Film Series presents the French farce, “What’s In A Name.”

behind-scenes-Case-Against-8.jpg“The Case Against 8,” a narrative of the fight to rescind California’s anti-gay marriage proposition, plays on Thursday, July 17, at the Harbor View Hotel as part of The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s program. After the screening, directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White will lead a discussion moderated by former Congressman Barney Frank.

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center opens two new documentaries this week. “An Honest Liar” presents a portrait of magician James “The Amazing” Randi who seeks to uncover fraudulent psychic and paranormal tricks; and “Newburg Sting” is a new film by Islanders Kate Davis and David Heilbroner about FBI persecution of a Muslim community. Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” comes to the Center on Tuesday, July 22, as part of the Center’s Opera in Cinema Series.

In March 2013, California passed Proposition 8, which repealed the state’s marriage equality act. “The Case Against 8” presents an incisive exploration of the campaign to restore marital equality. Mr. Cotner and Mr. White’s film follows how two gay couples — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier — committed themselves to overturn the initiative that ousted California’s same-sex marriage legislation.

By focusing much of the documentary on the two couples, their children, and extended families, the directors shed light on how similar the lives of gay couples are to those of heterosexual couples. Mr. Katami and Mr. Zarrillo wanted to marry so that if they have children, their offspring will have the same rights as those of opposite sex parents. Both Ms. Stier and Ms. Perry have sons from previous heterosexual relationships, and the film provides solid evidence for how normal and well-adjusted the lesbian couple’s children are.Case-Against-8.jpg

Another important element of “The Case Against 8” comes in its portraits of the lawyers pursuing the gay couples’ lawsuit. Both Ted Olson and David Boies had participated in the Bush-Gore 2000 election litigation brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, but were on politically opposite sides. The film calls Mr. Olson the most prominent conservative lawyer in America, an illustration of how irrelevant political leanings became to the struggle in California for same-sex marriage.

Although “The Case Against 8” provides plenty of evidence on how vicious the anti-gay marriage lobby could be, its message is primarily positive, documenting how our nation has shifted its cultural values in ways that support gay rights. Also part of TMVFF’s summer series is the children’s animated film “Frozen” playing Friday, July 18, at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven and including a pre-film sing-along. “Fishing Without Nets,” a drama about a Somali who pursues then rejects piracy, plays Wednesday, July 23, at the Chilmark Community Center, and director Cutter Hodierne will answer questions after the screening

A magician debunks magic

Tyler Mason’s documentary, “An Honest Liar” is a multi-faceted examination of one man’s efforts to use his own magic skills to uncover the deceptions practiced by a variety of psychic and paranormal figures. Along the way, the film adds a portrait of Mr. Randi’s partner, Jose Alvarez.

“I’m a liar, a cheat and a charlatan,” Mr. Randi proclaims. Unlike other magician/escape artists, though, he uses his skills to entertain. Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein use “An Honest Liar” to explore many types of deceivers, some of whom even succeed at fooling scientists from institutions like the Stanford Research Institute. One psychokinesis practitioner, Israeli Uri Geller, appears to be able to bend spoons and locate objects in a bevy of separate boxes. Faith healer Peter Popoff dupes people into filling his pockets with money by professing to cure them. Mr. Randi shows how this scoundrel gets away with his illusions.

In an interesting ancillary to Mr. Randi’s campaign against using deception to conceal instead of reveal, “An Honest Liar” follows the arrest and trial of Mr. Alvarez.

“We all spin personal narratives,” Mr. Randi says by way of explanation. “At the end of the day there is nothing to reveal.” Yet another surprising part of the film shows how many of the charlatans that Randi exposes reinvent themselves and continue to practice their deceptions.

Also playing at the Film Center next week are two Oscar-winning shorts, “Thoth,” and “Marjoe.” Filmmaker Sarah Kernochan will answer
whats-in-a-name-still-2.jpgquestions after the screening.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s film playing this weekend at the M.V. Film Center is “What’s in a Name?” Alexandre de la Patelliere’s and Matthieu Delaporte’s farce concerns a family that announces the name for their soon-to-be-born baby at a dinner party with unexpected results.

“The Case Against 8,” Thursday, July 17, 8 pm, M.V. Film Festival, Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown.

“An Honest Liar,” Thursday, July 17, and Friday, July 18, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.

“What’s in a Name,” Hebrew Center Summer Institute Film Series, Sunday, July 20, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center.

“Thoth” and “Marjoe,” Oscar-winning shorts, Wednesday, July 23, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.  For tickets and information, visit tmvff.org for M.V. Film Festival films and mvfilmsociety.com for M.V. Film Center films, including the M.V. Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute film series.

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Dakoka Fanning, right, shown with Elizabeth Olsen, will attend Saturday's screening of "Very Good Girls" at the Chilmark Community Center. — Naomi Foner

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center has launched its Summer Institute Film Series. Playing Sunday, July 13, is “E-Team,” a documentary about Human Rights Watch’s investigative wing that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last winter.

“E-Team” describes the work of four members of the Human Rights Watch’s Emergencies Team, which works to uncover evidence of human rights violations and then document and publicize them. Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny have directed the cinema vérité style documentary, and one of the four E-Team members interviewed is Fred Abrahams, a member of the Vineyard Cronig family; he will answer questions after the screening.

“We knew they were very accomplished,” Mr. Abrahams said of the two directors in a M.V. Times interview last weekend. “They wanted creative independence, but we didn’t want a puff piece.” Mr. Kauffman previously directed the Oscar-winning documentary “Born into Brothels,” and Ms. Chevigny directed “Deadline,” a film about former Illinois governor George Ryan’s commutation of death sentences that was broadcast on NBC. In the case of “E-Team,” the question was whether the production crew could safely go into difficult, even dangerous situations with members of the E-Team.

“My mother [Carol Cronig Abrahamson] grew up on the Vineyard,” Mr. Abrahams said. His grandparents Henry and Mae Cronig emigrated from Lithuania and ultimately settled on the Vineyard, where they opened Cronig’s Market. Another relative, Ruth Stiller, worked for more than 40 years at the Tisbury Elementary School.“I spent every summer of my childhood on the Vineyard, and now my children, Milan, four, and Simon, one, do the same,” said Mr. Abrahams, who lives in Berlin with his wife Natasa in the off-season. He has worked for Human Rights Watch for 20 years, predominantly in Eastern Europe, visiting seven or eight different war zones to document human rights abuses. Most recently he has investigated abuses in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Also interviewed in the film are Russian émigré Anna Neistat and Norwegian Ole Solvang, a married couple. Peter Bouckaert, the fourth member of the team, has been called “The James Bond of human-rights investigators” by Rolling Stone. Upcoming films in the Summer Institute series include “What’s in a Name,” “The Outrageous Sophie Tucker,” and “Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa.” For more information, visit mvsummerinstitute.org.

Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard come to M.V. Film Festival

On Saturday, July 12, director, screenwriter and Vineyard summer resident Naomi Foner (mother of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) will appear with her new film, “Very Good Girls,” a coming-of-age story. Also attending the Chilmark Community Center screening will be actors Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski. Along with Mr. Sarsgaard, the star-studded cast of the film includes Ellen Barkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Olsen, and Demi Moore.

In a Brew and View event, which gets its name from the opportunity to purchase beer and drinks from the venue’s bar, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival screens “Appropriate Behavior” on Thursday, July 10, at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. This film is about a hip young bisexual woman in Brooklyn.

The Film Festival’s children’s program, Cinema Circus, will be held on Sunday, July 13, at the Chilmark Community Center. And on Monday, July 14, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal will attend a screening of the comedy, “Frank” at Edgartown Cinemas, where she will answer questions following the film. The film also stars Michael Fassbender.

Former Congressman Barney Frank and his husband Jim Ready will answer questions after a Wednesday, July 16, screening of the documentary “Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank.” For more information, visit tmvff.org.

“Supermensch” at M.V. Film Center

Opening this weekend at the M.V. Film Center is “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” a Mike Myers documentary about the celebrated Hollywood agent. The film opens with a series of celebrity testimonials ranging from actor Michael Douglas to comedian Groucho Marx.

Mr. Gordon started out as a young man thinking he wanted to become a probation officer. But after he was beaten up by the youthful offenders he was put in charge of, musician Jimi Hendrix said to him, “Are you Jewish? You should be a manager.” His first client was the Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper. As soon as Mr. Gordon handed the musicians in this group a container of marijuana, he was hired.

In addition to interviewing a host of celebrities, “Supermensch” offers viewers insights into how a successful agent develops publicity for his clients. In the case of Alice Cooper, Mr. Gordon got the music group a gig performing between John Lennon and The Doors. He developed outrageous stunts like having lead musician Alice Cooper photographed nude with a reptile covering his genitalia and, another time, packaging female panties as part of the group’s album, “School’s Out.” Another time Mr. Gordon arranged for Mr. Cooper to appear to be shot out of a cannon. To boost Canadian singer Anne Murray’s profile, he booked the singer into Hollywood’s legendary Troubadour Club with the Hollywood Vampires and John Lennon.

In a special, live performance on Tuesday, July 15, Adam Strauss brings his one-man show, “The Mushroom Cure,” to the Film Center. Mr. Strauss, who won the Leffe Craft Your Character international storytelling competition, describes how he tried hallucinogenic mushrooms as a way to cure his obsessive-compulsive disorder.

For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

“Appropriate Behavior,” Thursday, July 10, 8 pm. Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown.

“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” Friday, July 11, and Saturday, July 12, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.

“Very Good Girls,” Saturday, July 12, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center.

“Cinema Circus: Kickin’ Off in Chilmark,” Sunday, July 13, 12 noon–6 pm, Chilmark Community Center. Free TMVFF event.

 “E-Team,” M. V. Hebrew Center Summer Institute Film Series, Sunday, July 13, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For information, see mvsummerinstitute.com.

“Frank,” Monday, July 14, 7 pm, Entertainment Cinemas, Edgartown.

“The Mushroom Cure,” live by Adam Strauss, Tuesday, July 15, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.

“Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank,” Wednesday, July 16, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center.

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Hanna's Journey is one of the films slated for this summer's MVFF. — Courtesy MVFF

Chilmark’s Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which has expanded its screenings to five of the Island’s towns, will screen two social action documentaries next week. Director Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” plays Wednesday, July 9, at the Chilmark Community Center, with dinner offered before the film, and the director will answer questions after the film. On Thursday, July 10, “Appropriate Behavior” will screen at Edgartown’s Harbor View Hotel. Across town in Vineyard Haven, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center features a new, re-mastered version of the classic Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night” on July 4 and opens “Whitey,” a gripping documentary about Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Members of the generation that came of age during the early 70s will recall the vivid images of South Vietnamese desperately attempting to reach an evacuation helicopter landing on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The year was 1975, and filmmaker Kennedy’s harrowing film documents the 24-hour period when the U.S. pulled out of South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army took over. A preview of “Last Days in Vietnam,” which opened at Sundance, was not available for viewing, but Bob Nelson of Variety praises the film as “a worthy addition to the historical record.”

At the heart of the film is the moral dilemma faced by the American officials ordered by the White House to evacuate only U.S. citizens. Ms. Kennedy mixes archival footage of the U.S. withdrawal with more recent interviews of U.S. officials who were present during the evacuation. Although the late Ambassador Graham Martin has been criticized for not preparing properly for the siege and takeover of Saigon, other government officials defied their orders and shipped out 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees.

Playing on Thursday, July 10, “Appropriate Behavior” is a comedy that addresses the dilemmas of a young, bisexual Iranian-American woman living in Brooklyn. The film is directed by Lena Dunham of “Girls.”

Harrowing documentary on Boston’s legendary crime boss

Not to be missed is the new documentary film about James “Whitey” Bulger, the South Boston gangster and crime boss who wreaked havoc in the city for almost 30 years. Playing this week at the M.V. Film Center, “Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger” tracks the arrest and trial of the ruthless criminal, whose brother, William Bulger, served as President of the Massachusetts Senate and President of the University of Massachusetts.

More gripping than even the best fictional crime stories, “Whitey” reveals how Bulger developed connections with state police, the F.B.I., and the U.S. Department of Justice that allowed him free reign of Boston. Once captured, Whitey was prosecuted for 19 murders, racketeering, money laundering, and conspiracy charges.

Much of the strength of Joe Berlinger’s film comes from the way the director compares testimony from prosecutors and defense lawyers in Whitey’s 2013 trial. The documentary demonstrates the tangled web of corruption that kept FBI agents protecting Bulger instead of tracking him down. Using overhead tracking shots of the South Boston area where Whitey grew up and lived, combined with views of downtown Boston’s federal courthouse, the director often situates the individuals he interviews at the wheel of their cars.

The basic premise of “Whitey” is that while this gangster was willing to cop to murder, racketeering, and other crimes, he refused to admit to being an informant for the FBI. Such an admission would oppose the “good” bad guy ethics that characterized Whitey and other members of Boston’s Irish mafia. Although he did not end up testifying during his trial, Whitney did go on record as believing that federal law enforcement was more corrupt than criminals like himself. In addition, the director argues that the FBI and the Department of Justice were obsessed with tracking down the Italian mafia and ignored the widespread criminal activities of Boston’s Irish gangs, like the Winter Hill mob.

‘Hanna’s Journey’

The 2014 film series of the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Institute opens on Sunday, July 6, with a 7:30 pm screening of the award-winning romantic comedy, “Hanna’s Journey,” at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven.

In this 2013 film from director Julia von Heinz, Hanna is a young German woman traveling to Israel to work with mentally handicapped adults and visit a Holocaust survivor. Her journey has been calculated to impress a board considering her for a position at a huge consulting firm, but what she didn’t plan for was Itay, the handsome young Israeli counselor who becomes her mentor. She also didn’t plan on the elderly female survivor who sees through Hanna’s motives and reveals some startling facts about Hanna’s own past. What began as a brief trip to establish credentials for her prospective employers becomes a journey across cultures and into the center of her own heart and mind.

“Hanna’s Journey” is the first of six Sunday night screenings in this year’s series of the Summer Institute, a program of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

-Nis Kildegaard

New version of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

In a special July 4 screening, the M.V. Film Center presents a newly re-mastered version of the classic Beatles documentary, “A Hard Day’s Night.” Director Richard Lester’s film follows a day in the life of the famous British musical ensemble and includes many of their most famous songs.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” Friday, July 4, 7:30 pm, and Saturday, July 5, 9:30 pm.

“Hanna’s Journey,” Hebrew Center Summer Institute Film Series at M.V. Film Center, Sunday, July 6, 7:30 pm, $12; $9 Summer Institute sponsors via mvfilmsociety.com, and at door.

“Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger,” Monday, July 7, Tuesday, July 8, and Thursday, July 10, 7:30 pm.

“The Last Days of Vietnam,” Wednesday, July 9, 8 pm, The M.V. Film Festival, Chilmark Community Center. For tickets, and information, see www.tmvff.org.

“And So It Goes,” N.Y. Film Critics National Series, with Rob Reiner, Wednesday, July 9, 7:30 pm. Special pricing. All screenings at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven unless otherwise noted. Tickets, except for special pricing events, $12 (MV Film Society members, $9; 14 and under $7).  For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.

“Appropriate Behavior,” Thursday, July 10, 8 pm, The M.V. Film Festival, Harbor View Hotel, North Water St., Edgartown. For tickets and information, see tmvff.org.

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that U.S. troops left Saigon in 1975, not 1973.

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The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (TMVFF) opens its summer season on Wednesday, July 2, with a documentary, “Divide in Concord,” about a woman’s campaign to ban bottled water in Concord, Massachusetts. It is the first of 22 films to be shown by TMVFF through Thursday, August 21. The Festival also presents 25 special guests to lead discussions and answer questions, including Rory Kennedy, Katie Couric, Barney Frank, and Henry Louis Gates.

This year the Festival has expanded to screen films in five of the Island’s six towns, and filmgoers will have the option of dinner before many of the films. The popular Cinema Circus program for children will take place at the Chilmark Community Center on Sunday, July 13; at the West Tisbury Library on Sunday, August 3; and at Cottagers Corner in Oak Bluffs on Sunday, August 17.

In “Divide in Concord,” Concord resident Jean Hill learns from her environmentally conscious grandson about the noxious effects of bottled water in single-use plastic containers. In particular, he told her about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After her husband died in 2006, she began a campaign to have the town ban single-use bottled water, calling it a chance for a second shot heard round the world. Although the American Revolution actually began in nearby Lexington, Concord has long been associated with the American push for independence.

One of the strengths of “Divide in Concord” is the care director Kris Kaczor takes to develop the pros and cons of the bottled water ban. Residents are given time to make their case in what is a surprisingly complex issue. Why not just add bottled water containers to the other recyclable bottles, asks one opponent. Ms. Hill explains that only 20 percent of water bottles are recycled.

Ms. Hill explores a number of dimensions to the issue: Concord’s association with the American Revolution, the role its town meeting form of government plays in Ms. Hill’s  campaign, and 19th-century environmentalist and Concord resident Henry David Thoreau’s positions. One of the strengths, for instance, of Concord’s town meeting system is that a voter has the right to put an issue on the agenda by collecting as few as 10 signatures. Concord recently passed such an ordinance that allows all residents to dry their clothes outdoors, a practice banned by condominium associations.

“No other community has tried to eliminate a product like this.” said Jill Appel, another Concord resident who joined forces with Ms. Hill. Ninety percent of the garbage in ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of plastic, which breaks down into tiny fragments that are then ingested by animals and humans. One supporter of the ban collected 1,500 plastic bottles from a single family and built a sculpture. But ban opponent Adriana Cohen calls the proposed article a form of prohibition.

Following “Divide in Concord” is Rory Kennedy’s documentary “Last Days in Vietnam” on Wednesday, July 7. The series will conclude with “Serendipity: The Story of Tony Hinde” on Wednesday, August 21. A complete list of the summer program can be found at tmvff.org.

Film: “Divide in Concord,” Wednesday, July 2, 7 pm dinner, 8 pm movie, Chilmark Community Center. With director Kris Kaczor and film subjects Jill Appel and Janet Rothrock. $16; $8 M.V. Film Festival members. For more information and for tickets, visit tmvff.org.

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"Dancing in Jaffa" plays Friday, June 27 at 4 pm. — M.V. Film Society

Music and movies make a winning match at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. The second annual Film and Music Festival opens Thursday, June 26, and runs through Sunday, June 29.

On Friday, “Dancing in Jaffa” demonstrates how dance can overcome the political and cultural tensions of that Middle East region. After an opening night reception, Argentina provides the setting for “Living Stars,” a film about dance music. A dance contest will follow this comedy, with prizes awarded to the best moves. “Finding Fela” follows with a look at the life and music of Nigerian singer Fela Kuti, father of the Afro-beat movement.

“We Are the Best” headlines the schedule for Saturday, June 28. This Scandinavian film follows the antics of three 12- and 13-year-old girls who decide to form a punk band. The film captures perfectly the chaotic energy of girls that age who want to rebel, but do so with thoughtfulness. The first sign of Bobo’s (Mira Barkhammar), Klara’s (Mira Grosin), and Hedvig’s (Liv LeMoyne) free-spirited rebelliousness comes from their punk hairdos. Parents remain in the background, not because they are neglectful but because the girls want to keep them on the periphery of their lives. Their conversations often turn to faith and God, particularly once Hedvig joins the group since she is Christian, something Bobo and Klara see as not being cool. “We Are the Best” captures the openness and sense of possibilities that goes with this age group and does it with remarkable insight and accuracy.

“Mateo” follows with the story of the first white mariachi singer in the U.S. Director Aaron Naar will participate in a Q&A session via Skype following the screening. The closing film on Saturday is “Brasslands,” a documentary about the first international brass band competition, held in the small town of Guca, Serbia, on the 50th anniversary of what is the world’s largest brass band festival. Michael Ginsberg of Zlatne Uste, a Brooklyn-based Baltic brass band formed in 1983, helps narrate the film. “Brasslands” emphasizes the way this “really gutsy” music erases political and cultural barriers, including the friction between the U.S. and Serbia after the U.S. bombed the country in the 1980s, and between ethnic groups such as white Serbians and black Serbian Romas.

On Sunday, “Alive Inside,” directed by Michael Rossano-Bennett, explores the way music helps free up the elderly suffering from dementia. Leslie Clapp, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, and Marvin Rosecrantz, who appears in “Marvin and Saralee,” which precedes “Alive Inside,” will discuss the music and memory program of this institution after the screenings. Directed by Rebecca Sesny, “Marvin and Saralee” tells the story of a Martha’s Vineyard couple dealing the Alzheimer’s Disease. “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” will close the festival. Directed by “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Mike Myers, this film traces the story of this Hollywood music manager’s life and his embrace of Buddhism.

“Safety Last!”

The festival opens with — believe it or not — a silent film, “Safety Last!” Live music will be played by the 11-member Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, which has composed a new score to accompany this comedy, which stars Harold Lloyd.

“Safety Last!” is one of the most enduring silent film classics. The film features the acclaimed comedic genius Harold Lloyd and boasts an iconic image of cinematic history – that of Lloyd dangling from a giant clock on the side of a building over a bustling Los Angeles street.

Lloyd, who is among the ranks of silent screen comic greats Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and led the pack as the biggest box office star, navigated his own hilarious and daring stunt work. The quintessential motion picture treasure is in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

Meticulously preserved for decades by the Harold Lloyd estate, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will present a gorgeous new digital restoration from Janus Films, sourced from an original nitrate print.

A short documentary, Punches and Streamers: The Making of a Film Score, will precede the feature.

“Safety Last!” with the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Thursday, June 26, 7:30 pm. Preceded by a documentary short on how the live musical score for “Safety Last!” was composed.

“Dancing in Jaffa,” Friday, June 27, 4 pm. “Living Stars,” Friday, June 27, 7:30 pm. “Living Fela,” Friday, June 27, 9 pm. “We Are the Best!” Saturday, June 28, 4 pm. “Mateo,” Saturday, June 28, 7:30 pm. “Brasslands,” Saturday, June 28, 9 pm. “Alive Inside,” Sunday, June 29, 4 pm. “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” Sunday, June 29, 7:30 pm. All films at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. Festival pass: $75; $60 for members. For information, tickets or passes, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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Food is the common theme for two movies opening this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Jon Favreau’s comedy “Chef” explores the art of making good restaurant food. Director Stephanie Soechtig takes a different tack in her documentary, “Fed Up,” and exposes major abuses in the American food industry. Neither film was available for preview.

Probably best known for his direction of movies in the “Iron Man” franchise, Mr. Favreau takes a starring role as Carl in “Chef,” as well as writing and directing the film. Carl is suffering from a mid-life crisis and loses his job at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant, when his rant against a food critic goes viral on Twitter.

Cameos by top Hollywood actors abound in “Chef.” They include Oliver Platt as a top restaurant critic and Dustin Hoffman as Carl’s restaurant’s crotchety owner. Scarlett Johansson makes a brief appearance as Carl’s floor manager and disposable romantic interest. Bobby Cannavale plays Carl’s sous-chef, Sofia Vergara is Carl’s ex-wife, Inez, and Robert Downey Jr. shows up as Inez’s first husband and the owner of a food truck Carl acquires.

Carl re-invents himself on a cross-country journey with his 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and his cooking pal Martin (John Leguizamo) in the food truck he’s transporting from Miami to L.A. “‘Chef’ is jazzed by the idea of making food and sharing it with others…” writes critic Ty Burr in The Boston Globe.

“Fed Up” in more ways than one

The dark side of the food industry gives “Fed Up” its clout. It was nominated for Sundance’s 2014 Grand Jury Prize for documentaries. TV celebrity Katie Couric narrates the film, which explores the ways in which the federal government colludes with food corporations and helps them addict the public — especially children — to unhealthy processed foods that are laden with sugar. According to “Fed Up,” it doesn’t matter if the sweetener is agave syrup or maltodextrin. Both contribute to the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes running rampant in the U.S.

Food corporations use the old-fashioned bait-and-switch technique to create enticing fat-free foods by replacing the fat with sugar. Ms. Couric puts the food industry on a par with the tobacco companies, suggesting that food companies, too, should be regulated by the government. The message “Fed Up” delivers is spoken bluntly by Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California/San Francisco: “Sugar is poison.” A panel of nutritionists and health trainers including Jocelyn Martin, Griffin Hughes, Josh and Prudence Levy will answer questions after the screenings of this documentary.

“Chef,” Thursday, June 19 and Saturday, June 21, 7:30 pm; Friday, June 20, and Sunday, June 22, 4 pm.

“Fed Up,” Friday, June 20, and Sunday, June 22, 7:30 pm; Sunday, June 22, 4 pm. Special Event, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society; $7 ages 14 and under.  For more information and tickets, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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Romance provides the theme for two films we are talking about this week. A Vineyard-set romantic drama, “The Mistover Tale,” is seeking funding to enter the final stages of production, while the French-language romantic comedy “Chinese Puzzle” opens this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Harry Tappan Heher, a summer visitor who once lived in West Tisbury, hopes to raise enough money through Indiegogo to complete the film, which was shot on the Island. He weaves in themes of betrayal and conflict between Island natives and affluent summer people, as well as the power of the environment to influence people’s lives. The Island itself plays a starring role in “The Mistover Tale,” inspired by Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, “The Return of the Native.”

“I’d always loved the novel,” said Mr. Heher, who wrote, directed, and produced “The Mistover Tale.” After following his older brother to the Island and working at the Edgartown Yacht Club and l’etoile restaurant in the 1980s, Mr. Heher said, “I really fell in love with the Island.” A family-related Edgartown estate and Long Point Beach reminded the filmmaker of Egdon Heath, as described in “The Return of the Native.”

“The Mistover Tale” tracks the ill-fated romances of Cliona MacEgan (Naomi Packard Dunn) with Henry Goodrich (Mr. Heher), and his sister Tamrin Goodrich (Heidi Pulkkinen) with Ned Luce (Kevin Rice). All four of these characters echo ones who appear in the Hardy novel, as does Priscilla Goodrich, who is played by Island Theatre Workshop’s artistic director Lee Fierro. Ms. Fierro played Mrs. Kintner in “Jaws.”

Mr. Heher wrote the first draft of “The Mistover Tale” in what he describes as “a little Island shack in the middle of nowhere” during the fall of 1999. Principal photography by Michael McDonough (“Winter’s Bone,” “Albert Nobbs”) was completed over the fall and winter of 2000-2001. Island cinematographer Jeremy Mayhew worked as assistant cameraman. Mr. Heher shelved the project for almost 10 years after losing both his parents.

He resumed work on it last year, working at Vineyard Haven’s Galen Films with film editor Petra Lent McCarron. The fundraising campaign on Indiegogo offers perks to donors, including limited edition photographs by Island photographer Molly Peters for donations over $1,000. As of press time, the campaign had raised $11,610 of the $16,000 goal. Once the film is completed, Mr. Heher anticipates screening it on-Island. For more information on the film, visit themistovertale.com.

Romantic comedy rules in ‘Chinese Puzzle’

A more light-hearted but equally complex view of romance, “Chinese Puzzle,” screens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Written and directed by Cédric Klapisch, “Chinese Puzzle” completes a trilogy using the same characters included in “L’Auberge Espagnole” and “Russian Dolls.”

In “Chinese Puzzle,” novelist Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris) finds himself adrift at 40 when his wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly of the TV series “The Black Box”) leaves him for another man, taking the couple’s two children with her. Xavier decides to move to New York so he can be near his children and donates his sperm to his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile De France). With advice from a bargain storefront divorce lawyer, he engineers an “immigrant” marriage with an Asian women so he can remain in the country, and he gets a job as a bicycle delivery man. An old flame, Martine (Audrey Tautou), comes to visit with her two children, further complicating Xavier’s life.

Director Klapisch leavens this entertaining mélange of liaisons and mis-alliances with animation sequences, shock cuts, image overlays, and other imaginative cinematic devices. Philosophers Hegel and Schopenhauer show up in full costume to advise Xavier in what is nevertheless a thoroughly modern rendition of modern romance.

“Chinese Puzzle,” Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14, 7:30 pm; Sunday, June 15, 4 pm.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” Live Theatre in Cinema, Saturday, June 14, 4 pm.

“Driving Miss Daisy,” Live Theatre on Screen, Sunday, June 15, 7:30 pm.

All events at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. Tickets, except for special events: $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. For information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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A still from "Date With Fate," one of many films playing Thursday, June 12 at LunaFest. — Photo courtesy of LunaFest

A medley of nine short films by and about women comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown on Thursday, June 12. The LunaFest event is a fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Fund and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. LunaFest is a national organization that uses film to raise money for women’s issues in more than 150 screenings nationwide.

"Grannys Got Game," one of a slew of short films scheduled for LunaFest this weekend.
“Grannys Got Game,” one of a slew of short films scheduled for LunaFest this weekend.

Featuring filmmakers from Australia, the Netherlands, Greece, and Norway, as well as the U.S., this year’s films address a variety of issues. They range from a story of a teenager who is the only female on her school’s wrestling team, and one about a girl with Tourette’s Syndrome, to a septuagenarian basketball team and an animated film about how sounds gives shape to space.

“I’m hoping it [LunaFest] will become an annual event here,” longtime Vineyard summer resident Mary Jane Williams of Oak Bluffs and Southington, Conn., told The Times last weekend. The San Francisco-based organization, which calls itself the Whole Nutrition Bar for Women, has already raised more than $656,000 for the Breast Cancer Fund and more than $1.5 million for other nonprofit organizations serving women.

As a member of the steering committee for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Ms. Williams organized the event, which has already occurred on Nantucket for several years. “I think it’s really important,” she said of the connection between women’s health issues and the environment. “One in eight women have breast cancer. People have had their heads in the sand for a long time.”

"Sidewalk."
“Sidewalk.”

The Breast Cancer Fund serves as an advocate for studying the link between breast cancer and chemical exposure. The fund’s “State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment” is in its sixth edition. The Fund is also a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and is working to eliminate the use of BPA, a chemical used in food and beverage containers that has been linked to breast cancer. The Fund sponsors outdoor events for breast cancer survivors and supporters like Climb Against the Odds and Peak Hike.

The European Union is more advanced than the U.S. in addressing chemical contamination of food and the environment, according to Ms. Williams. Federal legislation to control toxic contamination is currently under consideration, as well as sanctions against fracking, which pollutes water supplies.

"Tiny Miny Magic."
“Tiny Miny Magic.”

“I’m expecting it [Island participation in LunaFest] to start small but grow,” Ms. Williams said. In addition to the film screenings, the Alliance of Nurses is sponsoring a workshop on writing about women and environmental health issues. Six nurses from Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and other states will attend the four-day workshop in Oak Bluffs. Dr. Barbara Sattler of the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions will lead the workshop. She will also speak before the LunaFest film screening.

The event begins with a cocktail reception and silent auction from 4 to 5 pm, followed by the films, from 5 to 9 pm. The cost is $100 for the reception and screenings, or $25 for the screenings. For more information, contact Mary Jane Williams at Rxwilliams43@aol.com.

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If you are a “Downton Abbey” fan, you will probably love “Belle,” which opens this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. British director Amma Asante’s costume drama is based on the real story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) and set in the 18th century with costumes and settings so lavish and handsome they almost become distracting.

“Belle” offers a far more sophisticated view than “Downton Abbey” of the ways race, class, gender, and legitimacy interacted in England during that era. Viewers meet Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and played as a mulatto child by Lauren Julien-Box) when her father, a Royal Navy Admiral, picks her up from a London slum and delivers her to his aristocratic aunt, Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson), and uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) at their country estate. The couple is already caring for a grand niece, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), whose father has remarried. Add to the mix Elizabeth’s peppery spinster aunt, Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton, who plays Isobel Crawley in “Downton Abbey”).

Lord and Lady Mansfield quickly become devoted to “Belle,” who turns into Elizabeth’s bosom (a well-chosen adjective, considering the costumes) buddy. Nevertheless the Mansfields adhere to the era’s conventions and do not permit Belle to dine with the rest of the family because she is an illegitimate mulatto. Belle’s second-class status is offset by a 2,000-pound-a-year inheritance from her father. In contrast, Elizabeth will inherit nothing because of her stepmother.

In the same manner as a Jane Austen novel, much of the plot of “Belle” revolves around finding suitable marital matches for Belle and Elizabeth. But equally important is a legal case that Lord Mansfield, who has achieved the powerful position of Lord Chief Justice, must decide. The case concerns the Zong, a ship full of Black slaves who have been tossed overboard by the ship’s captain on the grounds that there was not enough water for both crew and “cargo.” The ship’s insurers are refusing to pay the owners for the loss of this human cargo, and since England’s economy at the time depended on an active slave trade, the case becomes highly controversial.

The case also provides an opportunity for the movie to show how Dido evolves from a naïve and innocent young woman under the tutelage of her great aunt and uncle into an adult who is directly affected by the controversy. Dido decides to take action and involve herself in the case, and screenwriter Misan Sagay interweaves the film’s romantic motifs with the politics of the legal case. Many critics have, rightly or wrongly, dismissed “Downton Abbey” as costume melodrama; Ms. Asante cannot be accused of trivializing the fascinating story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

“Belle,” Friday, May 30, and Saturday, May 31, 7:30 pm; Sunday, June 1, 4 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.$12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.