Festival draws foreign film buffs
Three nights, three days, 32 films, infinite possibilities. A large and enthusiastic crowd rubbed elbows with filmmakers, expanded minds, provoked thought, and generally entertained themselves last weekend at the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival. And, oh yeah, there were the parties.
People ranging from film festival junkies to couples looking for something to do on a rainy afternoon filed into several Vineyard Haven movie venues over the festival weekend. They had equally varied reasons for coming.
"The offering seems really interesting," Jeanne Chinard said as she enjoyed the opening night kickoff party on the rooftop deck of the Mansion House. "We always try to see films from different countries."
Ms. Chinard and her husband, Charlie Mullen, spent much of the summer in Chilmark, the first stop in a life-changing move from New York. They see independent foreign films as an antidote to Hollywood blockbusters that often follow strict commercial formulas.
"At some point, every film falls into the three-act syndrome," Mr. Mullen said. "In foreign films, it's not so obvious. There's a different iconology. You have to learn them as you go along. These movies challenge you to have your own opinion."
To some, a cast list without stars is a bad thing. To Ms. Chinard, it's a good thing. It allows a finer appreciation of the acting craft, and an easier path to suspending disbelief.
"There are no big stars," Ms. Chinard said. "They really pull you in more because you're not looking at Brad Pitt."
The festival featured a variety of films, from a Mexican screwball comedy, to an Oscar nominated animated documentary about the haunting nightmare of an Israeli soldier, to a drama about an unemployed Japanese cellist who embarks on an unusual new career path.
Heather and Andrew Gilmore live in Vineyard Haven, just a few steps from the different movie venues. They scanned the festival schedule for films that would give them a broader understanding of the world, shrugging off skepticism for a little mind stretching.
"I'm not a big cartoon fan, but I don't want that to limit my exposure," Mr. Gilmore said, as he waited to see the animated feature "Sita Sings the Blues," which opened the festival Thursday evening.
"Maybe that's why we should go," said Ms. Gilmore. At parties that capped each night, festival buffs and local volunteers got to visit with some of the actors and filmmakers about their work. Che's Lounge hosted Parisian- and Caribbean-themed celebrations on successive nights, and the Vineyard Haven Marina wrapped up the festival with a closing reception Sunday evening. Sprinkled throughout the schedule were informal gatherings for the filmmakers to discuss their craft.
Nina Paley, the director of the opening night feature, is a veteran of more than 200 film festivals, and passionate about promoting and marketing films outside of the traditional distributorship channels. She makes her film available for free, legal copying. People who like it will often buy merchandise related to the film, or make a donation.
"It has an advertising budget of zero dollars," Ms. Paley said. "I feel like people are giving a gift when they watch the film. Every person that watches the film makes the film more valuable."
Ms. Paley said she has already made more with her unconventional marketing plan than the best distribution deal she was ever offered. Her standard of measurement is far different than the traditional Hollywood benchmark.
"If you judge my film by the first weekend, it's a complete failure," Ms. Paley said. "If you judge it over five years, it's a success."