Three stunning film series underway


Three separate film series are bringing a stunning range of independent films and documentaries to the Island this summer. In many cases, producers, directors, and other key participants will appear to answer questions or perform.

The most recent series to start its season, that of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, will bring “The Shark Is Still Working,” a behind-the-scenes documentary about Steven Speilberg’s “Jaws” to the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle on Tuesday, July 13. Islanders who appeared in the 1975 blockbuster and will attend include Lee Fierro (Mrs. Kintner), Jeffrey Voorhees (Alex Kintner), Robert Carroll (Mr. Polk) and Carol Fligor (extra).

On Wednesday, July 14, at the Chilmark Community Center, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will screen “Miracle in a Box,” a documentary about the restoration of a world-class Steinway piano. Before the screening of this fascinating anatomy of a piano, Island piano expert David Stanwood will play, as well as the winner of the contest for the restored Steinway, who will perform a half-hour concert. Island pianists Adam Lipsky and Maitland Edey will also play on a Mason and Hamlin piano restored by Mr. Stanwood and used by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society.

In the third series, the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute screens “Eli and Ben,” a coming-of-age drama about a 12-year-old and his father, who has been accused of corruption, on Sunday, July 11. This film opened the Boston Jewish Film Festival last fall.

While yet another film about “Jaws” might seem like overkill, “The Shark Is Still Working” uncovers fascinating tidbits about the critically acclaimed classic. Based on author Peter Benchley’s first novel, “Jaws” changed the way the movie industry worked and marketed.

A newcomer with only one other film under his belt, Mr. Speilberg refused to let Universal Studios shoot the movie on a back lot. It became the first film ever actually shot on the ocean.

The 12-ton hydraulic shark, named “Bruce,” created constant problems, and production began with no cast, no script, and no shark. The logistical setbacks gave the crew a chance to turn itself into a mini-repertory company. Sometimes the shark would turn its head and rip. Other times its eye would fall out. No one had tried to film on board small boats in the Atlantic Ocean before, and every usable foot of film with the shark in it had to be employed.

“Jaws” was the first movie ever distributed simultaneously to 400 theatres. It won Oscars for Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Musical Score, but, ironically, not for Best Director or Best Picture, which went to Milos Forman and his drama, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Some of the more fascinating pieces of “Jaws” trivia reveal what happened to Bruce and to Orca, the boat that served as the movie’s floating set. Thirty-five years after its release, “Jaws” continues to terrify audiences and change their attitudes towards the great white shark, the world’s largest known predatory fish.

Equally as fascinating, if on a more cerebral level, is “Miracle in a Box,” the documentary playing the next day. It tells the story of a Steinway piano willed to the University of California at Berkeley in 2006 by late piano teacher and Berkeley grad Leone McGowan.

The conditions of the bequest were unusual. Berkeley would not own the piano, but have it restored and give it to a deserving student. What follows is an intimate, often mesmerizing, inquiry into the nature of pianos and the music made on them.

Lambert’s Cove resident David Stanwood’s invention of a system for balancing the action and sound of a piano provided a crucial ingredient in the restoration of the McGowan instrument by John Callahan and his team. Mr. Stanwood’s mathematical calculations enabled them to raise their success rate in restoring pianos to nearly 100 percent. Previous results had been unpredictable in the exacting and delicate process involved.

The first-rate script and cinematography in “Miracle in a Box” reveal the remarkable synergy between pianist and piano that can be enhanced by careful restoration. According to Mr. Stanwood, a well-restored piano of the McGowan’s caliber is better than a new one. By using a scientific engineering approach in an artisanal field, Mr. Stanwood’s work has revolutionized the field of piano restoration. His articles in “Piano Technicians Journal” led Mr. Callahan to contact the Vineyarder and invite him to join the restoration team.

“My work validated all the other good work,” he said recently in a telephone interview.

For more information on these three films and the series each of them is part of, visit;; and

“The Shark Is Still Working,” Tuesday, July 13, 8 pm, Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs. $8; $5 for MV Film Society members. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

“Miracle in a Box,” Wednesday, July 14, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center. $14; $7 for MVFF members on or at door.

Cinema Circus: “Go Your Own Way,” animated films for children, ages 3 to 10, from Norway, Canada, U.S., U.K., and Latvia, Wednesday, July 14, 5 pm, Chilmark Community Center. $10; $5 MVFF members.

“Eli and Ben,” Sunday, July 11, 7:30 p.m., Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. $15.