Movies, and more, at 12th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival

"Pina." — Photo courtesy of MVFF

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) will showcase its 12th annual film festival March 16 through 18.

The festival offers engaging films of all different genres, agendas, and regions. Offerings will range from the documentary “Escape Fire,” which examines the American healthcare system, to the narrative film “Goon,” about an unlikely fighting hockey hero on the ice rink.

The Chilmark Community Center will be the place to be for film lovers, patrons of the arts, and anyone looking for a good time with a charming local atmosphere.

MVFF prides itself on being “more than movies,” and the festival is certainly more than just film screenings. The event is a community gathering that includes local food, coffee, baked goods, sweets, and live music. Many of the films screened will be followed by discussions with film directors, subjects, editors, and locals who have knowledge and experience of the film’s subject matter.

A three-day film festival requires lots of preparation and cooperation from many people to make certain that all goes smoothly. Thomas Bena — founder, producer, and creative director of MVFF — could not be more pleased or taken aback by the outpouring of effort from staff, volunteers, and locals to ensure the festival happens.

“The amount of people who are working on the festival now, not just in the office, but all the 30 volunteers, all the musicians and all the board members, all the advisory board members, the advertisers, and the filmmakers, I mean when you start to tally it up it’s over three figures,” Mr. Bena said. “So there are a lot of people involved, not even counting the audience that comes to the films. It’s definitely more than just Brian [Ditchfield], Anna [Merhalski], and I making this happen; it’s a huge undertaking.”

Over the three-day period, more than a dozen feature-length films will be screened, plus an assorted array of short films. The Chilmark Community Center will be transformed into a film commune. Islanders will be pleased to see that some of the films screened will be tied into the Vineyard scene.

“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” is a documentary about the survivors of the tragic 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake. Nominated for an Academy Award, the film will be screened and followed by a reading from two Vineyard authors, Nancy Aronie and Justen Ahren. Nancy and Justin will share their writings, which were inspired by the film.

David White, Executive Art Director of The Yard, will introduce the film “Pina,” another Oscar-nominated documentary, this one about the late Pina Bausch and her unique style of contemporary dance choreography.

“Under African Skies” is a documentary focusing on the creation and impact of Paul Simon’s powerful hit album “Graceland.” A cover band will play selections from the album throughout the evening. The film’s release is in conjunction with the album’s 25th anniversary.

One documentary film in particular, “The Lost Bird Project,” has direct ties to the Vineyard: much of the film was shot on the Island. The film follows Todd McGrain, a sculptor on a mission to place large bronze status of extinct birds at the sites of their last known location in the wild. The birds Mr. McGrain is memorializing were driven to extinction in modern times, not by natural selection. One of the five birds featured in the film is the heath hen. The last known heath hen in existence was a lonely male named Booming Ben, a resident of Jimmy Greene’s field.

In 1908 the state of Massachusetts set up a Heath Hen Reserve to protect the endangered birds. The preserve has since become part of Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, but at the time it was the only safe haven the heath hens had.

In the film we see Mr. McGrain and his brother-in-law Andy visit the last sites of the heath hen, which will be familiar to Island residents. The sculptor’s goal is to place “shadows” of these extinct birds as a reminder of their absence. This is not an easy task, but worth the effort, as can be seen in the state forest, which is home to his heath hen statue.

“I just felt that this one had to happen because that bird is so central to why there even is a state forest, and I have very fond feelings for Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. McGrain said.

“The Lost Bird Project” screening is co-presented by the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Prior to the film, Mr. McGrain and some local bird experts will lead a walk to the heath hen sculpture in the state forest. After the screening, he will discuss the film and his project.

The 12th annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival has something to offer everyone, whether you’re a film enthusiast, activist, artist, or just a chocolate lover. The festival is more than just movies.

For more the full schedule, see the Events listings on page C10 or visit

Ben Stiller of Vineyard Haven is a 2006 graduate of M.V. Regional High School and a 2010 graduate of Clark University in Worcester. He is also a production assistant with MVFF.