Martha’s Vineyard Film Society screens films for a variety of palates

A still from "Monsieur Lazhar." — Photo courtesy of MVFS

On Thursday, June 14, Richard Paradise gave Vineyarders a little preview of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s (MVFS) latest venture. Mr. Paradise, MVFS founder and director, set up a mini concession stand decorated with life-size cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and Gene Autry at the Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll in Edgartown. He offered a selection of the goodies that will be served when the 13-year-old organization moves into its first ever permanent home later this year.

And the selection of snacks, which included treats from all over the world, as well as Vineyard made goodies, were a pretty good representation of what MVFS has to offer entertainment-wise – an international lineup of independent and esoteric films that transcends the standard junk food fare available at commercial theaters.

Richard Paradise has been screening films on the Island since 1999 when he launched a series at the Grange Hall. Since that time, his one-man operation has incorporated into a nonprofit called the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society and has grown by leaps and bounds to the point today where society members number around 700, a post-summer Film Festival attracts hundreds from on and off Island, and work is well underway on a year round theater to house the society, whose mission is to bring art house and indie films to the Island year round.

This summer, while the new theater in the Tisbury Marketplace in Vineyard Haven is being completed, Mr. Paradise and his large, all-volunteer staff will be kept busy with events at venues throughout the Island. Not only will MVFS screen a summer full of Tuesday night flicks at the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, they are also collaborating with a handful of other nonprofit organizations to present fundraiser screenings.

“I’m most proud of our collaborations,” Mr. Paradise said. “We’ve worked with 30-plus nonprofits. Whenever I hear of a movie that has some connection with a local group, I approach them about hosting a screening.”

Along with the M.V. Museum, MVFS will host a series of Civil War-themed films throughout the summer. They will also continue a series of green-themed films with the Vineyard Conservation Society. Next Tuesday, MVFS screens the documentary “Knuckleball” at the Vineyard Baseball Park. This is the third year in a row that the society has teamed up with the Little League to host a fundraising baseball-themed film.

The night after the outdoor screening, Mr. Paradise will present the Academy Award winning film “Footnote” at the Capawock Theatre as part of the M.V. Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute. Mr. Paradise has, for some time, been a consultant for the Summer Institute’s Sunday film night film series. He arranged for the Capawock screening since the Hebrew Center does not have the capability to screen a 35 mm film.

Other collaborative efforts include an annual screening at The FARM Institute in Edgartown and a film about Summer Stock theater that will be part of the M.V. Museum’s season of theater related events that tie in with their most recent exhibit. MVFS will also host a series of films centered on shark conservation during the four-day JawsFest in August.

The film “Footnote” is one of three Academy Award nominees that MVFS will show this summer. Two others received acclaim at Sundance – one was the opening night film and one was awarded a special jury prize. Mr. Paradise visits film festivals, scours industry publications such as Variety and Film Journal, and checks out referrals from the more than 40 different distributors – both large and small – that he has established relationships with over the years. He also relies on feedback from his large following.

“I get great recommendations,” he said.

Mr. Paradise chooses a wide array of films for both his summer offerings and his off-season weekend series, but during the busy season he likes to keep things on the light side.

“Even if it’s a documentary, it’s got a comic streak to it. I tend to be a little lighter in the summer months,” he said. Among the films to screen at the Union Chapel are a Canadian drama, an Italian comedy, and a Chinese documentary. The remaining three American films are all documentaries focused on interesting, diverse subjects – New York City birdwatchers, the legendary Renaissance man George Plimpton, and a rags-to-riches story about an American billionaire and his wife. Filmmakers of the first two will be on hand.

With all this activity, Mr. Paradise is also busy promoting his annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival to take place in September. The Film Society is hosting a preview party at Suffolk University in Boston on June 29.

The increasing popularity of the society’s screenings (many, even during the winter, sell out) encouraged Mr. Paradise to believe in his dream of a year round theater.

“The evolution we’ve experienced over the last 12 years gives me the confidence going forward to build and run an art house that will function seven days a week,” he said. “Because of the success in the summer, we’ll be able to screen movies all year round. Our focus has always been year round. Providing entertainment in the dead of winter.”