Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival highlights

Richard Paradise, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

After a gala outdoor reception Thursday, Sept. 6, at Saltwater Restaurant in the Tisbury Marketplace, patrons will simply have to stroll across the parking lot for the opening night screening of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.

The four-day annual festival, produced by M.V. Film Society executive director Richard Paradise and his team, will be the launching pad for the brand new state of the art Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, whose imminent opening has generated a good deal of buzz among for Island cinephiles for the past year.

Although the festival, in its seventh year, will feature screenings at a number of venues in Vineyard Haven, many of the films will be shown at the brand new theater with stadium seating, a 27-foot-high screen, and digital projection. The festival will, as always, feature a broad ranging mix of indie and foreign films, an animation and an international shorts program, a local filmmakers program, and a number of parties and special events.

Dramas, comedies and documentaries will be represented in fairly equal part and a good number of directors, producers, and film subjects will be in attendance.

Opening the festival this year will be the 2012 winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, “Searching for Sugar Man.” The British documentary focuses on an obscure 70s rocker from Detroit who, unbeknownst to him, has become a music icon in South Africa. Preceding the screening will be a short film about musician Ben Taylor by local filmmaker Liz Witham. Both Ms. Witham and her subject will be on hand.

The festival will conclude with a comedy starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, and Liv Tyler – another Sundance award winner. In between audiences will be treated to, among other things, a documentary on Bob Marley featuring never before seen footage, a Norwegian thriller called “Headhunters” that will segue into an after party at Stina Sayre’s studio boutique in Vineyard Haven, three films from the Middle East, a couple of French comedies, and a Japanese family friendly drama called “Quill” about a guide dog.

Among the 72 (22 feature length films, plus shorts) offerings this time around are a couple of selections by filmmakers with local connections.

“Tiger Eyes”

Lawrence Blume, the son of bestselling author Judy Blume, is making his theatrical feature directorial debut with an adaptation of one of his mother’s young adult novels called “Tiger Eyes.”

His mother and stepfather George Cooper (the film’s executive producer) have all been spending time on the Vineyard for more than 20 years. They have also actively supported the festival and the M.V. Film Society (MVFS) for years. Mr. Cooper, who owns a four-screen movie theater in Key West, has long been a friend and informal consultant to MVFS founder and director Richard Paradise. Mr. Blume, the former owner of a post production company in New York City, has lent his expertise to the Film Center project since the initial planning stages. Mr. Blume notes he now splits his time almost equally between the Vineyard and New York.

“Tiger Eyes,” set in Los Alamos, N.M., deals with a teenage girl coping with the death of her father, relocation to a new community, and a first romance with a Native American boy. Mr. Blume notes that the novel, written in 1981, has parallels with his and his mother’s life when he was growing up. He says he chose “Tiger Eyes” among his mother’s many books, “Because I felt the most emotional resonance to my own life.”

At age 13, Mr. Blume moved with his mother to Los Alamos after his parents divorce. “I had in a sense lost my own father. I was dealing with the same issues – being a fish out of water as a kid.” Ms. Blume’s own father died suddenly just one week before her wedding when she was 21.

Mother and son wrote the adaptation as a team, completing most of the work while they were on the Vineyard. The film has screened at only a handful of other locations so far and has, according to Mr. Blume, been embraced by audiences of all ages.

“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to show it here,” said Mr. Blume. “It means something to show it in my hometown for friends and family.” Both Blumes will be on hand for a post screening Q&A.

“Give Up Tomorrow”

Another first time filmmaker with a Vineyard connection will present his work at the festival. Michael Collins spent seven years making his documentary “Give Up Tomorrow” after being inspired by the true story of a young man wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to death in the Philippines.

Mr. Collins’ partner and the film’s producer, Marty Syjuco, is related to the film’s subject and, in 2004, showed Mr. Collins a letter from 35 witnesses who backed up the accused murderer’s story and fought desperately against the sentencing.

Originally Mr. Collins thought he could convince someone else to make the film but soon realized, “That’s not really how it works. It has to be a story that someone is passionate about. ”

“I said, ‘Screw it. Let’s get a camera and go to the Philippines.’ And that was what we did.” Although his film experience at the time was limited to animation and post production, Mr. Collins’ persistence paid off. “Give Up Tomorrow” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011 where it won the Audience Award and special jury prize for new director. It has since played at 60 festivals worldwide and will be aired on PBS’s POV in October.

The 35-year-old former Vineyard summer kid says, “I’m just thrilled to be going to Martha’s Vineyard. It feels like home to me.”

The 2012 Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival runs from September 6-9. You can purchase tickets and find the complete schedule of films at