Not all Island movie fare this week consists of cartoon-based blockbusters. If you prefer quieter, more contemplative movies, check out these two. Vermont-based filmmaker Jay Craven has an Island premiere for his latest regional film, “Peter and John,” and Blythe Danner knocks one out of the ballpark in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” an Indie comedy/drama with nuances not found in Hollywood big-budget movies.
A frequent Island visitor, Mr. Craven started writing the screenplay for “Peter and John” in Chilmark, and he will lead Q & A sessions at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center screenings on Monday, July 6, and Tuesday, July 7. “Peter and John” is set in post–Civil War Nantucket, after the decline of whaling. The film is based on the groundbreaking 1888 novel by French author Guy de Maupassant. A master of the short story, Mr. de Maupassant is celebrated for his psychological insights.
Peter (Christian Coulson, most recently in “Love Is Strange”) and John (Shane Patrick Kearns of “Blue Collar Boys”) are Nantucket brothers who live with their parents, played by 2014 Golden Globe winner (for “Dancing on the Edge”) Jacqueline Bisset, and “NYPD Blue” veteran Gordon Clapp. Peter has recently returned from the war, and is struggling to set up practice as a doctor, while his more carefree brother has no particular plans. The death of a family friend gives John an inheritance that turns him into a wealthy man.
The inheritance sparks friction between the brothers, which is exacerbated by the arrival of a beautiful young Cuban widow, Lucia (Diane Guerrero, from “Orange Is the New Black”) to whom they are both attracted. Although her motives don’t always seem clear, Lucia seeks out Peter because he saved her Confederate — not Yankee — late husband’s life on the battlefield. Long-held family secrets gradually come to the surface as the narrative moves toward a denouement.
“My focus has always been New England,” says Mr. Craven, who teaches at Marlboro College in Vermont, runs educational programs for high school students at the Nantucket Film Festival, and has written and directed seven films. He finds the Vineyard a great place to write, and calls the stretch of land between Edgartown and Aquinnah especially beautiful.
“I do a lot of barnstorming,” he says, to explain how he promotes regional filmmaking. The 2014 production of “Peter and John” through the Movies from Marlboro program illustrates his approach. Mr. Craven assembled 32 students from 12 different colleges and universities, along with 22 professionals who acted as mentors. After a week together at the Sundance Film Festival, the students spent eight weeks at Marlboro College with Mr. Craven creating the film. “It’s rooted in a John Dewey [the American philosopher] concept of intensive learning to enlarge meaning. It’s a big challenge in the hyper-commercialized film industry,” he said. “Peter and John” will play again on Thursday, July 30, and Friday, July 31, at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown; Monday, August 17, and Tuesday, August 18, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven; and Wednesday, August 19, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.
In “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a quietly radiant Blythe Danner plays Carol, a southern California widow of 20 years who finds herself adrift after she has to put her beloved dog to sleep. When a rat invades her house, she begins to question her comfortable but unchallenging life playing golf and bridge with her dynamite buddies Rona (Mary Kay Place, memorable for her role in “It’s Complicated”), Sally (Rhea Perlman, most recently in the TV series “Kirstie”) and Georgina (June Squibb, most recently of “Nebraska”). First, she befriends Lloyd (a droll Martin Starr), her pool cleaner, and puts in a memorable performance at a local bar’s karaoke night. After her three pals badger her into trying a disastrous speed-dating event, Carol next takes up with a more age-appropriate bachelor named Bill (a hunky Sam Elliott).
A medical-marijuana excursion with her three buddies turns giddy without going over the top, and when Carol’s daughter Katherine (Malin Akerman) visits, she and the buttoned-up widow develop new levels of intimacy. There is little that is unconventional about Carol or the events in her life, but Director Brett Haley’s well-written script and Ms. Danner’s interpretation of it bring unexpected depth to this warmhearted movie.
“Peter and John,” Monday, July 6, and Tuesday, July 7, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Friday, July 3, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.