Tenth annual International Film Festival finishes on high note

Amy Winehouse is the subject of the acclaimed documentary "Amy." – Photo courtesy speakertv.com

After 20 films, eight of which were sellouts, the 10th annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival finished joyously on Sunday with a party at La Soffitta Restaurant in Vineyard Haven. The closing film was an Italian comedy, “Buoni a Nulla” (Good-for-Nothings). Nearly 3,000 tickets to Festival films were sold.

The screenings began last week on Tuesday, Sept. 8, with “The Salt of the Earth,” about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. The films are chosen by Martha’s Vineyard Film Society director Richard Paradise. He selects them from film festivals, including those at Sundance, Berlin, and Tribeca; from recommendations from friends, viewers, and colleagues; and information from distributors. “I choose audience winners rather than jury picks,” Mr. Paradise said during the postfestival party.

A number of the most popular festival films will return to Island theaters, including “Amy,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” “Listen to Me Marlon,” and “Meet the Patels.”

For the first time this year, the festival was able to use the newly renovated and reopened Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs and the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Paradise said he hopes to show more prefestival films at the Strand next year. Although he prefers that the festival open officially on a Thursday, this year he also scheduled prefestival films on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will continue that practice next year.

“Amy” returns

The documentary “Amy,” which opened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and is directed by Asif Kapadia, was a critical highlight of the festival. It follows the career of musician Amy Winehouse from her early teens until her death from alcohol poisoning in 2011. She was 27. Raised in a Southgate, London, Jewish family, the singer was a hit success from the 2003 release of her first album, “Frank.” Several of her family members were jazz singers. She won five Grammy awards for her second album, “Back to Black,” in 2008, tying the record for the most Grammy wins by a female artist in a single night. Ms. Winehouse wrote most of her own songs, and the film suggests her hit song “Rehab” was the number that sealed her success as a pop jazz singer. It was named the Best Song of 2007 by Time magazine.

Increasing problems with drug and alcohol abuse led to audience boos during her concerts, and “Amy” points out that the singer also had recurring problems with bulimia. One of her final collaborations was a duet with singer Tony Bennett for his album “Duets II.” Mr. Bennett called her “a true jazz singer.” Her signature look was a beehive hairdo and Cleopatra eye makeup influenced by the 1960s girl group the Ronettes. The movie shows how her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who eventually landed in jail for charges related to an assault on a pub landlord, enabled her addictions to crack, ecstasy, heroin, and cocaine. Ms. Winehouse was not allowed to enter the U.S. and perform at the 2008 Grammy Awards after she failed a drug test.

In addition to creating a compelling portrait of this gifted singer, in part through ample use of archival footage and her performances, “Amy” hauntingly illustrates the corrosive effect of the media’s obsessive emphasis on personal life, and the destructive power of celebrity in general.

“Amy,” Friday, Sept. 18, 8:30 pm and Saturday Sept 19, 6 pm, Strand Theater, Oak Bluffs Avenue, Oak Bluffs; Saturday Sept. 19, 4 pm and Sunday, Sept. 20, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.