Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival launches summer season

Cinema Circus returns to TMVFF this summer. —Eli Dagostino

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) launched its summer season last week, and will continue with a full roster of films and activities through August 24. The documentary “Janis: Little Girl Blue” will play on Wednesday, July 6, at the Chilmark Community Center, with a tribute concert before the film and a discussion following with director Amy Berg. Ms. Berg earned an Oscar nomination for “Deliver Us from Evil,” her 2006 documentary about Catholic Church sex abuse. MVFF films will screen on Wednesdays at the Chilmark Community Center, unless otherwise noted.

“Captain Fantastic,” a family drama starring Viggo Mortensen, kicked off MVFF’s season last weekend. Thomas Bena’s long-awaited documentary “One Big Home” played earlier this week, and will return on Monday, August 8. Cinema Circus will also return with a host of activities for children.

Robyn Athearn has taken the helm as director of children’s programming, heading a circus camp for three weeks in July. “We’ve never had a camp before,” Ms. Athearn told The Times last week. The camp will meet Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 4:30 pm. The Chilmark School has provided a classroom for filmmaking and circus skills like juggling, plate spinning, and Chinese yo-yo. “I think it’s going to be super-great,” Ms. Athearn said. “Kids love seeing themselves on the screen.”

Ms. Athearn studied at Antioch New England, taking a Circus Dream course that has inspired her approach to the MVFF children’s camp. “My professor’s idea was to ask the children what a circus means,” she said. Responding to the question, “What does the ocean mean to you?” the campers will start by making documentary film shorts. Stop-action works follow, using adaptations of fairy tales, Shel Silverstein books, animal stories, or whatever other ideas pop up from the campers. During the third week of camp, participants will produce a live-action feature. Ms. Athearn hopes to encourage the children to be in the moment and not to relinquish too much control. Cinema Circus convenes each Wednesday; it’s free, and campers will screen their films there for Wednesday’s audiences.

One of the strengths of MVFF’s summer film programs is its lineup of speakers surrounding film screenings. Harvard professor, director, and film festival board member Henry Louis Gates Jr. will discuss his documentary “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” on Tuesday, July 12, at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. Tony- and Pulitzer prizewinning director James Lapine will talk about his drama, “Custody,” on Wednesday, July 13. Both of these speakers spend time on the Island during the summer.

Menemsha Beach will provide the setting for “Shellfish Shorts of the Shore” on Monday, July 18, with the filmmakers and the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group director participating. Wednesday, July 20, brings “Newtown” with producer Maria Cuomo Cole and director Kim A. Snyder. Scholar and political activist Noam Chomsky is the subject of “Requiem for the American Dream” on Monday, July 25, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Three key players in “Death by Design” will speak after its screening on Wednesday, July 27. They include producer Diana Barrett, director and producer Sue Williams, and Harvard professor of the history of science Naomi Oreskes. Documentary “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” plays on Thursday, August 4, at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle. Directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack will attend. MVFF founder Thomas Bena’s documentary “One Big Home” returns on Monday, August 8, with editors Liz Witham and James Holland, as well as subjects Peter Breese, Chris Murphy, and David Silverman. Wednesday, August 10, brings “Trapped” with director Dawn Porter and subject Dr. Willie Parker attending. Director Laura Bialis will discuss her film “Rock in the Red Zone,” screening on Wednesday, August 17. Director and Vineyard summer resident Spike Lee brings his documentary “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” on Saturday, August 20, at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center. The summer season culminates with “Unlocking the Cage” and its acclaimed directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, on Wednesday, August 24.

For more details on these films and other parts of MVFF’s summer schedule, visit