Now in its 17th year, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival again enlivens the Island with a host of new films March 16-19. The festival continues to bring in for discussions directors, their subjects, and others connected to the films shown. Additional hallmarks are the extensive programming for children, good food, and last but hardly least, the 58 documentary and fiction films over 38 events on the schedule this year. Last year, 2,400 filmgoers attended the festival.
“This year it was important to show things that are inspirational and to rally social stories,” said Brian Ditchfield, programming and managing director. “There are fabulous examples of people working with their communities.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of the staff,” said founder and executive and creative director Thomas Bena. “They are vibrant and raring to go.”
“Bill Nye: Science Guy” launches the festival on Thursday, March 16, and plays again on Saturday morning, March 18. Earning multiple Emmys, Nye’s half-hour show ran from 1993 to 1998, mixing science with humor. The new documentary version explores his life and work, showing how this science advocate has helped promote issues like climate change and launched the solar sail dreamed of by his mentor, Carl Sagan, at a time when evidence and reason are ignored. Co-director David Alvarado will lead a postscreening discussion.
One of the two films headlining the schedule for Friday, March 17, is “I Am Not Your Negro,” the powerful documentary based on James Baldwin’s essays and letters. The second is
“Dolores,” a biopic about the agricultural labor activist and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Dolores Huerta, equal in stature to Cesar Chavez. The 86-year-old union leader will lead a discussion following the film. Mr. Bena has said the festival is honored to have her attend, calling her truly one of its biggest names.
Children’s programs are on tap for Saturday, March 18. Animated shorts from all over the world (actually intended for all ages) will play at Pathways Gathering Space, one of the venues the festival has added this year. Director Lynn Tomlinson will lead a postscreening discussion. “Tell Me Your Story,” a workshop for parent/child pairs, has been inspired by StoryCorps, and will produce partnered projects. A workshop for kids only is “Top Secret!” where participants will learn filmmaking techniques and produce a surprise film.
Among the 12 films playing Saturday, March 18, are two with unusual subjects. It might seem strange for a documentary about a violin maker to begin with him burning a violin mockup, but it ends up making sense in “Strad Style.” Film subject Danny Houck, who builds a special violin throughout the course of the film, and director Stefan Avalos will attend and lead a discussion.
Why and how do people — mostly women — undergo plastic surgery, and rhinoplasty in particular? “Take My Nose … Please!” explores that question and does it through a series of standup comediennes who’ve gone through the procedure. The result is an entertaining and often funny film. Director Joan Kron and improv subject Emily Askin will Skype their commentary.
Among the Saturday films with visiting participants is “Island Earth,” where director Cyrus
Sutton will talk about the film’s investigation of agriculture issues in Hawaii. In another, Eduardo Garcia was almost electrocuted, and “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story” describes the aftermath. Garcia and his friend Jennifer Jane will attend, along with director Phillip Baribeau. Vineyard summer resident Matthew Heineman, who directed “Cartel Land,” which played at the festival in 2015, will discuss by Skype his new documentary, “City of Ghosts,” about Syrian activists. “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” examines the Native Americans who influenced rock ’n’ roll, and executive producer Tim Johnson, a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River, will be at the screening.
On Sunday there will be a children’s workshop on the stop-motion animation technique, and one for all ages on the cinematic technique of greenscreen, which allows a filmmaker to superimpose a subject on a virtual background. Student work will be on display at the Youth Filmmaker Showcase, and Young Adult Shorts features animated films. Director Jeff Malmberg brings his film “Spettacolo,” about a small Tuscan town, and director Stephen Apkon joins producer Marcina Hale to discuss “Disturbing the Peace,” a documentary about Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, with Rabbi Brian Walt moderating.
Director Laura Dunn participates by Skype in postscreening discussion of her film, “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.” Filmmaker Taylor Toole, well known on the Vineyard, leads the discussion on “Adventure Shorts” with film subject Nick Briggs. Through the work of two Native American judges, “Tribal Justice” explores alternatives to imprisonment, and one of the two judges, Claudette White, will attend, along with director Anne Makepeace. In “Vineyard Shorts,” local filmmakers will present their work.
Three special films will close out the weekend. They include Shirley MacLaine’s latest, “The Last Word,” about a woman crafting her own obituary, and the short “Ram Dass, Going Home.” Vineyarders Nancy Aronie and Ronni and Peter Simon will talk about their experiences with this spiritual leader who has spent time on the Island, and director Derek Peck will follow up with a discussion after the film. In the magical film “Given,” a surfer family travels the world looking for big waves and a big fish. One of the family’s two children, Given Goodwin, who narrates the film, and his mother, Daize Goodwin, will lead a discussion by Skype.
Food from Robert Lionette of Morning Glory Farms and beverages from Todd Christy of Chilmark Coffee will be served at the Hay Bale Café. For a complete rundown of the Film Festival offerings, go to tmvff.org.