MVFF goes virtual for 20th anniversary

In-person films are canceled, but the show must go on.

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With big gatherings like this one for past Martha's Vineyard Film Festivals, the in-person shows are canceled for the upcoming season. - Gabrielle Mannino

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) has canceled its 20th anniversary live showing scheduled for June at the Chilmark Community Center and Pathways ARTS, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t enjoy the many great pieces this year.

Instead of inviting the community to a live showing of many great productions, the MVFF will bring the entertainment to your living room, and allow you to view films without leaving your home.

In order to adhere to social distancing regulations, MVFF programming director Brian Ditchfield said they had to make the difficult decision to cancel the in-person showing, but said their goal remains to serve the Vineyard community the best they can.

“It’s sad, but it’s been clear to us for some time. Now we have shifted a lot of our efforts to online content, and making these great experiences available to people,” Ditchfield said. 

According to Ditchfield, the MVFF is still looking at the possibility of doing outdoor events this summer, such as a drive-in theater experience. But currently, none of those plans have been solidified, as uncertainty abounds about what this season will look like. The MVFF will be working with the board of health and other health officials to determine whether they will be able to produce drive-in or outdoor events in a way that is safe and responsible.

“We are doing lots of online content, and are trying to build a library of our own films that we have played in the past,” Ditchfield said. 

Ditchfield discussed the opening film that was planned for the festival on May 8, “Spaceship Earth,” with excitement. 

“It’s a fabulous film, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it,” Ditchfield said. “It’s a perfect film for the time. People have to quarantine for two years in a biosphere, and it really delves into those themes of isolation, but it’s also an incredible piece that highlights the environment and other elements.”

And, in the meantime, Ditchfield said the MVFF is working hard to get the community involved and learning about the world of film. 

Each day, the folks at MVFF send out a different movie aligned with a different curriculum to kids and their families. This gets kids engaged and thinking about cinema in a whole new way.

“We have received really rave responses from parents. Anyone can sign up on our website to receive those movies. We’re currently in our fifth week of the education series,” Ditchfield said.

The MVFF is also working on putting together a compilation of the different films made by kids on the Island as part of their MVFF Labs in-school film classes, and there is a lot of content.

And in continuing their mindfulness and meditation program “Inward” with creator Jake Davis, the MVFF is producing a virtual discussion and meditation series for people to get involved with and reach their inner zen. 

“We are still getting so much out there, and continue to produce tons of content for our Island,” Ditchfield said. 

Executive director for the MVFF, Hilary Dreyer, said she is sure the Vineyard audience will love the opening film, and will have a good time with their families while streaming the film in their homes.

Dreyer explained that, for this year’s virtual screening, they will be utilizing Vimeo on Demand, and sending a link out to folks who wish to rent the opening film. Part of the rental proceeds will benefit the film distributor, and part will benefit the MVFF.

“We are so excited, it’s going to be a great experience,” Dreyer said.

She said MVFF is also hoping to offer a question and answer segment after the showing, and are considering a number of different platforms to achieve this.

“We are really looking at our options and are going to choose the one that will provide the best user experience. We are finding ways to connect people during this time of isolation,” Dreyer said. 

Founder of the MVFF, Thomas Bena, said he and other festival members are constantly working on “adjusting to the new normal and the next new normal after that.” But he said the goal of the MVFF hasn’t changed in the last twenty years, and isn’t going to change now.

“Our job is to gather people, so we are really doing that soul searching,” Bena said. “I am not an online film guy, I like doing these things in person. But we want to continue to serve the community in every possible way.”