After a hiatus of two years, the 22nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is on track for this month. And there’s plenty going on from May 18 to 22, with directors, producers, actors, writers, and film subjects in attendance to present their films.
The festival now falls under the umbrella of Circuit Arts, the new parent company of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which, according to its website, is “dedicated to building community through meaningful and inclusive experiences around film and the arts, year-round and across the Island.” Brian Ditchfield, artistic and executive director, says, “Something that emerged speaks to the moment we’re in so that the overwhelming thrust is diverse voices. We have films from all over the world touching diverse communities that live here on the Vineyard. We have films about Brazil, the indigenous shorts program, a film program by Black filmmakers, and an incredible lineup of documentaries and narratives that speak to many voices.”
Minah Oh, head of film programming, says, “All these stories have one common truth, which is that the filmmakers show what is not acceptable. When you find what’s not acceptable, it provides people with the problem and what could be the solution, whether it’s narrative or documentaries.”
Collaboration is the name of the game. “It’s been about giving the community a hand in having a say in what we’re trying to provide,” Oh adds. They look for partners in the community to help connect with diverse audiences.
In “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust,” Native American and Japanese American women and rancher communities form an unexpected alliance to defend their land and water from Los Angeles siphoning it off. Brad Lopes, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and program director of the Aquinnah Cultural Center, will lead a land preservation discussion with the film’s director, Ann Kaneko, producer Jin Yoo-Kim, and Kathy Bancroft, elder of the Lone Pine Paiute tribe. A member of the Island’s Brazilian community will be part of the after-screening discussion of “The Territory,” which follows the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Surveillance Team as they defend their land against a network of Brazilian farmers intent on colonizing their protected territory. “Klondike” follows expectant parents Irka and Tolik as they navigate life in the city of Donetsk during the early days of the 2014 war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Egyptian American filmmaker Dina Amer will be in attendance with her film “You Resemble Me,” about two Muslim sisters who are torn apart. “From the Hood to the Holler” follows the inspiring story of Charles Booker as he campaigns to win the Democratic primary and unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. “Our Worlds Collide” takes viewers into the lives of five teenage spoken-word poets navigating their final year of high school in Los Angeles.
Narrative films include “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” an unconventional love story about a young man, a teenager with autism, and her mother. In the comedic drama “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” Emma Thompson is a retired teacher and widow who hires a sex worker. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is both a hilarious sci-fi action adventure as well as a family drama about an exhausted Chinese-American woman who can’t seem to finish her taxes.
Powerful documentaries in the festival include “Mama Bears,” an intimate exploration of the lives of two “mama bears” — conservative, Christian mothers who have become fierce advocates for LGBTQ+ people — and a young lesbian who struggles for self-acceptance. “Nothing Compares” charts singer Sinéad OʼConnorʼs phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and examines how she became a fearless trailblazer at the height of her stardom, before her iconoclastic personality led to exile from the pop mainstream. “Navalny” is a documentary thriller about the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
“Make People Better” tells the inside story behind the world’s first genetically designed babies and their creator, Chinese scientist Dr. He Jiankui. “On the Divide” introduces us to three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas. Despite their differences, they are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S.-Mexico border. In “Bad Axe,” Asian American filmmaker David Siev documents his family’s struggles to keep their restaurant open as fears of the coronavirus grow and deep generational scars create a rift between the family’s patriarch and his daughter. “Truth Tellers” illuminates artist and activist Robert Shetterly’s portrait painting project that explores the U.S.’s ongoing struggle to live up to its democratic ideals, and honors the courage of those who speak truth and challenge the status quo.
The Film Festival is also supporting new work by collaborating with Slough Farm to host artists ahead of the festival and foster the creation of new work. Siobhan Growing Elm Brown, a theater artist and member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; Ty Defoe, a filmmaker from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations; and storytellers from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) will be working together to create a theatrical and film experience featuring the stories of Indigenous people. Emmy-winning director Daresha Kyi will be at the festival with her opening-night film, “Mama Bears,” and will also be in residence at Slough Farm working on her new documentary, “Black Voters Matter.” The dance shorts program will have performers Abby Bender and Jesse Jason dancing on the stage in between the films.
The MVFF will welcome filmgoers into its new home — the upstairs theater at the 1867 Grange Hall, outfitted with state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment, and couches to foster the feeling that it’s the community’s living room.
“Of course, you can watch films at home, but watching a film is about sharing everyone’s story and reaction,” Oh says.
“We’re open to input, and can’t wait to welcome the community there. ‘Welcome home’ … that’s the feeling we’re going for,” Ditchfield adds.
The festival takes place at the Grange, the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, and the old West Tisbury library at 12 Music St. Tickets are on sale at tmvff.org.