This year’s M.V. Film Festival, running from March 22 to 26, promises to connect the community to the film experience. Brian Ditchfield, artistic and executive director of Circuit Arts — the parent company of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival — and director of film programming, Minah (Worley) Oh, are infectiously enthusiastic about the concept of community as central to this year’s enticing offerings. The concept reflects the organization’s mission of connecting the arts to the community.
Oh recently talked about how each film in the festival explores complex relationships between individuals and their communities, and demonstrates how the power of communities affects them. “I believe that there’s beauty in hearing the voices of people who haven’t been heard,” Oh says. “Whether stemming from marginalized or monolithic communities, there are always voices that we truly haven’t heard within our community. I feel we have leaned into our community, and my breath is taken away by the immediate talent here. That’s something to be very proud of. There aren’t many islands that attract this kind of attention in the arts as much as we do.”
Within their rich lineup with Vineyard ties is seasonal resident and acclaimed actor Tony Shalhoub, in the biopic “Flamin’ Hot,” an uplifting story about Richard Montañez, a Frito-Lay janitor whose creativity and sheer force of will allowed him to realize his ambitions and invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. There is also “Judy Blume Forever,” a documentary about the famous author with deep ties to the Island. Afterward, you can hear from her as well as co-directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, and Vineyard Haven librarian Emily LaPierre in a prerecorded discussion. Another is “Lady Bird Diaries,” about Ladybird Johnson, directed by Dawn Porter, a Vineyarder and well-established documentary filmmaker.
Hitting really close to home is Circuit Film’s own “Waiting to Continue: The Venezuelan Asylum Seekers of Martha’s Vineyard,” which documents the migrants’ three-day experience on the Island through interviews with the Venezuelans and Vineyard residents who supported them. It promises to be a very special evening because it will be a “dinner and a movie” program where before the screening, you can dine with those involved in the story and the film.
The Vineyard Shorts program includes “Fish Stories,” produced by Chilmark resident Chris Fisher. The film looks at the small volcanic island of Hachijo-jima, which is nearly 178 miles off the coast of Japan, but considered part of Tokyo’s prefecture. Closer to home is Matt Taylor’s “Deep Roots: David Flanders, Simon Athearn, and Bob Woodruff,” which explores the agricultural practices on Martha’s Vineyard. There will also be Circuit Film director Ollie Becker’s documentary that brings us into the world of skateboarding on Martha’s Vineyard, and how its close-knit community came together to create the Island’s only skatepark.
While the majority of films will include a traditional Q and A, Island dancers and choreographers Abby Bender and Jesse Jason will be “dance emcees,” performing between films during the “Dance Shorts: Camera and Choreography” program.
Ditchfield and Oh shared just some of their community collaborations with other nonprofits, including the Aquinnah Cultural Center, which will be part of the Q and A along with co-directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler, and film subject Angel Ellis for “Bad Press,” a documentary about free press in Native communities. And for “Plan C,” which focuses on abortion rights, they have been working with Friends of Family Planning to be part of that discussion.
A more extensive partnership connected to diverse voices is a residency program with Vineyarders Marsha Smith and Stanley Nelson, co-executive directors of New York City nonprofit Firelight Media. “They are the trailblazers for minority documentary filmmakers about communities of color,” Oh explains. “They have a fund for midcareer filmmakers, and we are bringing four of them to the Vineyard for a residency at Slough Farm.” They will be here the week before the festival, and then present works-in-progress during the festivities. “It will give our audiences a chance to be in on the ground floor of some incredible work that is being created. I’m so proud that our community can foster them,” Oh says.
Ditchfield shared new developments supporting Circuit Arts’ mission to provide wider access for the Island community. In addition to screening films at the Grange Hall, their year-round home, you will be able to see films at the First Congregational Church right up the road, and the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven, which Ditchfield says is featuring some amazing films. There’s a documentary, “Stephen Curry: Underrated,” about the basketball player, and the narrative “Joyland,” about a husband who when hired as a backup dancer for the alluring, transgender Biba, encounters a new world of identity and expression that upends the norms of traditional Pakistani family life and his marriage. Another music-related film is the documentary, “It’s Only Life After All,” an intimate reflection on the Indigo Girls’ long friendship, musical collaboration, and activism.
“We’re trying to give the whole Island the opportunity and a choice of venues, and they will all be pay-what-you-can,” Ditchfield says. “Also, Chef Nicole Cabot will be doing the food again this year, and there will be music on the first floor of the Grange playing at mealtimes. I encourage the community to come and be part of the scene.”
Oh says this year’s festival highlights the talent of the artistic Island community. “We’re spotlighting the immense talent of the artistic community here on the Vineyard, and bringing that community to the outside world, and the outside world into the community.”
“There are really diverse and interesting voices all throughout,” Ditchfield adds. ‘I’m really excited for the whole community to participate.”
Oh says, “It’s like when you get your Happy Meal, you don’t know what toy you’re going to get, but every kid knows it’s going to be something good.”
For the entire MVFF lineup and tickets, visit tmvff.org/2023festivalcalendar.