This week, five downtown Vineyard Haven venues will become portals to far off places like Chile, New Zealand, Bosnia, South Africa, France and Iran. The mode of mental transportation: film.

Roughly 40 feature-length and short films from more than 15 countries will screen in three days and four nights during the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival - the first of its kind on the Island.

It begins Thursday night at the Katharine Cornell Theatre with the national premiere of The Science of Sleep - the latest film by Michele Gondry, co-writer and director of the Oscar-winning film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The festival will draw hundreds of people to Vineyard Haven for the last weekend of summer, since every film venue is within walking distance of downtown: the Katharine Cornell Theatre, the Vineyard Playhouse, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Vineyard Haven Public Library and the Mansion House Inn.

"I wanted to create a festival as a flagship of the film society, but also as a destination event that will hopefully grow in time," said Richard Paradise, co-director of the festival and director of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society. "It's a cultural tourism event for the Island - particularly downtown Vineyard Haven."

The films range from Iron Island, an Iranian drama about families living on a huge rusting tanker, to Russian Dolls, a French/British comedy co-starring Audrey Tautou about an aspiring novelist with a pathetic love life.

The Science of Sleep is about an eccentric young man who often confuses his dreams with reality. In his dreams, a cut-and-paste wonderland of cardboard and cellophane, he stars in his own television show and pursues the girl who - in reality - lives in the apartment across the hall.

Four international children's films - all in English - are also part of the festival, screening at the Vineyard Haven library at 1:30 and 3:30 on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The Friday program includes a series of four international short films like Cotopaxi, a British comedy about a man determined to save his sister from a hippie commune in Scotland, and Our Man Nirvana, a German animated film about a famous rock guitarist who dies onstage and wakes up in Nirvana.

The International Shorts Competition will screen on Saturday. The competition is co-presented with the Manhattan Shorts Film Festival and attendees can vote for their favorite of the 10.

Nevette Previd, an independent consultant for film makers and distributors, is directing the festival with Mr. Paradise. Ms. Previd met Mr. Paradise soon after moving to the Island from New York city in March. Interested in becoming involved in the local film scene, she jumped at the opportunity to organize an international film festival - an idea that Mr. Paradise was just beginning to pursue.

"There are a couple of films that she was instrumental in getting," Mr. Paradise said. "She was invaluable to us in getting the rights to the film The Science of Sleep, which has not been released yet."

In planning, Ms. Previd and Mr. Paradise aimed to combine their favorite elements of the hundreds of film festivals they had each attended around the world. Both recalled that their favorites generated a sense of community - and at festivals that didn't require driving, there were more opportunities to walk around the town or city, visit shops and restaurants and interact with other film enthusiasts.

"Our festival is all about the community and building it from community up," Ms. Previd said. "I've been to festivals all over the world and that to me is the best part of film festivals."

This is why the festival also includes an art, wine and cheese walk on Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m., hosted by several Vineyard Haven galleries.

"We were really aggressive - ambitious - in getting the local merchants involved," said Mr. Paradise, who is encouraging stores to stay open late and contribute to the festival atmosphere. "We hope the merchants will take advantage of it."

Friday's program includes morning coffee with filmmakers at Beetlebung Café, and an Oktoberfest party with live music that night at Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs - in the spirit of the so-named German film screening that evening.

On Saturday morning, the Belushi-Pisano Gallery will host a coffee with filmmakers, and Outerland in Edgartown will host a Brazilian Samba party that night.

Sunday morning, Mocha Motts will provide coffee at the Vineyard Playhouse. After the last film of the festival ends, a sunset reception featuring the Beetlebung Steel Band will be held at the Vineyard Haven Marina.

The festival will also incorporate local filmmakers. On Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Mansion House, Island-made short films will play on a loop, and admission will be free. All of the films are inspired by the theme Think Globally, Shoot Locally.

In addition to maximizing the community feel, Mr. Paradise and Ms. Previd decided to curate the festival, meaning that they would seek out the films they wanted, rather than take submissions. More so, they were determined to focus on international films.

"It's hard to market international films - that's why you don't find them in theatres anymore," Mr. Previd said. "A lot of festivals do international only as a sidebar."

But Mr. Paradise knew that they would be well-received on the Vineyard.

"A big part of my programing in the off-season - from September to May - is foreign films," Mr. Paradise said. "I'm a big proponent of foreign language films that take you to other countries, to other places."

The trouble is, there are so many to choose from.

"The shelf space for foreign films is so small these days," Mr. Paradise said. "Everyone's looking for an outlet to show their films."

This was not the case in the 1970s and 1980s, when foreign films screened in small theatres and art cinemas for a month or two at a time. These days, there are so many films coming down the channel, it's difficult for theatres to show them for more than a couple of days, Mr. Paradise said.

"Now they just go to New York or Los Angeles and just stay for a day or two - they can't generate a buzz," Mr. Paradise said. Since foreign films rarely have money for advertising, they rely on critics, independent reviews and word of mouth - which require more than two days to be effective.

"Film festivals have taken the place of small cinemas in terms of seeing challenging, interesting, international films," Mr. Paradise said. "The only place they can see some of these films is if they go to a film festival."

Visit for more information and a full program schedule. Individual movie tickets cost $8 or $6 for film society members and children under 14. Evening parties cost $20. All-access festival passes cost $180 and one-day festival passes cost $50. Tickets may be purchased at the Mansion House on Main street in Vineyard Haven or at the Vineyard Playhouse on Church street in Vineyard Haven.

Festival-goers are encouraged to park at the Tisbury School on Upper Spring street (after 5 p.m. on Friday and any time over the weekend), or at St. Augustine Church on Franklin street (except from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and only after 12 noon on Sunday).