After logging many long hours on the couch and mindlessly devouring one too many buttery bags of popcorn, the votes are in. No, not for the Oscars, but for the official selections of the eighth annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. The brains behind the wintertime event are so excited about the roster they have decided to host a special kick-off screening more than a week before the festival officially begins. On Thursday, the documentary Pete Seeger: Power of Song, a film which has met with wide acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam and will soon broadcast on PBS, will hit the big screen at the Capawock Theatre on Main street, Vineyard Haven.
Festival producer and director Thomas Bena, who began the film festival as a one-day movie marathon eight winters ago, believes in the total experience of going to the movies. The festival, which this year runs from March 14 to 16 at the Chilmark Community Center, provides a forum for directors to mingle with amateur cinephiles and for producers to shmooze with locals. Everyone mixes as they settle in to watch a screening or get in line together to buy snacks. Discussion is expected and ‘lounge time’ is actually built into the schedule to encourage it. “I’m really excited about blurring the line between artists and audience,” Mr. Bena said this week.
Thursday’s event will be no exception. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a live performance from home-grown folk musicians Colin Ruel and Willy Mason. The documentary will screen at 7 p.m. and all are invited back to Che’s Lounge afterwards for an Island Folk Jam.
The film tells the story of Pete Seeger, one of the legends of American music, who penned such classic songs as Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Turn, Turn, Turn and If I Had A Hammer. The documentary, directed and produced by Jim Brown, combines never-before-seen archival footage, clips from the singer’s own personal film collection and interviews with musicians such as Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. “For me, Pete Seeger has been one of the most important voices and influential musicians in America,” Mr. Brown said on the film’s Web site. “He got a whole generation interested in playing guitar and banjo, got them singing together, and helped introduce America to its own folk heritage, while using music as an instrument for social change.”
Mr. Bena had virtually no knowledge of the musician when he stumbled upon the film in New York city. “I was just totally blown away,” he said. “He’s a hero really. To watch that, it was more than going to a movie, it was an example of how to live a good life.” Guest director of the film festival Brad Westcott said the film will appeal to anyone and everyone from baby boomers who remember his tunes to the younger musicians establishing their niche in the Island music scene. “The fact is that a lot of these [Island] musicians are home this winter for whatever reason, so we want to celebrate that and incorporate fans of that music into what we’re doing here at the festival,” Mr. Westcott said.
Tickets for the event will sell at the door. The price for admission is $5 for film festival members and $10 for nonmembers. And keep in mind, the screening is only a taste of what is to come the following weekend when Mr. Bena and his crew will bring over 14 films and a slew of their directors, producers and stars to the Island over the course of three days. “I can’t think of a better film to kick off our festival,” Mr. Bena said. “I really can’t.”