Richard Paradise stood in the corner of the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday afternoon, silent but smiling.
It was a rare moment. Mr. Paradise, co-director of the annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, is a natural talker and schmoozer. From the time this year’s festival kicked off Thursday afternoon to the time it closed Sunday at sunset, Mr. Paradise gabbed nonstop. He introduced films, talked shop with reporters and greeted audiences and filmmakers alike.
But his favorite part of the festival, which he began with Nevette Previd three years ago, were moments like this one. The credits for a documentary film about a military training camp had just rolled. Audience members, cozy inside while a steady weekend drizzle came down outside, held hands in the air, eager to ask questions question of the film’s co-directors.
“What motivated you to make this film?”
“My motivating force was the disconnect I felt from the people serving in Iraq. I wanted to connect with the war on a personal level,” said Jesse Moss who co-directed Full Battle Rattle, an inside look at a billion-dollar urban warfare simulation base for soldiers deploying to Iraq. “You don’t see the real thing in the media,” he continued. “You’re not allowed to see the real thing.”
This weekend the film festival provided 28 opportunities to see the real thing. And on Monday, after the popcorn was swept away, the filmmakers sent home safely on the ferries, Mr. Paradise said the best moments were when he watched as audience and filmmakers interacted. “It’s nirvana. I think it’s perfect,” he said. “This is what festivals should be all about. It’s the difference between going to a local movie house on a Saturday night, which is great in and of itself. This creates a more communal environment to learn more about the subject, engage with the filmmaker or moderator. It creates a great buzz which keeps going for about two weeks after the festival.”
The buzz began Thursday at cocktail hour when festival-goers and filmmakers converged on the roof of the Mansion House Inn. Over wine and hors d’oeuvres, nearly 250 attendees took in the view of Vineyard Haven harbor at sunset. “It was a great way to start the festival,” Mr. Paradise said. As the evening sky grew dark, the crowds migrated from the rooftop to the historic Capawock Theatre nearby for the opening night screening of Flow, For Love of Water. The film, a look at the politics of water sustainability, screened at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer and showed to a sold-out Island crowd Thursday. Afterwards, Vineyard author and water researcher William E. Marks and Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, fielded questions from the audience. The movie screened again Sunday afternoon to another sold-out crowd. “I could probably show it again next week and it would still sell out,” Mr. Paradise said. “It was a great way to start the festival.”
On Friday, the lineup started after lunch with three locations — the Capawock, the Katharine Cornell and the Vineyard Playhouse — screening movies from Mexico, China, Germany and Serbia before dinner time. The international flavor is what the festival is known for. “We want people to explore other cultures and people and places,” Mr. Paradise said. That evening, the festival hosted an intimate fund-raising dinner, the first of its kind, for 50 guests at Saltwater restaurant. With tickets going for $100 and a program which boasted a menu of Island ingredients as well as a screening of international short films, Mr. Paradise declared the evening a success. “The dinner was magical,” he said, “And the festival program went full steam ahead at the same time.”
Programming Friday night included a screening of The Listening Project, a documentary which follows four Americans as they travel to 14 countries asking what it means to be an American, and a program of shorts from the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival. Following a showing of the documentary Shot in Bombay, Che’s Lounge in Vineyard Haven opened its doors for a Bollywood-inspired party complete with films projected on cafe walls, dancing and complimentary drinks. “It was funky and great,” Mr. Paradise said of the event, which he estimated drew up to 150 people and lasted well past midnight.
Saturday was a global tour de force with films from Uganda, Norway and France, Laos, Tibet and Italy. A forum for local filmmakers lasted over two hours in the Vineyard Playhouse and when audiences began trickling in for the evening screening, the panelists and attendees moved to Che’s to keep the dialogue going. Screenings that evening ended with a program of animated shorts hosted by animator Bill Plympton. “I’m a big, big supporter of short films,” Mr. Paradise said.
This weekend’s bill included three short film programs. “You can tell a story really compactly. You can be really dynamic,” Mr. Paradise said. “People don’t retain everything from most films, but in a five-minute film, you can retain everything and that’s the power of short film. And if it wasn’t for festivals, short films just wouldn’t get seen. There isn’t the market. It’s important that festivals support and show short films.”
Saturday evening closed with drinks, mingling and dancing to the beats of the Latin band Santa Mamba inside the Oyster Bar and Grill in Oak Bluffs. Outside the restaurant, people congregated to cool off, smoke cigarettes and make lists of the movies they missed and should order on Netflix. On Sunday, rainy, windy weather combined with a program of eight more films to keep people in town and in the theatres. The sun broke through the clouds just in time for the closing night party at the Vineyard Haven Marina.
Ticket sales and attendance figures have not yet been tallied, but early estimates indicate success and a larger turnout than in previous years. About 2,300 people attended the festival last year and bought roughly 3,300 tickets, Mr. Paradise said. This year, he estimated between 2,500 and 2,600 people attended and bought between 3,500 and 4,000 tickets, not counting those purchased for the parties. He guessed almost half of the programs sold out. But he said it is not the numbers that count.
“I don’t judge the success of the festival by the numbers. I judge it by how many people tell me they had a great time, that they enjoyed this movie or that movie, and in terms of that, it was a resounding success,” he said.