One of Richard Paradise’s favorite things about cinema is its ability to transport viewers in an instant to far-off places, foreign cultures and fanciful situations. At the 2009 Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, Mr. Paradise will enhance these screen voyages by bringing a taste of the exotic right to our doorstep, or rooftop, in the case of opening night.

The four-night festival kicks off next Thursday at 6 p.m. with a Southeast Asian-themed party on the rooftop of the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven — that leads to the opening night film, Sita Sings the Blues, an animated interpretation of the epic Indian story Ramayana.

“The theme of ‘Other Places’ has always been reflected in the slate of films we program — the majority of which are foreign language,” said Mr. Paradise, executive director of the festival.

“The events exist to complement the films,” said Angela Park-Sayles, the volunteer event coordinator for the festival. “Every party will have an international theme, and then we’ll take the music and the food to enhance that international vibe.”

At the opening party, Zephrus chef Robert Lionette will provide Indian-inspired finger foods while guests take in the views from the rooftop deck. Organizers also hope to have a henna tattoo artist on hand to offer guests the traditional Indian inking. The film premier will follow the party, at 8 p.m., at the Capawock.

Friday night’s event, inspired by the French films 35 Shots of Rum and Shall We Kiss? will be a Parisian-themed party at Che’s Lounge on Main street with musical entertainment provided by Paris-born Phillip Borde, known around the Island as Deejay Frenchy. Fatiha Berichi will cater the event with traditional French favorites, including assorted breads and cheeses.

On Saturday, after catching a screening of Rain, a film from the Bahamas, guests can return to Che’s Lounge for a tropical-themed Caribbean Nights party featuring food by Deon’s and reggae and calypso music from Deejay Cartel (Carter Keith Hakala).

Sunday night’s closing party will be held at the Vineyard Haven Marina. The aquatic theme was inspired by The End of the Line, a British documentary film about the dangers of overfishing. The popular Island group Ballywho will provide musical entertainment.

The entire festival takes place in Vineyard Haven, and screenings are scheduled for afternoons and evenings, leaving mornings open for guests to explore the Island. “[The festival] really focuses on Vineyard Haven,” said Ms. Park-Sayles. “The community here, the history. [And] everything is within walking distance.”

Films screen at the Capawock, the Katharine Cornell Theatre and the Vineyard Playhouse.

Mr. Paradise is careful to offer a great variety of film options. “I try to program a very broad range of films and subjects that appeal both to my sensibilities and to my knowledge of what the Vineyard audiences would find appealing,” he said. “With 25 separate programming blocks, I think it’s safe to say whatever age or movie preferences, one will find films appealing to their interests.

“There are specific films in the festival that might appeal more to families,” he said, including the Indian film Little Zizou and the Palestinian film Laila’s Birthday. “I schedule them earlier in the day, while others are definitely for more mature audience members, and they tend to be scheduled in the evening.” These include films like Sin Nombre, from Mexico, and 35 Shots of Rum.

Planning for this year’s festival began shortly after the 2008 festival ended. “Preparation for each festival is really an on-going affair,” said Mr. Paradise.

He established the volunteer-run festival four years ago, he said, “to give Vineyard audiences an opportunity to see great world cinema, which we hope will entertain, inspire and educate them about the people and cultures of the world.”

As director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, he maintains contacts throughout the industry, always on the lookout for new material. “Since I program films all year long, I’m constantly collecting ideas and doing more research to see if those films make sense for the festival,” said Mr. Paradise. “It’s a yearlong process of discovery.”

In addition to film screenings and special event parties, the festival provides opportunities for residents and visitors to meet the filmmakers.

“It really is bringing the best of the best of the Island, and then bringing all of these people all over the world and showing ... this really is an international spot,” said Ms. Park-Sayles. “It’s a really great successful film festival with a worldwide eye.”

Mr. Paradise agreed. “I receive a great deal of satisfaction from introducing others to these great world films or undiscovered independent gems. And the Vineyard community seems to appreciate that effort,” he said. “As I’ve joked many times before, some men like to fish or play golf. My hobby [and] passion is showing films to the public.”

Below is a complete film and event schedule. To purchase tickets, visit the festival Web site:

Thursday, Sept. 10, Opening Night

8 p.m. at the Capawock: Sita Sings the Blues: The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told, an animated musical romance (produced in the USA and India) with an introduction and Q& A by filmmaker and syndicated cartoonist Nina Paley. With vocals of 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, this tells the Indian epic, the Ramayana, with Sita and Rama, gods incarnated as human beings — “and even they can’t make their marriage work.”

Friday, Sept. 11 at the Capawock

4 p.m. Waltz with Bashir, an animated documentary from Israel, with an introduction by cartoonist and author Paul Karasik.


7 p.m. Departures, the 2009 Oscar winner for best foreign language film, with an introduction by Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston. It tells what becomes of a cellist in a premiere Tokyo orchestra who suddenly finds himself unemployed and enters a far different field.

9:30 p.m. 35 Shots of Rum, an unconventional love story by French director Claire Denis, and a rare glimpse into Paris’s large African community.

Friday, Sept. 11 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre

7 p.m. The Pope’s Toilet (El Baño del Papa), drama–comedy set in 1988, and when papal fever brings thousands to a Uruguayan border town for John Paul II’s visit, one man decides to build a WC in front of his house and charge for its use; his efforts bring unexpected consequences.


9:30 p.m. Serbis, award-winning drama from the Philippines captures the sordid, fetid atmosphere of Angeles as it weaves together subplots involving family members, customers, and even a runaway goat.

Friday, Sept. 11 at Vineyard Playhouse

4 p.m. Tulpan, a comedy–drama from Kazakhstan called “a gorgeous mélange of tender comedy, ethnographic drama and wildlife extravaganza, Tulpan won the first-time director prize at Cannes.


7 p.m. Cherry Blossoms, drama–romance from Germany about the clash of cultures when after losing a wife, Rudi discovers she once longed for a life in Japan.


9:30 p.m. Shall We Kiss? a French romantic comedy that ponders the possibility, or otherwise, of “a kiss without consequences.”

Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Capawock

2 p.m. Munyurangabo, a Rwandan drama about the friendship between a Hutu and a Tutsi boy is the first film ever produced in the Kinyarwandan language. Its director, a first generation Korean American raised in Arkansas, was teaching filmmaking at a relief mission when he shot the footage in 11 days, using a cast of nonprofessional actors.


4 p.m. Captain Abu Raed, the documentary-style drama from Jordan that won the Audience Award at Sundance, will feature the director, Amin Matalqa, for a Q& A. An aging airport janitor finds a discarded pilot’s hat, puts it on, and is mistaken by poor children in his neighborhood who beg for stories of the far-off places he’s seen.


7 p.m. Lemon Tree, German-Palestinian drama, is based on a true story of Salma, a Palestinian widow who battles her new neighbor, the Israeli defense minister, when he moves into his new house opposite her lemon grove, on the border between Israel and the West Bank.


9 p.m. Rough and Corny, a Mexican screwball comedy starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, Motorcycle Diaries) and Diego Luna (Milk), last seen together in Y Tu Mama Tambien, as brothers who go from laborers on a banana plantation to players in the world of professional soccer.

Saturday, Sept. 12 at Katharine Cornell Theatre

2 p.m. Little Zazou, with special guest actress Zenobia Shroff, who will be present for the screening of this film from Bollywood; part Fellini, part Mel Brooks and part Romeo and Juliet, it’s told from the point of view of an 11-year-old soccer-mad boy, Zizou.


4 p.m. Rain, one of the first indigenous feature films to come out of the Bahamas, about the challenged life of a young girl determined to get to know the mother who abandoned her.


7 p.m. The Maid, Argentinian drama that won the world cinema jury prize at Sundance, is the story of Raquel, who after 23 years of service to the Valdes family, is comfortably ensconced in a vague existence between maid and her illusion that she is a family member.


9 p.m. Animation Shorts from Various Countries, presented by animator, illustrator and cartoonist Bill Plympton. 

Saturday, Sept. 12 at Vineyard Playhouse

2 p.m. Days and Clouds, Italian drama from the director of Bread and Tulips; this time Soldini explores how a marriage fares when economic disaster strikes.


4:30 p.m. Think Globally, Shoot Locally, shorts and works in progress from local, regional and international filmmakers, with discussion.


7 p.m. Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a compelling account of grassroots activism; how brave Liberian women came together to end a bloody civil war, praying and shaming their nation’s rulers into restarting peace talks.


9 p.m. Nameless, a Mexican thriller that weaves the stories of several Latin Americans, all of whom are compelled, for one reason or another, to leave their homes for the United States.

Sunday, Sept. 13 at the Capawock

12 p.m. Sita Sings the Blues: The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told (encore presentation; see Thursday)


2 p.m. Garbage Dreams, an Egyptian documentary about residents of Mokattam who keep order in a garbage village on the outskirts of Cairo and manage to recycle 80 percent of the waste dumped here. But then Cairo’s decision to partially privatize the garbage trade threatens their work.


4 p.m. Closing Film, The End of the Line. This U.K. documentary from Rupert Murray considers the possibility of an ocean without fish. If fishing continues at the current rate, the planet will be out of seafood by 2048. Murray interweaves footage from both underwater and above with shocking scientific testimony, painting a vivid profile of the state of the seas.

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Katharine Cornell Theatre

12 p.m. Men’s Group, a raw Australian drama in which six men with emotional issues gather once a week just to talk.


2 p.m. Moscow Belgium, urban romance about a woman whose husband has taken off with a 22-year-old and left her with three children. Things are bad, until her car collides with a huge truck driven by a young driver.

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Vineyard Playhouse

12 p.m. Laila’s Birthday, a tragicomedy about an unemployed judge in the West Bank, who ekes out a living as a cabbie, setting out to get a gift and cake for his little girl.


2 p.m. International Shorts Program. Includes the 20-minute comedy Pet Peeves, from director and seasonal resident Brooke Adams, who will attend and take questions afterwards.