While summer movies typ ically lean to big explosions, gooey romances, or gross-out comedies, films of a more thoughtful nature will be loaded into projectors next weekend as the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival gets underway. The festival, now in its sixth year, begins on Thursday, Sept. 8 and runs throughout the weekend at locations around Vineyard Haven.
The festival is known for bringing together a broad mix of films that include both the serious and lighthearted.
“Every year, programming-wise, is a whole new ballgame,” said Richard Paradise, the founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society and the curator of the festival, in a phone conversation with the Gazette.
“[It’s] a really eclectic mix of films that, on one hand have some cultural perspective, some way of showing a different part of the world, a different part of culture, but I also try to have a good mix of feature films and documentaries and comedies and dramas. Things that will appeal to the broadest audience.”
Mr. Paradise is passionate about film and the planning for this festival begins well in advance. He’s a one-man film programming machine. While selecting films for the Film Society’s weekly screenings that take place year-round on the Island, Mr. Paradise also keeps an eye out for movies he’d like to screen at the end-of-summer festival. With his master wish list in hand, he watches screeners and attends festivals looking for the right blend of films to screen here on the Vineyard.
“It is daunting at times,” he laughed. “I’m constantly in the process of looking at films, considering films, getting screeners for films.”
His tastes are broad, as they need to be when curating a festival. “I think any programmer has to live sort of outside of their own preferences and subjectivity,” he said. And yet this broad appeal does not include the typical fare that could just as easily be seen at the commercial theatres on the Island. The festival is about offering Vineyard audiences something they couldn’t get anywhere else.
“They’re just not that type of commercial material. They’re more alternative or independent or foreign language. Each film has its own little story. Sometimes I’ve seen a film a year ago at another film festival and I just loved it. It’s sort of an undiscovered gem, if I can use that cliché. A small film that played at lots of international festivals, but never really got released in the United States.”
The festival opens with Just Like Us, a documentary by an Egyptian/American stand-up comedian named Ahmed Ahmed who did a series of shows in the Middle East with other comedians.
“His motivation was to show that people living in Cairo, and living in Dubai and people living in Saudi Arabia do have a sense of humor,” Mr. Paradise said. “I’m very happy to have that as our opening night film because it speaks to what our film programming is all about, which is to show other places in the world, to show other people and cultures of the world.” The film helps reveal that unlike what the headlines of the day portray, there is room for laughter in the Middle East.
Mr. Ahmed is coming to the festival with his film and will take part in a question and answer session after the screening on Thursday night at the Capawock Theatre.
Also leaning toward the humorous is The Trip, a mockumentary comedy featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a culinary road trip through England. A scene featuring their dueling Michael Caine impressions went viral on the internet after the film’s initial release.
On the darker side is Made in India, a documentary that explores the murky underworld of reproductive tourism through the eyes of an infertile American couple looking for a surrogate.
Two other standout foreign films are In A Better World, a Danish film which won the 2011 Academy Award for best foreign language film and Gainsbourg, a French film about the life of Serge Gainsbourg, the dashing and very famous (in France) singer. If you don’t know who he is, this is your chance to find out.
In addition to feature-length films, the festival has three short film programs, including European films, animation, and a program voted on by the audience. For the this program over 200 films were narrowed down to 10 finalists by a group of panelists consisting of Luke Matheny, winner of the 2011 Academy Award for best live action short, Tim Miller, the Cape Cod Times entertainment editor, Diana Barrett, founder of the Fledgling Fund, and Andrew Mer of Snag Films. The panelists will present these films on Sept. 9 at the Capawock Theatre and after the screening choose the ultimate winner.
The festival’s international flavor carries over to its short films. “I think there’s seven or eight countries represented in those ten films,” Mr. Paradise said.
Being a small festival on an Island competing with giants like Sundance, the Toronto Festival and the TriBeCa Film Festival can make acquiring films more difficult. “There was a time when film festivals would get most of the films for their festivals for free, especially if you were doing a festival that was totally dependent on solicitation for competition and entry,” Mr. Paradise said.
This is not the case anymore.
“It’s all a negotiation,” Mr Paradise noted.
As a programmer, negotiator, and all-around organizational mastermind, Mr. Paradise seems to have thought of everything. The festival’s Web site is newly equipped with a Festival Genius program that helps festivalgoers pick and choose which films they’d like to see and buy their tickets online. And if watching movies and talking to the filmmakers isn’t enough, there are also parties each night and a dinner with the filmmakers at Saltwater Restaurant that are sure to quench both literal and cultural thirsts.
But although parties and hobnobbing with film directors and stars is good fun, in the end the main attraction is, of course, great films. The festival’s aim is to show films that may not otherwise get the chance to appear on the Vineyard, not to mention the country, and expose audiences to different cultures and different ways of thinking. And it delivers.
As Mr. Paradise said, “Why does an independent filmmaker make a film? To get it seen. To tell their story. To get it out there.”
The Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival begins on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 5:30 p.m. with an opening night party and the screening of Just Like Us at the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven. The festival continues through Sunday, Sept. 11. For a complete list of films, events, and tickets visit mvfilmfest.com.