Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival artistic director Brian Ditchfield needs a new coat. Not for any impending summer rainstorms, but for his role as ringmaster at the festival’s Cinema Circus performances.

“My daughter was watching The Greatest Showman and she said to me, 'Dad, his coat is way nicer than yours,'" Mr. Ditchfield said with a smile. “So I think a new coat is in order.”

Much like the decorated red coat (with sleeves that hit just above Mr. Ditchfield’s wrists), Cinema Circus is a classic. For the past decade the Film Festival has been hosting the event at the Chilmark Community Center. The activities take place under a navy big top, its canvas stitched with cream-colored stars of all shapes and sizes.

Ellie the Elephant is always up for circus fun. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Ditchfield is the ringleader beneath the tent, racing in circles, leaping over his circus-mates, singing with his musical guests, and prompting the audience to join in on the fun. Each week produces a different show. This summer Mr. Ditchfield is co-writing the scripts with Leslie Field who crawls around the big top as Leslie the Lion.

“There have been many scriptwriters over the years, but Leslie has been a really incredible help because she is a professionally trained actress,” Mr. Ditchfield said. Ms. Field studies at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland and says that while she has preformed in front of many different audiences, staging her craft in front of the kids at Cinema Circus is the most rewarding.

“The kids are the best audience because you’ll know when you really nail something and you’ll also know if things need to change,” Ms. Field said.

Face painting by Heather Capece. — Ray Ewing

Judging by the cheers and variety of monkey and lion impersonations the circus nailed it. Mr. Ditchfield and Ms. Field are joined each week by a pride of lion cubs. Not real ones, of course, although the circus has seen its share of live animal guests. The first show of the summer hosted Gus Ben David and his great horned owl.

Ellie the Elephant also made an appearance, trotting in from her home at the Chilmark School. Film festival interns Max Solmssen and Isabelle Youmans brought Ellie to life, working as her front and hind legs respectively.

“Almost tripped once, but we made it,” Max said, wiping his brow.

Circus magic also exists outside the big top. Children lined up to have their face painted, used iPads to create stop-motion short films, and take their pick of costumes and clown wigs.

“I’m a dinosaur!” yelled one elated T-Rex as he ran across the field in a scaly green costume.

Short films are followed by short discussions. — Ray Ewing

Each performance also weaves in a theme that correlates to that week’s children’s films. The first week centered around inclusion. Week two? Movement and sound. Children’s rock band The Pinkletinks provided the soundtrack for the evening.

“This is our first time preforming at Cinema Circus,” said guitarist and lead vocalist Rob Myers. “But we love the atmosphere here and our role within the script.”

Mr. Myers was joined by bandmates Andy Herr, Leah Crosby and Anthony Esposito in their repertoire of children’s classics. Mr. Esposito worked double duty, singing and drumming along to I’m a Little Airplane with the Pinkletinks and then parading into the community center to fulfill his role as projectionist.

The children followed closely behind to watch a series of short films, including Am I Paris?, winner of the Kid’s Film Grand Prize at the March festival. The screenings are always followed by a discussion, guided by Mr. Ditchfield.

Running away to join the circus is as easy as traveling to Chilmark. — Ray Ewing

“Media literacy is really important and that’s what we’re trying to promote here,” Mr. Ditchfield said. “It’s an interactive experience. We watch a short film, I ask the kids for their thoughts, and it sets up an important precedent to have a dialogue after you watch something.”

More pictures.

The next Cinema Circus takes place on Wednesday July 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. The theme is love. For more information visit