Nantucket and Provincetown film festivals uphold traditions

A fine focus on writers and diversity

By Loren King
Boston Globe
June 13, 2010

With beaches, sunshine, and a summer party atmosphere, it isn’t difficult to lure visitors, even film buffs who plan on spending lots of time in the dark, to Cape Cod. But the Provincetown and Nantucket film festivals raised the bar early on: both consistently deliver impressive and eclectic events worthy of the towns’ artistic and bohemian traditions.

Celebrating its 15th season this year, the Nantucket Film Festival (Thursday through next Sunday) established itself early on as a writer’s festival; the event even hosts a competition for emerging screenwriters. The Anniversary Screenwriters Tribute (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) will honor Oscar winners Barry Levinson (“Diner,’’ “Rain Man’’), Michael Arndt (writer of “Little Miss Sunshine’’ and “Toy Story 3,’’ the festival’s opening night selection), and documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth’’ and the new “Waiting for Superman,’’ a scathing examination of the country’s public education crisis. MSNBC political commentator and “passionate cinephile’’ Chris Matthews will chat one-on-one with Levinson next Sunday, at 10:30 a.m. More big names will be heralded too, as Oscar winner Robert Duvall will be on hand to accept the NFF’s acting award for his performance as a backwoods rebel in “Get Low.’’

“The festival organizers have an evolved sense of great writing or they couldn’t find anyone else,’’ says Guggenheim, who will be attending the NFF for the first time. “I can’t believe I’m sharing the stage with Barry Levinson; I grew up watching his films. I have the script to ‘Diner’ memorized.’’ Guggenheim, whose “Waiting for Superman’’ will be released by Paramount in September, is impressed that the NFF is “sensitive to the fact that documentaries are not just factual clips strung together. They are composed. They are a unique form of storytelling.’’

Mystelle Brabbée, the festival’s artistic director, says audiences have come to expect powerful documentaries at the NFF. “There’s a general awareness that what we’re doing isn’t all that common,’’ she says. “Audiences and filmmakers tell us that this is an intimate and one-of-a-kind event.’’

Not to be outdone, the Provincetown International Film Festival, now in its 12th year (Wednesday through next Sunday), routinely brings a wide and diverse slate of documentaries, features, shorts, and A-listers to the tip of the Cape. Director Kevin Smith (“Clerks,’’ “Dogma’’) will be feted as this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge, and Oscar winner and indie fave Tilda Swinton will be honored with an acting award and a sneak peek at her latest film, “I Am Love.’’ Renowned documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman will be cited for their much-anticipated feature “Howl,’’ starring James Franco as legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The awards ceremony takes place June 19 at 6 p.m. with one of the festival’s biggest boosters and most popular attractions, director John Waters, interviewing Smith. Critic B. Ruby Rich will chat with Swinton, and John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch’’) will interview Epstein and Friedman.

Gabrielle Hanna, the festival’s executive director, says “Howl,’’ slated for release in October by Oscilloscope, is a big coup. “It is poetry on screen. We’re thrilled to have that caliber of talent coming here,’’ she says. “Provincetown is the country’s oldest art colony and our festival tries to capture what Provincetown is all about.’’

Besides “Howl,’’ the PIFF has programmed two films, “The Celluloid Closet’’ and “Paragraph 175,’’ from the Epstein/Friedman oeuvre of gay-themed documentary classics.

“I have a long history with Provincetown, going back to the summer of 1976, when I and the other members of the Mariposa Film Group were making ‘Word Is Out,’ ’’ says Epstein of the landmark film recently released on DVD. “The six of us spent two weeks at a house in Truro, owned by longtime Truro resident Irmi Selver, looking at hundreds of pre-interviews to decide on the 26 men and women who were ultimately selected to be interviewed in the film. Both Jeffrey and I have come back many summers since. We’re thrilled to be bringing our most recent film to the Provincetown community.’’

Other highlights in the PIFF include “A Night at the Drive-in’’ (June 17), which features screenings at Cape Cod’s only outdoor theater, the Wellfleet Drive-In. This year’s event celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic, “Psycho,’’ and a rare 35mm screening of one of the most notorious exploitation films of all time, Russ Meyer’s 1965 “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’’ which is being remade by Quentin Tarantino, once a PIFF Filmmaker on the Edge.

The Nantucket festival also boasts two signature events: NFF board member Ben Stiller inaugurated and will again preside over an All-Star Comedy Roundtable (Saturday, at noon) that includes special guests Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover’’) and comics Sarah Silverman and Andy Samberg. Meanwhile, comic Anne Meara (Stiller’s mother) and Jonathan Ames, creator of the series “Bored to Death,’’ will host “Late Night Storytelling’’ (Friday, 9:30 p.m.), a popular NFF event that features unscripted, unpredictable stories on a theme — this year’s is “Dirty Laundry’’ — by writers, actors, filmmakers, and Nantucket islanders.

Loren King can be reached at

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