17th Nantucket Film Festival -June 2012


by: Joshua H. Balling

Returning to the Dreamland Theatre as its primary venue this year, the 17th Nantucket Film Festival will open June 20 with Disney Pixar’s animated feature “Brave” in the afternoon and Sundance darling “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in the evening.

In all, the five-day festival, which runs through June 24, will screen 71 movies, 44 of them feature length, from morning until evening at venues including the rebuilt and expanded Dreamland, Starlight Theater and Nantucket High School.

Other highlights include the festival’s Screenwriter’s Tribute, hosted by NBC newsman Brian Williams and this year presented to writer, director and producer Nancy Meyers (“Private Benjamin,” “Irreconcilable Differences,” “It’s Complicated”); the Centerpiece Film, IFC’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” starring Mike Birbiglia and Lauren Ambrose; and the closing film, another IFC feature, “Your Sister’s Sister,” starring Mark Duplass and Emily Blunt.

Rory Kennedy will receive the Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling for her film “Ethel,” a personal portrait of her mother Ethel Kennedy’s political awakening, the life she shared with Robert F. Kennedy, and the years following his death when she raised their 11 children on her own. Ethel Kennedy will be joining her daughter at the festival.

“The film program is stronger, bigger and more diverse than ever before,” executive director Colin Stanfield said. “We pride ourselves on exceptional films and unique, high-profile signature programs.”

Artistic director Mystelle Brabbée agreed.

“It’s by far the largest program we’ve had in a long time. We are squeezing them in, that’s for sure, screening films morning, noon and night. In the past, there was more breathing room. This year, we’re starting earlier, and ending later. At any given moment, there will be four or five films screening. There are a lot of options,” she said.

“There is no question the sea of films this year is really strong and impressive. I was excited coming off the heels of Sundance, where we saw so many films I was in love with. We’re consistently seeing strong films. It’s a tip of the hat to the filmmakers.”

This year’s crop of films is an eclectic one, but shares the common thread of paying tribute to female screenwriters and film protagonists, Brabbée said.

“There’s no question that female filmmakers and writers are taking center stage at this festival. To be opening with a Pixar film where the protagonist is a young girl, to have an opening-night film where the protagonist is a young girl, that was co-written by a woman, Lucy Alibar, is a special thing,” she said. “In Lucy you have an emerging writer with a very strong voice, somebody we can bet a bold future on as a screenwriter. And our top honor is going to Nancy Meyers, a leading screenwriter, director and producer.”

Meyers’ longtime friend and collaborator Diane Keaton will present her with the Screenwriter’s Tribute. She is the third woman – Jay Presson Allen and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala were the others – to receive the award.

“We’ve been wanting to honor a female writer for years. There’s only so many of them out there who have a strong, lengthy filmography. I hope that’s changing,” Brabbée said.

Meyers’ first screenplay was “Private Benjamin,” starring Goldie Hawn, which earned her a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Following two decades of successful screenwriting and producing, Meyers made an auspicious debut as a director in 1998 with the popular update of the Disney classic “The Parent Trap.” She then co-wrote “Irreconcilable Differences,” followed by “Baby Boom.” The latter starred Keaton and was the first in a long series of collaborative efforts between the two. The box-office hits “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II,” both of which starred Steve Martin and Keaton, followed.

In 2003, Meyers wrote, directed and produced “Something’s Gotta Give.” Keaton won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy and was also nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Erica Barry in the film. In 2006, Meyers wrote, directed and produced “The Holiday,” starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black. The comedy was another hit at the worldwide box office. With her latest film, 2009’s “It’s Complicated,” Meyers wrote, produced and directed an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Martin. “It’s Complicated” earned three Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Picture.

“It’s an honor to pay tribute to Nancy Meyers for the significant role she has played in American cinema and for the spot she has claimed as one of the leading screenwriters in Hollywood,” Brabbée said. “Nancy’s industry stature transcends gender and is matched only by her creativity and meticulous craftsmanship.”

Among the festival’s popular signature programs this year are Ben Stiller’s All-Star Comedy Round Table, Late Night Storytelling, “Morning Coffee With . . .” conversations with cutting-edge filmmakers and the Chris Matthews-hosted “In their Shoes” discussion with a noted screenwriter, actor or director.

Returning after a several-year absence is the festival’s staged reading, this year of a script by Alexander Payne (director of “The Descendants”) and Jim Taylor, titled “The Lost Cause,” a modern-day story about Civil War reenactors. Payne and Taylor are longtime collaborators and 2006 Screenwriter’s Tribute honorees. They co-authored the screenplay for “Election” (1999), which Payne directed and which won the Writers Guild of America Best Adapted Screenplay Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The pair also wrote “About Schmidt” (2002), “Sideways” (2004), which won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for four others, including a Best Director nod for Payne. Payne’s latest film, “The Descendants” (2011), produced by the team’s Ad Hominem Enterprises (with producer Jim Burke), won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and four Oscar nominations. Ad Hominem also produced “The Savages” and “Cedar Rapids.”

New this year is the “Fog and Flounder Radio Hour,” June 21 at Nantucket High School.

Hosted by Tom Bodett of NPR’s “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!” and created by Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, it will feature the classic comedy sketches of Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller with musical guest Sierra Hull and Highway 111. Harking back to the golden era of live radio, the “Fog and Flounder Radio Hour” will celebrate sketch-comedy writing with actors, special guests and musical performances.

The sketches will include bits written and performed by veterans of the Upright Citizens Brigade (Meghan O’Neill) and The Onion (Dan Mirk and Sascha Stanton-Craven). Additional material has been generated by Nantucket teens working with Craven in this year’s NFF Teen View Writing Lab.

Brabbée called “Brave” – a coming of age fairy tale about a young and impetuous girl in 10th-century Scotland – a “gift to island families.”

“Disney-Pixar is one of the best storytelling studios in the world today, animated or live-action, bar none,” she said. “There’s no question Pixar hits it out of the ballpark every year. It’s a gift we’re happy to be able to present to Nantucket families, their chance to see a Pixar film before most other people in the country see it.”

“It also speaks to the growing awareness of this festival as a launching pad for certain types of films,” Stanfield said. “There are plenty of summer festivals that don’t get these films. We’ve been very happy and careful to cultivate this relationship. There will only be the opportunity to see ‘Brave’ at two or three other festivals.”

Set in the future, in a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” chronicles the story of a 6-year-old girl on the brink of orphanhood. It was an easy choice for Brabbée and the other festival programmers.

“Only every now and then do you come across a film that feels truly unique. Everything about it felt fresh. You walk out of this film feeling like you’ve seen something new. The first six min- utes is breathtaking. It is the critics’ darling for good reason. To have it open our festival is a coup,” Brabbée said. 

For complete coverage of the 17th Nantucket Film Festival, pick up The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. The festival program, also produced by the I&M, is available at the newspaper’s Milestone Rotary office, the film-festival box office in the Greenhound Building, 10 Washington St., and other locations around town.

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