2013 Nantucket Film Festival -June 2013

by: Joshua H. Balling

Disney Pixar’s “Monsters University” will open the 2013 festival.

The 18th annual festival will also feature the return of the popular beach screenings at Children’s Beach, Ben Stiller’s All-Star Comedy Round Table, and other signature events for which the annual salute to screen- writing has become synonymous.

The festival will open with the Sundance darling “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends in rock and roll history.

Disney Pixar’s animated “Monsters University” will be the festival’s traditional family-friendly opening-day film. Lake Bell’s “In a World ...” – about an under- achieving vocal coach motivated by her father to be- come a voice-over star – will be the centerpiece film and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” starring Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Casey Affleck and Nate Parker, will be the closingnight film.

“This is not just the best of Sundance. There are films from South by Southwest and the Tribeca Film Festival, movies from past filmmakers with histories at the festival, one or two from Toronto. Daniela (Bajar, the festival’s programming director) has done a great job balancing the documentaries, narratives, lighthearted comedies and dramas, not to mention the shorts program. The tone and feel of the program is so wide,” said festival director Mystelle Brabbée, the longtime artistic director who this year took the top job following the departure of Colin Stanfield.

“As always, the mandate is there has to be some thing for everyone here. Yes, we have come to know our audience’s tastes, and we have a pretty good sense of what films are going to fly, but we include a few gems we like, to see if audience also likes them too,” she said.

“Eclectic is a great word to describe the lineup. There are so many different perspectives. From the comedies to more newwave movies, the dramas, there is a little bit for everybody. We made a point of having different genres and styles represented in the program. We weren’t only relying on the comfort of presenting what we know the people are going to like,” Bajar said.

She cited “Concussion,” directed by Stacie Passion, as an example. “In a way it’s a traditional story about a couple, and the woman is tired of being a housewife, and decides to go out and find some excitement. She becomes a lesbian escort. It’s a very traditional story, but presented in a way that is not so conventional. It’s different, and really interesting,” she said.

The closing film, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” is also not the kind of film the festival has closed with before. It’s more of a gritty drama and a favorite at Sundance with criticallyacclaimed performances by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Bajar described it as “an out law love story.”

Brabbée singled out “Newlyweeds,” produced by Michael Matthews, the son of summer resident and NBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews and festival board president Kathleen Matthews, as a film that also might fall outside the audience’s comfort zone.

“It’s a relationship film set against the backdrop of drugs and marijuana. It’s not ‘Reefer Madness.’ It’s a spiraldownward film, shot beautifully. I think the director has a unique touch. It will require the audience to be a little bit uncomfortable, to not know how they are feeling. It’s funny but sad. It’s not a straightfor ward gotothetheater and have a Hollywood experience kind of film,” she said.

On the other hand, of the openingnight film, Brabbée said, “It’s a crowdpleaser for sure. It delivers a show. The whole film is underscored with great music. You know their voices, they’re the backbeat of all those songs from our youth. It’s American history, to find out who they are. It’s beautiful and also sad and moving.”

The festival is also proud to continue its tradition of opening in the afternoon with a familyfriendly film, she added.

“It started with our recognition of the fact that Pixar puts so much emphasis on the story. It has scores of writers, and they work for a long time on the story. They see our festival as a natural home for their work. To be recognized in the festival world means something, even though they’re obviously released worldwide, get huge box offices, and pretty consistently go all the way to the Oscars.”

Bajar agreed. “They are a lot more than cartoons. Their stories are so deep, the characters so well developed, they are a lot more than the traditional cartoon we are used to,” she said.

Threetime Academy Award nominee Russell will be presented with the 2013 Screenwriters Tribute on Saturday, June 29. The “Silver Linings Playbook” writer/director is also acclaimed for “The Fighter” (2010), which earned seven Oscar nominations. He is currently directing “American Hustle,” which stars Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner and will be released in December. Past Nantucket Film Festival Screenwriters Tribute honorees include Nancy Meyers, Paul Haggis, Judd Apatow, Jay Presson Allen, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Steve Martin and James Schamus.

“We are always excited about our tribute, which is not a lifetime achievement award. We are looking for writers who made an impact on American cinema. It happens that we’re really lucky right now, catching (Russell) between what we assume to be two re ally big projects,” Brabbée said. “He’s white hot, and as current as you get. He still has a lot ahead of him, but he has, in no uncertain terms, made a mark. His stamp is distinct.”

The festival will also honor twotime Academy Awardwinning filmmaker Barbara Kopple with the Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling Award, which will be presented by Mariel Hemingway. Kopple’s most recent project is the documentary "Running from Crazy," which follows actress Hemingway, granddaughter of the legendary writer Ernest, as she explores her family’s disturbing history of mental ill ness and suicide.

“Barbara Kopple has an incredible body of work. She’s won a couple of Oscars. Her type of filmmaking is about getting under the surface, figuring out what’s going on, how her subject ticks,” Brabbée said.

Bell will receive the New Voices in Screenwriting Award. Her first short film “Worst Enemy” screened at the Nantucket Film Festival in 2011, winning The Show time Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting in a Short Film.

“She’s been part of our festival family for a long time. She was in a staged reading several years ago, she had a short film in the festival she won an award for. It’s been ex citing to follow her career, to see her blossom not just into a screenwriter, but an excellent screenwriter. To see her claim a spot usually reserved for men, as a comedic screenwriter, she does it, and she does it well: Performing, directing and producing,” Brabbée said.

“At the core of each year’s festival is the Screenwriters Tribute, which gives our audience an inside look at the works of today’s finest film storytellers,” she continued. “We are especially pleased with our three honorees this year. David O. Russell’s singular vision has made a significant impact on American cinema, Barbara Kopple is one of the all-time great documentarians, and Lake Bell brings a refreshing new voice to comic screenwriting.”

The four spotlight films at this year’s festival are “Running from Crazy” and:

  • “Blackfish,” which generated significant buzz at Sundance, and takes a close look at orcas, known to many as killer whales, and one orca in particular: Tilikum, a perform ing whale who has taken several lives while in captivity.
  • “Drinking Buddies,” which is billed by the festival as a “sweet and sexy relationship comedy” about Kate and Luke, who work at a craft brewery and develop a friendship that feels like it could be more – if they weren’t with other people.
  • “Girl Most Likely,” which tells the story of a wannabe New York socialite who hatches a plan to get her boyfriend to pro pose to her, but it backfires in an unexpected and quirky way.

This year, the festival will utilize six venues. Films will be shown on two screens at the Dreamland Theater, in Bennett Hall, The Coffin School and outdoors at Children’s Beach. Live events will be held at Nantucket High School and the Sconset Casino.

Island filmmaker John Stanton’s documentary “Wood•Sails•Dreams” examines the resurgence of wooden boats, and the way of life that has been built alongside them, through the stories of the men and women whose days were spent chasing the romantic notion of repairing the vessels to live on and to charter.

“We’ve always made it a priority to pay attention to filmmakers who have been in the festival before, and have chops as a filmmaker. We all know that John is a solid filmmaker. We’ve been hearing about this film coming down the pike for a while, and we look forward to it in the program,” Brabbée said.

“In the bigger picture, we’re trying to cultivate the community’s love of cinema. From the venues, all the theaters on the island being open and running and people coming out of their homes to see film, to having a dialogue about and a passion for film is something we’re interested in. Celebrating filmmakers in our own back yard is a logical extension of that.”

Among the signature programs returning this year along with the Comedy Round Table and Screenwriters Tribute are Late Night Story- telling; the In Their Shoes discussions with prominent filmmakers, screenwriters and actors; and Morning Coffee With ... panels with industry insiders.

The popular but budget-draining beach screenings are also back, with “The Princess Bride” slated for Thursday night and “Winged Migration” Friday at Children’s Beach.

“The screenings went away at a time when we were struggling financially, and the festival was cutting anything that was eating away at the budget and not paying for itself. It took a lot to get the film, to put all the equipment on the beach. It was a present to the community, but not a moneymaking endeavor. We’ve always recognized that audiences loved them, and we always hoped to bring them back,” Brabbée said. “We had it as a goal this year, and we found someone to underwrite it. We had fun with it for a couple weeks trying to decide what to show. In the end, we decided on a classic everyone has seen, and one film maybe a lot of families haven’t seen.”

Taking a hiatus this year is the staged reading, which returned last year after several years of being absent from the festival program.

“Staged readings are going to continue to be a staple of the Nantucket Film Festival, but we will not do them every year. They require a significant amount of manpower to cast, to find the perfect script, to put together,” Brabbée said. “We will do one when we have the exact right script, if all the cards are in play. Our sense pretty early on this year was to focus on other things.” 

Passes and individual tickets are currently on sale on the NFF website www.nantucketfilmfestival.org
For a complete list of this year’s films, log on to www.ack.net and click on the “Film Festival Lineup” link.

Joshua Balling is the associate editor of Nantucket Today, and assistant editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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