SUMMER FILM SERIES FILMS A-Z 2015
Discussion to follow with director Johanna Hamilton and film subjects Bonnie and John Raines; moderated by filmmaker and MVFF board member Dawn Porter
Before Watergate, WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, there was Media, Pennsylvania. On March 8, 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office there, removing all files and mailing them anonymously to newsrooms across the country. The heist yielded a trove of damning evidence. The most significant revelation was an illegal surveillance program overseen by Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover. Despite one of the largest investigations ever conducted, the FBI was unable to catch the burglars. Those responsible have never revealed their identities—until now.
Discussion to follow with film subjects Rom Davis and Lucia McBath
In November 2012, three months before the controversial shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed outside of a Jacksonville gas station when he refused to lower the volume of his car stereo. Davis and three friends had pulled into the station. Soon after, a couple drove up alongside the boys. The driver, later identified as Michael Dunn, asked the teenagers to turn down their music—three and a half minutes and ten gunshots later, Jordan Davis was dead. This outstanding documentary, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, takes us inside Dunn’s trial while expertly examining the contradictions and racial prejudices within the American criminal justice system.
Discussion to follow with film subjects A.J. Murray and Ila and Peter Halby
The beauty of friendship, community, and diversity is wondrously exhibited when a group of people with disabilities gather in Los Angeles to film a comedy Western complete with saloon brawls, vintage Hollywood sets, and scheming villains. With respectful collaboration and dedication, the cast and crew deliver brilliant performances. This heartwarming documentary, winner of awards at six film festivals this year, incorporates on-set footage, set-piece interviews, and film clips for a stunning behind-the-scenes glimpse into a dynamic, inclusive world of discipline and play, raising the question: why do we so rarely see disabled actors on the big screen?
Discussion to follow with director Stanley Nelson and film subject Professor Kathleen Cleaver, introduced by professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
American culture was transforming itself at an unprecedented rate during the 1960s, and many embraced the possibility of imminent civil uprising. With a fierce commitment to systemic change, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense became a beacon for necessary social rebellion. Director Stanley Nelson, whose film Freedom Summer was a highlight of last year’s MVFF Summer Film Series, seamlessly weaves accounts from police, journalists, detractors, Party members, and FBI informants and former agents, for a beautifully rich perspective on the Black Panthers’ vast influence.
Discussion with, and performed by, founder Sally Taylor to follow
Between 2012 and 2014, 150 artists from around the world were asked to interpret each other’s work, in the vein of a game of “telephone.” They expressed their reactions in their respective mediums. Twenty-two images of Martha’s Vineyard were selected to represent every geographical location, season, and element of Island life. Photos were then given to twenty-two musicians, who were each asked to interpret a photo as a song. The songs were given to dancers for their interpretation, then to painters, perfumers, sculptors, and poets, until all the senses were represented. The result is a conversation about the essence of Martha’s Vineyard, the human experience, and the nature of truth.
Discussion to follow with director Barbara Kopple; moderated by Dawn Porter
For 150 years The Nation has illuminated the country’s political and cultural climate with eloquence, insight, and unflinching honesty. In this tribute, two-time Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple reveals the soul of American journalism, introducing the remarkable writers and editors who guide the country’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine. A survey of its illustrious history of intellectual inquiry and dissent, interspersed with scenes of the trenchant reportage for which the magazine is known, Hot Type also examines the pressures and challenges of producing an independent-minded and independently owned publication in an age of corporate hegemony.
Discussion, before and after the screening, with film subject Caroll Spinney
Everything we didn’t know about the character who’s been in our hearts and in our living rooms for the past 40 years comes to light in this heartfelt documentary about Caroll Spinney—the man who IS Big Bird, and so much more. And while he took the back seat as Big Bird shone in the spotlight, his stories are the stuff of legend. In this glimpse of the creation of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and so many other characters important to us all, is a unique chance to understand the man behind the curtain (or inside the suit, as it were).
Discussion to follow with film subjects Che and Donnie Smith, Brian Tillman, ans directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, after which there will be a 30-minute concert featuring Che “Rhymefest” Smith backed by top local musicians
Hip-hop artist and Grammy Award-winning songwriter Che “Rhymefest” Smith wanted to raise his new family in the same house in which he grew up. Shortly after purchasing his childhood home on Chicago’s turbulent South Side, he discovers that his estranged father is a homeless alcoholic living only blocks away. Che sets out to reconnect with the man who abandoned him more than twenty years ago, but fatherhood is more complicated than his idealized version allowed him to believe. This stirring, multigenerational character study offers a thoughtful examination of contemporary black fatherhood on an individual and community level.
Discussion to follow with director Karen Thorsen and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ; moderated by Alexandra Styron
The eloquent, passionate voice of James Baldwin was one of the first to speak in depth of the pain and struggle of black Americans in a world that failed to understand that “all men are brothers.” His works honestly confronted taboo topics—racial tension and homosexuality—and Baldwin was soon an early and essential voice of universal love and equality in the civil rights movements. The life, works, and beliefs of the late writer and activist are revisited in this newly remastered film featuring rare archival footage and interviews with Baldwin’s friends Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and William Styron. At a time when black Americans are still fighting for their basic rights and dignity, this film is proof of the enduring power and relevance of Baldwin’s words.
Discussion to follow with writer Sarah Kernochan
Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson and Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley star in this coming of (middle) age comedy about a mismatched pair who help each other overcome life’s road blocks. Seeking independence as her life begins to unravel, fiery Manhattan author, Wendy hires soft-spoken taxi driver Darwan, to teach her to drive. As he shows her how to take control of the wheel, and she coaches him on how to impress a woman, an unlikely friendship awakens them to the joy, humor and love in starting life anew.
Discussion to follow with producer Ted Dintersmith
A college diploma once meant a guaranteed job, but now more than half of America’s recent graduates are unemployed. Premiering at Sundance this year, this compelling documentary is an overdue challenge to the educational system in the United States. The film expertly contrasts the century-old ideologies that continue to dominate American academics with the alternative approach taken by High Tech High, a project-based charter school that prioritizes student collaboration, critical thinking, and risk-taking—but which sort of educational environment is most likely to succeed in the 21st century?
Discussion to follow with director Amy Berg and executive producer Geralyn Dreyfous
In 1999 noted author Jon Krakauer was headed home from a climbing trip when he stopped for gas in a small town near the Arizona-Utah border. It immediately became apparent that this remote community harbored an unorthodox and strictly confined culture. Krakauer’s brief glimpse became an all-consuming fascination which, after ten years of investigation, exposed one of America’s most dangerous religious leaders, Warren Jeffs of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. Based on private investigator Sam Brower’s book of the same name, this film documents Krakauer and Brower’s efforts to help capture and convict Jeffs for the crimes described in gripping first-person accounts by former members of the FLDS.
Discussion to follow with director Louie Psihoyos
Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) unites with leading conservationists, artists, and innovators to address humanity’s devastating impact on the planet, particularly its oceans. Through a skillfully orchestrated undercover investigation, Psihoyos exposes the horrific black-market trade in endangered marine life. He also cleverly reveals the extent of the methane and carbon emissions that threaten over half of the planet’s species. Ultimately, Psihoyos and his collaborators create a large-scale work of art—a stunning multimedia presentation of images and statistics of the extinction crisis, projected on large buildings in major cities—which they hope will inspire a global awakening and collective action.
Discussion to follow with director Rebecca Parrish and film subject sister Simone Campbell
Three fearless nuns risk their standing in the Roman Catholic Church when they collaborate with social justice organizations to address the struggle for women’s religious equality. When the Vatican investigates and censures the sisters—citing their “radical feminism”—they become the spiritual and symbolic center of a struggle for the future of Catholicism. The nuns refuse to back down, continuing to challenge the patriarchy of the Church. From their cross-country “Nuns on the Bus” tour, to serving those on the margins, to a continued struggle for Catholic women’s religious equality, these sisters are transforming American politics—and the Church itself.
SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION
Discussion and piano masterclass to follow with film subject Seymour Bernstein
In an entertainment culture in which superstardom is revered and the cultivation of self expression is often overlooked, artists find themselves asking, “why make art?” Seymour Bernstein is one artist who shows you why, with elegant clarity and profound self-awareness. At the age of 50, the world-renowned concert pianist traded his rising career for a quiet, modest life focused on his truer passions of composing and teaching. Director Ethan Hawke explores the life, lessons, and wisdom of the now 88-year-old musician, while sifting through his own struggles of perfecting his craft, and its conflicts with fame and fortune.
Discussion to follow with actor Jake Gyllenhaal; moderated by Jacob Soboroff
From director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest) and writer Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) comes one of this year’s most anticipated films. A brutally offensive fighter infatuated with glory, Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) achieves boxing greatness only to find his family and mental stability torturously dissolving. Callous and disillusioned in the wake of his wife’s death, he plunges into a haze of drugs and alcohol that seems to finish what remains of his reputation. He has one opportunity left to rebuild his life and regain custody of his daughter. With the help of a fiercely disciplined trainer, he returns to the ring. Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, and 50 Cent co-star.
Discussion to follow with film subject and New Yorker cartoonist editor Bob Mankoff and New Yorker cartoonist and Vineyard residents Paul Karasik and Mick Stevens
This behind-the-scenes look at The New Yorker introduces the cartooning legends and hopefuls who have inspired, baffled, and occasionally pissed off readers for decades. Blending documentary and animation, the film transforms the magazine’s iconic black-and-white cartoons into a vibrant comic world. Along the way, the film explores the evolution of the cartoonists’ senses of humor and how they reflect the changing social and political landscape of urban life. Very Semi-Serious is an offbeat meditation on humor, art, and the genius of the single-panel cartoon.