17th ANNUAL MARTHA’S VINEYARD FILM FESTIVAL
MARCH 16-19, 2017
Discussion with director Taylor Toole and film subject Nick Briggs to follow the Sunday screening
Bold undertakings, often risky and without any assurance of outcome, have long captured the hearts and minds of individuals and societies as a whole. As we move into a time when it seems our every action is tracked, tagged, and tweeted, and our wild spaces are mapped, sold, and harnessed, we may question our ability to truly “get lost.” From a pop-up skate park on the Norwegian coast, to a quiet Santa Barbara surf session, to the most intimate journeys into the self, join a new class of thrill seekers capturing the true spirit of exploration.
Discussion to follow with director David Alvarado
Chances are, you’ve already got the theme song stuck in your head. Bill Nye inspired millions through his television show that made kids excited to learn. Now he takes on a new challenge, embarking on a quest to encourage science advocacy and education. With intimate and exclusive access, this is a behind-the-scenes portrait of "the Science Guy" as he inspires millennials to participate in STEAM, a curriculum based on five specific disciplines—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. With wonder and whimsy, the film follows Bill’s journey to change the world...with science. BILL! BILL! BILL!
Discussion to follow with the director Phillip Barbeau and film subject Eduardo Garcia and Jennifer Jane
This extremely personal film recounts the journey of chef and outdoorsman Eduardo Garcia, who was jolted by 2,400 volts of electricity in Montana’s backcountry. Near death, alone, and miles from help, Garcia took his first steps toward what would ultimately be years of life-altering recovery, change, and acceptance. His hand was amputated, he lost ribs and muscle mass—and nearly his life—but what he found was more important than what he surrendered on the surgeon’s table. With the help of loved ones and friends like Jennifer Jane, he was able to leave the shell of the man he was on the forest floor and transform into the man he is today.
Vanity Fair writer and MVFF alumnus Matt Tyrnauer deftly directs this timely and inspirational documentary chronicling the life of legendary urban activist Jane Jacobs and her crusade to save New York City neighborhoods from draconian redevelopment. Author of the still widely studied Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs ferociously championed the poor, immigrants, and the generations of people who gave the city character. She went toe to toe with Robert Moses, one of the most powerful urban planners in American history. Her playbook for defeating him, and her ideas for community-based development, have never been more relevant.
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Matthew Heineman
Sometimes the most important stories are the most dangerous to tell. Matthew Heineman, the director (and Vineyard summer resident) who brought us the the jaw-dropping film Cartel Land (MVFF 2015) and Escape Fire (MVFF 2012) now turns his camera and mic on Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently—an organization of anonymous, ordinary Syrian citizens-turned-activists who banded together after their hometown was taken over by ISIS in 2014. They bravely risk their lives everyday, smuggling information and photos out into the world in order to reveal the reality of life in Syria today.
Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline joins comedian, actor, writer, and director Demetri Martin in this hilarious father and son romp about coming to terms with loss. Martin plays an aimless illustrator and Kline his methodical engineer dad. Though their approach to grief is opposite, they can’t help but run parallel. When two dynamic women enter their lives, played by Mary Steenburgen and Gillian Jacobs, both men struggle, in their own way, with loving again. Martin’s signature cartoons provide observational commentary throughout the story, creating an incredibly original take on the coming-of-age romantic comedy genre.
Discussion to follow with director Stephen Apkon and producer Marcina Hale, moderated by Rabbi Brian Walt
In a place where hope of coexistence has been abandoned, communities born into discord begin to challenge that fate. Former enemies—Israeli soldiers from elite units, and Palestinian fighters—throw social norms aside in the name of a shared goal: peace. Each group agrees to meet the other, at first fearing for their lives. Over time, they realize they have more similarities than differences, and that waging war is no longer the answer. They form a movement, Combatants for Peace, to shine a light on nonviolent solutions and shift the conversation from the inevitability of conflict to the possibility of establishing lasting peace for all.
Discussion to follow with film subject Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012—a recognition many thought overdue. She had fought tirelessly alongside Cesar Chavez to form the nation’s first farmworkers’ union, but what had started as a struggle for racial and labor justice turned into a fight for women’s rights as the union forced her to leave. Fearless and determined, she paid no mind to what others thought of her, and the conventional gender roles of the time. Though often courting controversy, she became, and has continued to be, one of the most effective civil and labor rights leaders in modern U.S. history. This is her story.
Aamion Goodwin was barehanding prawns out of a clear creek in Fiji before he could talk. His vagabond dad made home not in one place, but on a seasonal passage to outposts with surf swells. Now a father himself, Aamion is passing knowledge, and a unique lifestyle, on to his own son. Given is the simple yet powerfully contemplative story of this family legacy come full circle. Telling the tale in a new way, through the visceral experience of a six-year-old, the film follows legendary surfers Aamion and Daize Goodwin as they and their two young children set out to fulfill a calling that spans generations.
Discussion to follow with Dr. Jessica B. Harris, award-winning author and journalist whose recently published memoir, My Soul Looks Back, chronicles her coming of age alongside James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.
James Baldwin’s final manuscript was to be a revolutionary and personal look at race in America, but he died with only 30 pages written. Master filmmaker Raoul Peck (Lumumba, Sometimes in April) envisions the book Baldwin never finished, in this incisive and gripping look at black history from the Civil Rights movement to #BlackLivesMatter. This scorching and unforgettable Oscar-nominated film challenges the very definition of what America stands for.
Ken Loach, the now 80-year-old British filmmaker, once again speaks up for the beleaguered lower classes. He has powerfully composed a hopeful tale amid the hopelessness of bureaucracy. Daniel Blake must seek help from the state after he is forced out of work because of a heart attack. While mired in the system that is supposed to protect him, he crosses paths with Katie, a single mother struggling to make ends meet. In each other they find the missed support of family and together attempt to untangle the red tape, until ultimately they must take a stand.
Walk the gritty streets of Venezuela, spend a night in a hotel room in Poland, watch a falcon take flight. This year’s selection of international short films brings the audience on a wild ride across the social, cultural, and geographical landscapes that separate us all. Or do they? These shorts make a strong argument for our commonality—that we are more alike than current political forces might suggest.
Discussion to follow with director Cyrus Sutton
Beyond the beautiful surf and lushness of Hawaii exists a complicated relationship—between growing food sufficient for an expanding population, and the use of GMO crops. Emmy-winning filmmaker and professional surfer Cyrus Sutton shows us what decades of mostly unfettered agricultural and chemical experimentation has done to the land and people of Hawaii. He introduces us to a community which is standing up and saying enough is enough. They speak out against corporations raining pesticides down on their farmlands, schools, and neighborhoods. And they fight back against the corporate model of food production, empowering themselves by taking control of their own.
Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine shines as Harriet, the lovable curmudgeon who needs to control everything about her life...everything! She even takes it upon herself to make sure that her obituary will be up to her standards, by having it written while she’s still alive. After identifying the specific elements which are needed in a legendary obit, she marches into the office of the local newspaper and demands that Anne, a young writer (Amanda Seyfried), join her in the endeavor. Although both are at very different points in their lives, an unlikely friendship forms between the two. They embark on a journey which not only alters Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future.
LOOK & SEE: A PORTRAIT OF WENDELL BERRY
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Laura Dunn
As seen through the mind’s eye of farmer, writer, and teacher Wendell Berry, this is a cinematic portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture. Writing from the vantage point of a long wooden desk in his farmhouse in Kentucky’s Henry County, Berry eloquently extols the benefits of a life deeply connected to the land, and highlights the decline of modern U.S. agrarian culture, as well as the societal permutations of the 1960s through today. This visually stunning ode explores the graceful intersection between art, life, and the natural world.
Fiona (director Gordon), a small-town Canadian librarian, receives a letter of distress from her 88-year-old Aunt Martha (the great Emmanuelle Riva, in one of her last roles). She hops on the first plane available and arrives, wide-eyed, on her beloved aunt’s doorstep in Paris, only to find she has mysteriously disappeared. Now what? In an avalanche of spectacular disasters and hilarious little travel hiccups, Fiona wanders throughout the City of Love, all the while toting her bright red backpack topped with a cheerful Canadian flag. A fun, hectic tale from the directors of The Fairy (MVFF 2012).
How do you put a life into 500 words? This is the daunting task that the small staff of obituary writers at the New York Times faces everyday. From Peabody Award-winning director Vanessa Gould, this first-ever glimpse into the daily rituals, triumphs, and existential angst of the Times obit writers offers quirky insight on what and who makes history, and how it is recorded. Not nearly as morbid as it might seem, the film invites some of the most essential questions we ask ourselves about life and our impact on other people. It also reflects the changing nature of our culture—from white and male-dominated to one that is slowly making room for others.
Preceded by stories about Ram Dass, from local storytellers Nancy Aronie and Ronnie and Peter Simon. A discussion with director Derek Peck will follow the screening.
This beautiful portrait is a cross between a biopic and a guided meditation by one of the preeminent spiritual teachers of the last half century. We are granted rare access to the home of Ram Dass, the Harvard psychologist turned Buddhist and author of the seminal 1971 book Be Here Now. Though his speech is slowed and he is partially paralyzed by a stroke, it has a profound spiritual effect: it forces him to confront life and death, and he openly shares his profound thoughts on the subject.
Discussion to follow with executive producer Tom Johnson, a mohawk from the six nations of the Grand River
From Delta blues great Charley Patton to Jimi Hendrix (who was part Cherokee), to The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Rumble celebrates the influence of Native Americans on rock and roll. Using little-known stories, concert footage, audio archives, and interviews with living legends, this deeply insightful film shows us that some of our most treasured artists and songs found their inspiration in ancient, native melodies and harmonies infused with a desire to resist—a missing chapter in the history of American music. You’ll never listen to your favorite rock and roll classic in the same way again.
This is the true story of a tiny Tuscan town that confronts its issues by turning them into a play. For fifty years, the villagers have transformed their piazza into a stage, taking on roles of themselves in an alternate, theatrical reality in which they discuss their difficulties and explore solutions. Filming entirely in Italy, MVFF alumnus Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol) weaves present-day vérité footage with 46 years of archival film and photographs. As in a novel, every chapter functions as a puzzle piece, filling in the details of each character, illuminating hidden facets, and finally telling a story about the importance of culture, community, and everything we leave behind as we move forward.
Discussion to follow with director Stefan Avalos and film subject Danny Houck
A backwoods dreamer from Ohio, Danny Houck is obsessed with Stradivari, Guarneri, and all things violin. Like the great luthiers of centuries ago, he experiments with different ways of making violins. Through the magic of social media he befriends a famous European concert violinist, Razvan Stoica, and convinces him that he can make a copy of one of the most valuable violins in the world, Guarneri’s Il Cannone—all in seven months’ time. Fighting the clock, poverty, and most of all himself, Danny puts everything on the line for one shot at glory.
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Joan Kron and film subject Emily Askin
Nobody delivers the truth like comedians. And so, who better to draw back the curtain on the often hush-hush subject of plastic surgery? Award-winning journalist Joan Kron, a first-time film director at age 89, follows two comedians as they deliberate about going under the knife. Emily Askin, an up-and-coming improv performer, has always wanted her nose refined. Jackie Hoffman, a seasoned headliner on Broadway, regrets turning down a nose job she was offered in her teens. Taking a comedic and insightful route, this film seeks to better understand how women are pressured to adhere to society’s arbitrary and often absurd standards of beauty.
Discussion to follow with director Anne Makepeace and film subject Chief Judge Claudette White
Claudette White, of the Quechan in the southern Mojave, and Abby Abinanti, of the Yurok on the north coast of California, are two judges who are forces to be reckoned with, both in and out of the courtroom. They have devoted their lives to bettering those of their tribes. Their focus is on breaking the mold of the criminal justice system. By collaborating with their communities and addressing the underlying causes of each crime, they create more compassionate solutions. Rather than relying on conventional jail sentencing with little or no support or rehabilitation, they forge a path for recovery and help to end the cycle of incarceration.
Discussion to follow with the directors and writers
Come celebrate Vineyard filmmakers! Chris Fischer and Conor Hagen present a day in the life of Menemsha fishing icon Hershel West. After visiting refugee camps in Serbia last year, Julia MacNelly and Tom Ellis turned their footage into a short film. Nancy Aronie joins MVFF staff in a narrative by Reece Robinson. Be among the first to see some of Georgia and Len Morris’s newest project, in India. Danielle Mulcahy breathes some Island air into a music video—shot inside the former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven—for local musician Neil Howl. James and Charlie Cole craft a story about a young man on Chappaquiddick—rumor has it there's been a flamingo sighting. Liz Witham shares an intimate ode to her grandmother Trudy Taylor, the beloved Island matriarch.