SUMMER FILM SERIES 2017
Inspired by Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and spurred by not getting a role on NBC’s The Wiz Live!, American Idol and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall launches his most ambitious project yet: Straight Outta Oz, a full-scale, original musical remake of The Wizard of Oz, mixed with Hall’s life story and beliefs. He struggles to write songs about growing up gay and black in Texas, his difficult relationship with his mom, and the harsh realities of trying to make it in show business. With limited time and budget the odds are against him, but his passion and team of talented performers overcome all obstacles to bring his show to the stage.
Discussion to follow with director Sophie Brooks
A young writer is forced to reflect on her first relationship when she inadvertently moves into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment building. Like a true New Yorker, she keeps the apartment. The move prompts her to try on many roles, including spy, hopeful lover, casual acquaintance, disgruntled neighbor, and friend. Zosia Mamet (Girls, The Kids Are All Right) assuredly captures all of these aspects and gives a charming and deeply moving performance as a woman caught between love and career. First-time writer-director Sophie Brooks presents a new take on the classic romantic comedy.
Discussion to follow with writer and director Peter Stray
New Year’s Eve may be festive, but not for a group of drunken friends in Wales. This funny, action-packed sci-fi/horror film pits the bunch against invading, time-traveling aliens. Vineyard summer resident and U.K. native Peter Stray writes and directs this genre-bender that takes place in Wales, Vietnam, Martha’s Vineyard, and Washington, D.C. Up-and-coming actors from film and television, and some Vineyarders, play the hilarious group of misfits who must work together to save themselves—and the world.
What do civil rights activist Van Jones, an unemployed worker, a Tea Party member, and a Chinese entrepreneur have in common? They are all part of the race to lead the world into the clean energy future. Van Jones sees implementing renewable energy as a way to both solve environmental problems and transform America’s poor communities with “moon shot”-like jobs programs. The film follows him as he enters the Obama administration and is soon attacked by conservative media. Connecting the stories of people around the world who are fighting pollution and poverty with the sun’s power, this film is timely and insightful—a provocative examination of one of the most pressing issues of our age.
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Antonio Santini
Outspoken Dina invites her fiancé Scott, a quiet Walmart door greeter, to move in with her. They are head over heels for one another, but shacking up poses a new challenge for this couple who are both on the autism spectrum and have grown up in a world blind to the value of their neurologically diverse experience. Dina is patient, but longs for the passion she’s seen on TV. Scott, though clearly devoted to her, must be constantly reminded of her needs, beginning with hand-holding. So intimate, honest, and dramatic, this film often seems like a scripted masterpiece.
Discussion to follow with director Charlie McDowell, moderated by actress Mary Steenburgen
What would you do if there was proof of an afterlife? Director and longtime Vineyard summer resident Charlie McDowell deftly explores this premise in a film that is a fascinating blend of science fiction, drama, comedy, and thriller. When Dr. Harber (Robert Redford) scientifically proves the existence of an afterlife, there are dire consequences. His estranged son, Will (Jason Segel), tries to handle the situation by returning to the island where he grew up. He crosses paths with Isla (Rooney Mara), who’s come back there for mysterious reasons of her own. The tale unfolds over the ensuing days, as they reckon with the new discovery.
Discussion to follow with director Stephen Apkon
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.
Just getting to the ocean, and letting the saltwater run over your skin, can soothe the soul. This pelagic love letter weaves together portraits of activists and athletes who have dedicated their lives to exploring and protecting the world’s oceans, including spearfisher Kimi Werner, surfer Dave Rastovich, and long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox. Surfer Keith Malloy elegantly directs, conveying the transformative effects of time spent in the ocean—and how we can leave our limitations behind to find deeper meaning in the saltwater wilderness that lies just beyond the shore.
Discussion to follow with film subject Daje Shelton and director Jeremy S. Levine, moderated by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Just four miles away from the events about to unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, 17-year-old Daje Shelton is expelled but given one last chance to earn her diploma. Fighting for her future, she struggles to meet academic expectations at a new school, attends funerals of friends killed around her, falls in love, and navigates a loving but tumultuous relationship with her mother. Shot over the course of two years, this film gives us a fly-on-the-wall vantage at a transformative moment: when black American teenagers come up against the institutional and societal roadblocks that are partly the cause of the frustration and anger fueling the riots erupting nearby. Vérité yet cinematic, For Ahkeem provides access to a community of people who are often only allowed to speak in soundbites.
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Antonino D’Ambrosio
Half a century ago, NYPD officer Frank Serpico stood alone against corruption in the world’s largest police force. He took a gunshot to the head, became world-famous, then disappeared into seclusion. Filmmaker Antonino D’Ambrosio (We’re Still Here, MVFF 2016) tracks down the legendary whistleblower who inspired Sidney Lumet’s hit Hollywood drama Serpico, finding him more relevant than ever and finally ready to break the silence and tell his story like he’s always wanted to tell it.
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.
Discussion to follow with producers Dan Cogan, David Fialkow, and Jim Swartz
When filmmaker and amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel begins an experiment on the effects that doping has on athletes, it quickly evolves into a story he never could have imagined. His search for truth leads him to renegade Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a pillar of his country’s anti-doping program. As his connection with the scientist deepens, he realizes just how far up the Russian chain of command the Olympic doping collusion goes—and more shocking yet, that he holds the power to reveal the biggest international sports scandal in living memory.
Discussion to follow with director Ferne Pearlstein
This funny and thought-provoking documentary pairs clips from films with performances and interviews with top comedians and prominent Jewish leaders (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Abraham Foxman, and Shalom Auslander) to ask the ultimate taboo question: can the Holocaust be funny? History shows that even the victims of the Nazi concentration camps themselves used humor as a means of survival and resistance. So where is the line? The film explores that quandary and the implications for other controversial subjects.
Acclaimed character actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut is at once an homage to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton and a meditation on mortality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection. Lucky follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist (Stanton, in the titular role) and the quirky folks who inhabit his off-the-map desert town. Having outlived and outsmoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself out on a figurative precipice, thrust into the sort of self-exploration that leads towards the so often unattainable: enlightenment.
In the near future, a time of artificial intelligence, 86-year-old Marjorie, whose memory is fading, spends her days with a computerized version of her deceased husband. Her “Prime” is designed to feed the story of her life back to her, and relies on information from her and her kin to develop the complex understanding of their history. As their interactions deepen, and they’re drawn into a reconstruction of the often painful past, the family begins to develop diverging accounts of their lives. Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, and Lois Smith shine in this film adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play exploring memory, identity, love, and loss. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?
Discussion to follow with director Jill Campbell and film subject Kenny Anderson
Ten years after retirement from a career as a professional athlete, Kenny Anderson finds that basketball is easy—it’s life that’s hard. Still reeling from his mother’s death and a subsequent DUI, the former high school basketball prodigy and NBA All-Star player loses a cherished coaching position, which sends him into a midlife crisis. Facing his personal demons head-on, the charismatic Anderson must confront haunting memories of alcoholism and abuse in order to find a way forward.
Discussion to follow with director Vanessa Gould
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.
Retired Fisherman/Film Subject Chris Murphy and Director Thomas Bena will attend the screening and be on hand to answer questions afterwards.
Trophy homes threaten the unique character of Martha’s Vineyard. Ten, fifteen, even twenty-thousand-square-foot houses are going up around the Island. Not only do these mansions stand in stark contrast to traditional cottages, most sit empty for ten months a year yet are heated year round. When he feels complicit in wrecking the place he calls home, carpenter and MVFF founder Thomas Bena takes off his tool belt and picks up a camera. Bumping up against tired clichés, angry homeowners, and builders who would rather look the other way, he works with his community and attempts to create a new bylaw that would limit house size.
Discussion to follow with director Robert Nixon
Too often we overlook the fact that harm done to the ocean is harm done to ourselves. Iconic ocean explorer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle embarks on a quest to inspire the next generation of conservationists, scientists, and activists so that “no child is left dry,” as she likes to say. The ultimate goal? To bring about the creation of “blue parks” in what is an imperiled, and still mostly unseen, American underwater wilderness.
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 executive producer Geralyn Dreyfous, and director Amanda Lipitz (via Skype)
The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women opened in 2009 with a mandate to send every student to college, despite the barriers that their home lives and community might present. As the first class enters its senior year, the stakes are high to achieve that purpose. Tony Award winner Amanda Lipitz (The Humans) connects us to three irrepressible seniors as they find their way through a nerve-racking college application process while keeping their step team—the “Lethal Ladies”—as fierce as ever.
Discussion to follow with director Rory Kennedy
Master documentarian and MVFF alumna Rory Kennedy (Last Days in Vietnam, Ethel) gets us up close and personal with big-wave surf legend Laird Hamilton. Rebellious by nature, he discovered that the water was a place where he could escape the friction he experienced on land. He successfully funneled his energy and fearlessness into a career of unbelievable surfing achievements. Part extreme-sports film, part rip-roaring account of a life spent conquering massive walls of water, the film celebrates both Hamilton’s lifelong desire to charge toward new frontiers and his intense commitment to taking on the next big wave—at all costs.
Discussion to follow with director Joan Kron
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 Barbara Kopple
In 2008, Canadian teenager Gregory Lazzarato, a nationally ranked diver, walked away from the pool and created a YouTube channel focusing on makeup tutorials. Unintimidated by bullies, both online and in high school, a fierce and outspoken internet star was born: Gregory Gorgeous. Two-time Academy Award-winning director and MVFF alumna Barbara Kopple (Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation) delivers a stunning, closely hewn portrait of Gregory as he goes through another life-altering change, revealed in a 2013 video entitled “I Am Transgender.” Enter Gigi Gorgeous, and her empowering message of self-acceptance.
Discussion to follow with director Susanna Styron
When Susanna Styron dropped out of college in 1975, she came to the Vineyard to “figure things out.” Working in Poole’s Fish Market, sharing a house with two carpenters, befriending struggling artists, and going out drinking at the Ritz, she began to discern a community of like-minded seekers who (with varying degrees of success) had left the mainland behind, looking to establish simpler, freer lives. The following winter she returned with a camera crew and created Suspended Sentence, her first short film. It will play in tandem with her most recent short, House of Teeth, a fictional narrative which she wrote and directed. In it, her lead character, a recently divorced woman in midlife, sets out to find her bearings—and her mojo—as she discovers the challenges and surprises of life beyond marriage.
Joyfully traveling to the farthest expanses of earth, Chris Burkard has established himself as a global presence and influencer with his exceptional photography. He works to capture stories that inspire people to consider their relationship with nature, while promoting the preservation of wild places everywhere. In this adventure, he takes on the role of filmmaker and travels with a group of surfers to Iceland’s north coast, in search of perfect, frigid waves. And it just happens to be during the largest storm to make landfall there in 25 years.
Discussion to follow with director and producer Lynn Novick and film subjects Roger Harris and Thomas Vallely
In an immersive and visceral narrative, seasoned PBS documentary collaborators Ken Burns (The Central Park Five, MVFF 2013) and Lynn Novick (The War, Prohibition, Jazz) tell the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film. This is a special sneak peek at their highly anticipated eighteen-hour docuseries featuring testimony from nearly 80 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from both North and South Vietnam.
Discussion to follow with director Doug Liman
It’s late 2007, and the Iraq war has officially ended. Rebuilding efforts are underway. But when Army Ranger Staff Sergeant Matthews (WWE star John Cena) and spotter Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) arrive at the scene of a distress call after having been perched and camouflaged in the distance for more than 20 hours, everybody is dead. A psychological game of chess begins as a sniper comes into play, taking down Sergeant Matthews and hacking into Isaac’s radio. The war may be over, but not everyone has laid down their gun. From director and Vineyard resident Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith).
Discussion to follow with Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter and Janaya Khan, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada
This powerful “people’s documentary” follows the activists and leaders of the movement ignited by the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9, 2014. Just slain, his body lay in the streets for hours, marking a breaking point for the citizens of St. Louis County. Determined to learn the truth behind the dramatic scenes playing out on the news, first-time filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis traveled to Ferguson. The result is this unflinching look at the uprisings, a generational battle not just for civil rights, but for the right to live.
Discussion to follow (via Skype) with director Jairus McLeary
Filmed within California’s famous Folsom State Prison, this emotionally riveting documentary follows three men from the outside as they participate in a tense four-day group therapy retreat. This visceral collaborative approach to rehabilitation forces all involved to confront their anger and regrets. The raw and revealing process that the incarcerated men undergo exceeds the expectations of the free men, ripping them out of their comfort zones and forcing them to see themselves and the prisoners in surprising ways.