Woods Hole is perhaps best known as the point of departure for vacationers heading to Martha’s Vineyard, not to mention scientists heading out to do research at sea. Each year during the last week in July and the first week in August, however, the quaint village becomes a major destination for filmmakers and film lovers alike during the Woods Hole Film Festival, which at 23 years old is the oldest film festival on the Cape and Islands. This year’s eight-day festival runs Saturday to Saturday, July 26-August 2.
With two distinguished filmmakers-in-residence, more than thirty narrative and documentary feature-length films, ten short films programs filled with close to 70 narrative, documentary and animated shorts, and several workshops, master classes, panel discussions, the festival offers a stimulating blend of activities for filmmakers and film lovers set in a magnificent seaside setting. The almost nightly parties at various restaurants at the water’s edge within walking distance of the screening venues also offer lots of casual and relaxed “schmoozing” with filmmakers and fans in addition to top notch live music. And if you are wondering what to do with your children, bring them to Kids Day on Sunday, July 27, for a sneak preview of THE BOXCAR CHILDREN, an animated film based on the best-selling children’s book.
In an exciting new development, the festival is partnering with monterey media, which has distributed quality independent and art house films for over thirty years, to offer films in competition the opportunity to receive a “first look” and consideration of the film’s distribution viability by the company’s publicity, marketing, sales, and technological staff. The arrangement also has the potential for filmmakers to receive a subsequent distribution agreement through monterey. “With more than thirty years as a distributor of quality films, many of which have been shown at the festival, monterey was a logical choice,” says Judy Laster, the festival’s founder and executive director.
The festival continues its practice of showcasing and promoting the work of independent, emerging filmmakers. While many of this year’s filmmakers and subjects are connected to New England, especially to Cape Cod and the Islands, some hail from such unusual places as Serbia, Denmark, and Malta.
“We’ve stayed true to our vision,” says Judy Laster, the festival’s founder and executive director. “So I think it is a very attractive place for independent filmmakers, with many first-time filmmakers returning to the festival with subsequent films or as filmmakers-in-residence.”
Films with New England, especially Cape Cod and the islands, connections are numerous this year. Festival co-founder Kate Davis and her producing partner and husband David Heilbronner, who spend their summers on Martha’s Vineyard, are returning to the festival with the Massachusetts premiere of their eighth film, THE NEWBURGH STING, a shocking, suspenseful documentary that uses extensive FBI undercover footage to tell the entrapment story of the Newburgh Four. Cape Cod summer resident and Massachusetts filmmaker John Stimpson’s THE OFF SEASON, a thriller shot on Cape Cod that premiered in Woods Hole in May, will have a return engagement during the festival. LIES I TOLD MY LITTLE SISTER, also shot entirely on Cape Cod, features an eclectic cast, including rising star Lucy Walters (the actress who caused a stir in her highly charged scenes with Michael Fassbender in SHAME), Donovan Patton (who appeared for many years in Blues Clues), and Ellen Foley (MARRIED TO THE MOB, FATAL ATTRACTION).
Finally, the festival presents the East Coast premiere of THE GOD QUESTION, a narrative feature shot in Amherst, MA and directed by Boston-based Douglas Gordon, who leads a crew that includes writer Stan Freeman from Northampton and composer Duane Sharman, a Berklee College of Music graduate The story is set in the not too distant future at UMass Amherst and MIT, where a startling breakthrough in artificial intelligence produces the first super-intelligent computer capable of thinking independently, including asking the question of whether there really is a God.
The festival also consistently attracts exciting new international filmmakers. LOVELESS ZORITSA from Serbian director Radoslav Pavkovic is a hilarious fairy tale with a bit of a SHAUN OF THE DEAD and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN sensibility. COPENHAGEN by Canadian Mark Raso is a beautifully shot tribute to the Danish city. It follows a 28 year-old man through Europe to Copenhagen in search of his grandfather.
Music traditionally plays a big role in the festival, and this year is no exception. Besides top notch live music at parties, such as NRBQ founder Joey Spampinato and his brother Johnny (who appeared regularly on The Simpsons), music lovers can choose from films about several different musical genres. Opening night features Boston native Beth Harrington’s documentary THE WINDING STREAM, a definitive chronicle of America’s royal roots music dynasty—the Carters and the Cashes. Musician and prolific music writer Elijah Wald will lead a discussion after the film, and the Boston-based roots band Wayworn Travelers will perform both traditional and modern renditions of Carter Family songs. For fans of the television show The Voice, audience members can see popular singer Xenia in LIFE INSIDE OUT, a narrative film about a woman who finds a way to connect with her troubled teenage son when she picks up the music career she began in her youth. The documentary OPUS 139: TO HEAR THE MUSIC tracks the progress of the design and construction of a new pipe organ for Harvard University’s Memorial Church. Directed by Dennis Lanson, a professor at Endicott College in Salem, MA, and featuring cinematography by Emmy-winning Director of Photography Austin deBesche (John Sayles’s RETURN OF THE SEACAUCUS SEVEN), the film also tells the remarkable story of the tight-knit group of employees at the legendary Gloucester-based pipe organ company that takes on the project.
In a nod to Woods Hole’s scientific heritage, science also plays a role in several of this year’s films. As part of the “Bringing Science to the Screen,” series funded in part by grants from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod and the Falmouth Fund of the Cape Cod Foundation, the festival is presenting the world premiere of ANTARCTICA BEYOND THE ICE in conjunction with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This compelling story follows researchers at the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research project at Palmer (located in the West Antarctic Peninsula) in their quest to understand the impact of climate change on the region. THE PERFECT 46 bills itself as a “science factual” film, a dystopian drama in which a geneticist creates a website that uses the power of the information stored in the entirety of our DNA–i.e., the genome–to pair individuals with their ideal genetic partner for producing genetically flawless children. The scientifically accurate film even created a convincing web site for the fictitious company to demonstrate just how close the concept is to present-day circumstances.
Perhaps the festival’s most distinguishing feature is the Filmmaker-in- Residence program, which enables filmmakers and film enthusiasts to meet intimately with established filmmakers to learn about aspects of the filmmaking process. Filmmakers-in-residence hold workshops and master classes and engage one on one with audience members at screenings and parties.
Jay Craven, a Vermont resident who just wrapped PETER AND JOHN, a feature length film based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant and shot entirely on Nantucket, is one of two filmmakers-in-residence. Four of his previous films have played at the festival, and he will screen WHERE THE RIVERS FLOW NORTH (with Rip Torn, Tantoo Cardinal and Michael J. Fox) and DISAPPEARANCES (with Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold) as part of his residency. Brian Storkel, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who loves quirky characters and is fascinated by religious topics, is the other. His first feature-length documentary, HOLY ROLLERS, focused on a group of pastors who ran the largest organized gambling team in the country, taking millions away from casinos. His most recent feature documentary, FIGHT CHURCH, which will be screened at the festival, explores the confluence of Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts. Maria Agui Carter of Iguana Films, which specializes in documentaries about culture and history in North and South America, and Director John Stimpson (who directed the previously mentioned THE OFF SEASON) will also lead workshops.
Screenings and events are held at a variety of venues—including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Redfield Auditorium and the Woods Hole Community Hall—with most taking place within walking distance of one another in compact Woods Hole. Getting around is easy and specific festival parking is available after 5 PM.
Admission to screenings, panels and parties are $12, special events $25; ticket packages and full festival passes are also available. Tickets are for sale online through the festival’s web site at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org beginning June 29, or in person at the festival box office located at the Old Woods Hole Fire Station during the festival. For more information, call 508 495-3456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.