29th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival Goes Virtual for the First Time
WOODS HOLE, MA—Due to Covid-19, the Woods Hole Film Festival (WHFF) made the ambitious decision to produce its 29th edition virtually from July 25-August 1, replicating the eight-day experience on the same days that the in-person event would have taken place. The virtual edition features nearly everything one would find in-person, including 42 feature length and 144 short films (divided into 21 shorts programs), live Q&A’s with filmmakers, workshops and master classes with the three Filmmakers-in-Residence, panel discussions, nightly live music, an awards ceremony, and even a Kids Day. Local restaurants are even offering special dinners.
The live Q&A’s with filmmakers, master classes, workshops, and panel discussions will be the only scheduled events with suggested “watch” times for the films that coincide with the live events. While the virtual option can’t replace the salt air and sandy beaches and the ability to regularly bump into filmmakers in person, audience members and filmmakers alike will be able to participate from anywhere in the world, there will be no need to wait in line, and in most cases, there won’t be any sold out screenings.
“We’re trying to create a virtual event that comes as close to the live setting as it can be—in feel, in style and in engagement,” said founder and executive director Judy Laster. “We still see the festival as a community event, but the definition of community will just be larger.”
The festival includes a mix of first-time and veteran filmmakers (many of whom have participated in the festival multiple times) with a focus on films and filmmakers with ties to New England and Cape Cod and the Islands—as well as films about science. There are 38 world premieres, 11 North American premieres, and 6 US premieres, with 52 films made by women and 42 made internationally—including one from Antarctica, a festival first.
Two of the six world premiere feature films also have connections to New England. In Paul Riccio’s feature directing debut Give or Take a disillusioned New Yorker (Bloodline’s Kevin Rayburn) goes home to Cape Cod after his father dies to prepare the house for sale, while sharing it with his father’s temperamental live-in boyfriend. Award-winning Boston Globe environmental reporter David Abel, whose documentary Lobster Wars screened last year, returns with Entangled, about the efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction and its impact on the US and Canadian lobster industry, and how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has struggled to balance the two competing interests.
Other world premiere features include: Bradley Hasse’s Song for a Sloth, a drama about an emotionally distraught man trying to save the sloth sanctuary that his late father left him; Ben Rekhi’s The Reunited States, a profile of four Americans who take deeply personal journeys across the country in an effort to bridge political divisions; Karla Murthy’s Youngstown U.S.A, about a new generation of young visionaries who are looking to restore the social fabric of the once thriving Ohio steel town; and Colombian brothers David and Francisco Salazar’s Nowhere, their feature directing debut about a couple facing personal issues while trying to immigrate to the US.
Three films are notable for taking on political issues: Hillary Bachelder’s Represent, about three women in the Midwest who take on entrenched political systems in their fight to reshape local politics on their own terms; and David Garrett Byars’s Public Trust, an investigation into how public lands are facing unprecedented threats from extractive industries supported by politicians through three heated conflicts: a national monument in the Utah desert, a mine in the Boundary Waters and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In Adam Mervis’s feature directorial debut The Last Days of Capitalism, a drama about a wealthy man who meets a mysterious woman while holed up in a Las Vegas penthouse that is an inquiry into the true nature of power and those who seek it, as well as a look at the bounds of capitalism.
Several festival alums are returning with their latest films. Two films are US premieres: Judith Helfand, whose acclaimed politics-of-disaster documentary COOKED: Survival by Zip Code screened at last year’s festival, will present Love and Stuff, her deeply personal documentary about dealing with boxes of her parents’ possessions while becoming a mother for the first time at age 50, just 7 months after helping her terminally ill mother die in hospice. WHFF co-founder (and Belmont, MA native) Kate Davis and husband David Heilbroner, who have screened many films at the festival and spend summers on Martha’s Vineyard, return with the US premiere of Born Into the Gig, their music-driven documentary feature that follows five singer-songwriters hoping to carve out their own musical identity in the shadow of their parents’ iconic greatness: Stephen Stills’s son Chris; Bob Marley’s grandson Skip; Bill Withers’s daughter Kori; James Taylor and Carly Simon’s children Ben and Sally. Other returning filmmakers include Jonathan Wysocki’s Dramarama, his feature debut about a closeted teen, who struggles to part ways with four of his high school drama friends during their final murder mystery party before college in 1994. Executive Producers Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman, (whose films such as California Typewriter, Chasing Coral, and Obit have played at the festival) return with The Bookmakers, James Kennard’s feature directing debut that profiles the people who are keeping books alive in the 21st century.
Two notable feature films include New England people and places. John Meyer’s drama Being Dead, stars Newton native Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), in addition to British actor Linus Roach (Homeland) and Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Homeland). Based on the award-winning novel by British author Jim Crace, it follows two zoologists as they try to rekindle their marriage by traveling back to the place where they fell in love—only to arrive at the point of their sudden deaths. Greater Boston native Charles Frank’s feature directing debut, Somewhere With No Bridges, looks at the life of a New England fishing community through the lens of a beloved, 44 year-old fisherman who went missing off the shores of Martha’s Vineyard 20 years ago.
Forty-two feature films are by international filmmakers, representing all seven continents. In Kate Stryker’s documentary Baato a Himalayan family travels by foot every winter to sell their medicinal herbs at market, only to find their livelihood disrupted during the construction of a transnational highway to China through the road-less Himalayan valley. Martin Busker’s drama Zoro’s Solo tells the story of a 13-year-old refugee from Afghanistan living in an emergency shelter in Germany who, in order to save the life of his father who was left stranded in Hungary, joins a Christian boys’ choir. Kay Rubacek’s documentary Finding Courage recounts a former Chinese journalist, living in exile in the US, during her desperate efforts to reunite her broken family and find justice for the murder of her sister. In Bulgarian filmmaker Nikola Bozadzhiev’s Shibil a story about a father who uses his daughter as bait to capture an outlaw is told from the viewpoint of the incarnated soul of the main character’s horse. Making its US premiere is Sevgi Hirschhaeuser’s Toprak, about a simple family in rural Turkey dealing with poverty, family traditions and the religious heritage.
Nearly 20 feature length and short films fall under the auspices of the festival’s Bringing Science to the Screen program. Environmental thriller Current Sea follows investigative journalist Matt Blomberg and ocean activist Paul Ferber as they explore the illegal fishing trade in Cambodia and embark on a dangerous mission to intervene by creating a marine conservation area. In Mark Mannucci’s feature documentary Decoding Watson, the stature of acclaimed Nobel Prize-winning biologist James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is destroyed after he suggests that black people are innately less intelligent than whites. Given the chance to salvage his reputation during the making of the film, he chose to affirm his views, sparking a global response that reduced his importance as a scientific icon. Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin’s acclaimed documentary Picture of His Life chronicles world-renowned wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum during his ultimate photographic dream: photographing a Polar Bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.
Four films coincidentally star Saturday Night Live cast members past and present, as well as other well-known actors. The previously mentioned Give or Take stars SNL’s Cheri Oteri. Matthew Bonifacio’s short drama Master Maggie, stars Lorraine Bracco as a celebrity acting coach whose schedule is interrupted by an unknown actor begging for her help for a TV audition and features appearances by current SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, as well as the late Brian Dennehy. Jenn Harris and Zachary Grady’s Massachusetts-shot short comedy Island Queen stars former SNL cast member and Lexington native Rachel Dratch and Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson in a story about a teenage hockey player from an unnamed island who is secretly trying out for the figure skating team. Maya Albanese’s short Freeze stars SNL cast member and frequent Andy Samberg collaborator Chris Parnell, as well as Entourage’s Adrian Grenier. Based on the filmmaker’s own story, it follows a 35-year old woman who visits an offbeat fertility clinic to freeze her eggs after a series of romantic misadventures, only to discover that she is pregnant.
Two short documentaries with origins in Woods Hole are also making their world premieres. WHFF board member Hortense Gerardo’s The Opioid Epidemic: A Mother’s Reckoning, co-directed with Monica Cohen, examines the human toll of the opioid epidemic while attempting to destigmatize efforts to seek rehabilitation. Kyle Maddux-Lawrence’s Beyond the Gulf Stream follows a group of oceanographers, several of whom work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, as they research the interaction between deep ocean waters and the coastal currents that affect our everyday lives.
Three festival alums will conduct master classes and participate in panel discussions as Filmmaker-in-Residence:
Director, writer and producer Laura Nix, whose Walk Run Cha-Cha was nominated for a 2020 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, will offer a masterclass on how to create a meaningful impact campaign, using examples from the one she developed for Inventing Tomorrow, her documentary feature about teenagers from around the globe tackling environmental issues through science (that screened at WHFF in 2018). She will also participate in panel discussions and conversations with filmmakers.
Animator Patrick Smith, whose latest animated short film Gun Shop was on the 2020 Oscars short list, will teach a master class on how to be a career animated short film filmmaker. Smith spent his formative years as a storyboard artist for Walt Disney and as animation director for MTV’s Daria and the Emmy-nominated Downtown, and has produced and directed over 15 independent award winning short films, as well as the PBS web-series Blank On Blank, the longest running and most viewed animated biographical series of all time.
Award-winning British producer, writer and director of documentary films John Edginton (Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul), who also acts as a consulting producer on a wide range of documentaries at various stages of development and production, returns for his third Filmmaker-in-Residency. He will offer two master classes: When Documentary Visions Collide with Filmmaking Realities, which will address the challenges and pitfalls that can occur at every stage of the filmmaking process; and Doc Doctor Surgeries, twelve, thirty-minute private, confidential sessions individualized problem-solving sessions with filmmakers over the course of six days.
The festival is supported in part by grants from the Mass Cultural Council, Mass Festivals, Falmouth Fund of the Cape Cod Foundation in support of Bringing Science to the Screen, the Cape Cod 5 Cent Savings Bank Charitable Foundation, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, the Woods Hole Foundation, and the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod.
All passes are available in advance and during the festival at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org. VIP passes are $150 ($125 for festival members), which provide access to all the films and events on the virtual platform. Films Only passes are $120 ( $100 for festival members). Features Only and Shorts Only passes are $90 each ($80 each for festival members). Individual films, workshops, and panel tickets are available online starting July 25, and are $14 ($12 for festival members). For more information, call (508) 495-3456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.