At a Theater Near You: The Massachusetts Summer Film Fests

Summertime is upon us! While most New Englanders head to the Cape, the North Shore or other beach destinations, we cinephiles take our summer escapes via the indoor adventures offered up on the silver screen during the annual summer film festival season.

As Program Director at the LEF Foundation, a Cambridge-based foundation that supports documentary filmmakers throughout New England, I’m fortunate to have good cause to travel to many of these events. The films I see at these festivals truly feel like discoveries. Some lucky ones may make it to the theaters, while others may become available down the road on VOD or Netflix. But there is nothing quite like going to the movies; getting lost in the wonderment of a well-told, artful story; and then sharing in conversation with the artists who made this magic happen.

For me the festival experience is about community. It’s about filmmakers and film lovers coming together to celebrate the art that sustains our souls. I would love to invite you, dear reader, into this world. In that spirit, I humbly submit a collection of some of my favorite festivals in Massachusetts (and a little beyond) that I loyally attend, some that are on my “must see” list for this summer, and one that I curate!

(By no means a comprehensive list, in order chronologically by start date.)

Berkshire International Film Festival / May 31 – June 3
If you need yet another reason to take in the beauty and culture of the Berkshires, now you now have the Berkshire International Film Festival to lure you. This year’s program features some of the festival hits of the past year, including the highly regarded documentaries AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, and 2012 Sundance Opening Night Narrative film HELLO I MUST BE GOING. A real coup for the festival this year is their special screening of the award-winning documentary MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. This film follows the controversial performance artist Marina Abramovi? as she prepares for the most important moment of her life: a major retrospective of her work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Abramovi? is known for her provocative use of her own body as her primary medium, challenging all who encounter her performances to ask, “What is art?” So what’s the coup? Artist Marina Abramovic, Director Matthew Akers and Producers Jeff Dupre and Maro Chermayeff will be present for a Q&A immediately following the film. I would love to be there for that discussion!

The DocYard / Every other Monday from June 4th through August 27th.
Forgive me for this personal plug, but I would be remiss were I not to mention the series that I curate at the Brattle Theatre with my colleagues Ben Fowlie and Sean Flynn. The DocYard is a bi-weekly film series featuring what is inspiring and innovative in nonfiction cinema. We curate this series with the documentary enthusiast in mind. What are the new approaches to the form? What films are breaking boundaries in terms of access to the subject, cinematography, or artistry? What films by the master doc makers, many of them from New England, should we be revisiting and why? Conversation is a key piece to the success of our series (now in its third year). For each event, we bring the directors in to talk about their work. Our focus is not only in celebrating the film, but analyzing it. In the audience you’ll find fans of the form, students, and Boston-based filmmakers. We aim for a salon-like feel with a cocktail party after each screening! We have a fantastic summer lined up including LOW & CLEAR (about a friendship born of fly-fishing), TCHOUPITOULAS (a night in New Orleans as seen through the eyes of 3 young boys), and DEAR MANDELA (the shantytowns of South Africa challenge their government in court!). This summer, The DocYard is also saluting POV, the longstanding PBS documentary showcase, now celebrating its 25th year. We will be showing 2 POV films this summer (MY REINCARNATION and GIVE UP TOMORROW) and hosting a party featuring all area filmmakers who have shown their work on the program.

Provincetown Film Festival / June 13 – 17
I cannot believe that I have never been to this festival. It’s clear this needs to change this summer! The Provincetown Film Festival promises 5 days of great cinema with a well-rounded schedule of narrative, docs and shorts. I love that they make it a point to connect the festival to Provincetown’s diverse history as “an arts colony, Portuguese fishing village, and gay and lesbian mecca.” You can see this reflected in this year’s programming with a great mix of films including a documentary on Portuguese fado music (HEAVEN’S MIRROR, directed by Joshua) and a 20th anniversary special screening of SWOON, the Tom Kalin feature debut that signaled a wave of independent filmmaking by gay and lesbian artists, aka the New Queer Cinema. Provincetown is also notable for its annual “Filmmaker on the Edge Award.” Through this program, the festival honors artists for their ability to continually innovate the form. Todd Haynes, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Christine Vachon, and Darren Aronofsky are just a handful of the people they have celebrated. It’s like Provincetown went searching for a list of my favorite filmmakers and then decided to give them each awards! This year’s honoree is the amazing Roger Corman. Roger Corman IS independent cinema. He invented the biker movie (WILD ANGELS), created instant cult classics (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), and discovered some of the greatest talents of our time (Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, and Ron Howard to name a few). With 50 years of filmmaking behind him, he’s still on the edge. Great to see him honored here.

A side note: If you go to the festival this year, DO NOT MISS Gimme the Loot. This film about the adventures of two teenage graffiti-writers has been tearing up the film festivals, capturing hearts all over the world. Make sure yours is one of them!

Roxbury International Film Festival / June 14 – 17
People SHOW UP for the Roxbury International Film Festival, which features work by or about people of color from around the globe. The films they select are thoughtful, compelling, and significant, but all too often get lost in the big media mix, which has a nasty habit of excluding the voices of women filmmakers and people of color (Ahem, Cannes?). The folks behind this festival witnessed this for far too long and pulled together to give these projects a showcase. After 14 years of programming, you know they’re doing it right. Beyond selecting good work, the folks at RIFF know how to host a screening! The feeling in the room is electric and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something special. As for this year’s line-up, I’m particularly excited about the opening night film THE LAST FALL, directed by Matthew Cherry. It’s a narrative feature about an NFL player, newly retired at 27. This film looks at one man’s journey to rebuild his identity when he realizes he is no longer a football star (a fate that befalls almost 96% of all NFL players before the age of 30). THE LAST FALL premiered at SXSW earlier this year and I’ve been wanting to catch it since first reading about it then. I’m a sucker for a good sports film.

Nantucket Film Festival / June 20 – 24
The stars come out for Nantucket in a festival event brings a New England feel to a Hollywood vibe. Nantucket is particularly known for honoring the craft of screenwriting. This year the festival is honoring screenwriter Nancy Meyers (PRIVATE BENJAMIN, IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE) in an event hosted by Brian Williams with a special appearance by long-time Meyers collaborator Diane Keaton. Commentator Chris Matthews moderates a discussion with Meyers, and actor Frank Langella (whose ROBOT AND FRANK is playing at the fest this year) in a special festival program called In Their Shoes. And Ben Stiller is hosting the festival’s 4th All Star Comedy Round Table featuring some of the most interesting comic talent on the circuit. I’m dizzy, I’m seeing so many stars. However, what I’m most excited about for this year’s fest lacks all the Hollywood fuss. It’s the opening night independent production BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. See this film. It’s a magical tale about a 6 year old girl living in the Louisiana bayou, desperate to save her ailing father and their sinking home. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2012 and is possibly the most buzzed about film of the year. Two documentary films for your list are THE LIST (directed by Massachusetts’ own Beth Murphy) and SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN. Check out the schedule and make sure you’ve got a seat when they play. They do not disappoint!

Woods Hole Film Festival / July 28th – August 4th
Intimate is the word that comes to mind when I think of the Woods Hole Film Festival. Because of the smallness of this seaside town, when the festival is in full bloom it takes over the whole village! The talk of cinema spills out from the theaters and reaches into the coffee shops, restaurants, and down just about every cul de sac. The festival’s focus on filmmakers with ties to the Cape brings a really eclectic group of films to town. Uniquely, the festival has a filmmaker in residence program where they profile the work of one particular artist throughout the fest. This year’s director is Lauren Greenfield whose photographs and films about youth, gender and consumerism have wowed audiences around the world. I came to know her work through the brutally raw documentary “THIN” in which Lauren chronicles the lives of a small group of women being treated in a facility for anorexia. Her most recent film THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, which premiered at Sundance this year, follows a billionaire couple as they seek to build the largest private home in the world. It’s been on my list since its premiere and I missed it at the Independent Film Festival Boston (which should be on your Spring Film Festival list! I’m grateful for this new opportunity to see it nearby.

Rhode Island International Film Festival / August 7 – 12
Just to our south is the Rhode Island International Film Festival in Providence, RI. The charm of the city shines bright during this festival. Though based in the majestic Veterans Memorial Auditorium (VMA) Arts & Cultural Center, RIIFF events take you all around town. The festival often features New England-based filmmakers giving a great local showcase for their work, but their signature programming is the shorts competition. RIIFF is an Academy Awards qualifier for shorts, which kicks the level of work up by several notches. As a judge for the festival over the years, I can tell you that the short work I’ve seen there is among the best in the world. And another note, though the festival’s full list of features are not yet public, I do know that Lyda Kuth’s LOVE AND OTHER ANXIETIES will be playing the Ocean State this August. Definitely check out this personal film about what it takes for a relationship to endure once the nest is empty.

Camden International Film Festival / September 27 – 30
I’m the kind of person who wants summer to last as long as humanly possible. And usually, that means October if I’m lucky! Given my extended summer parameters, I have to share one of my favorite festivals in the New England region – the Camden International Film Festival. Nestled in the charming streets of Camden, Maine, this all documentary film festival is one of the best-curated in the country. Films and filmmakers come from all over the world, sharing in a full weekend of great cinema and storytelling. And this festival hasn’t forgotten its roots. The team at CIFF takes special care in featuring stories from Maine that draw you in so closely that you begin to think you’re a Mainer too (but you never will be, or so they say). A special feature of this gem of a fest is the Points North Documentary Forum. Unlike all the festivals I’ve listed thus far, CIFF is the only place where you find major documentary industry professionals coming to share their expertise and to counsel New England-based filmmakers in their work. It’s a place just up the road where films are discovered and nurtured. Extend your end of summer and put CIFF on your travel list. I’ll see you there!

Author: Sara Archambault

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