Cannes has its Palme d’Or. Venice has its Golden Lion, and Berlin has its Golden Bear. But Provincetown, now celebrating its 15th anniversary, has its Filmmaker on the Edge, who is publicly interviewed by John Waters, known to raise awkward topics, such as when he challenged 2008 recipient Quentin Tarantino about his foot fetishism. Edgy indeed, but no big deal for this festival, and for this community, a longtime asylum for those who take pride in their nonconformity.
Waters, an indie legend for the trash masterpiece “Pink Flamingos” (1972), among others, and himself the first Filmmaker on the Edge, in 1999, has served as the festival’s reigning antic spirit and as a member of the advisory board. “One of my jobs is to write them [Edge candidates] letters talking them into it,” Waters said last month over the phone, fresh from his first dip in the surf. “And it’s been an amazing run. It’s really impressive to see Quentin Tarantino just walking down the street, as well as all the other people we’ve had here.”
Indeed, the list of honorees reads like a who’s who of independent cinema, with such luminaries as Gus Van Sant, Todd Solondz, and Roger Corman. To mark the 15th year, festival programmer Connie White has invited back previous Edge winners Mary Harron, Christine Vachon, producer of “Bluebird,” which is in this year’s festival, and Todd Haynes, represented by his 2002 film, “Far From Heaven.” Also returning are 2010’s winners of the Faith Hubley Award for Career Achievement, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, whose “Lovelace,” a biopic about the star of the porn classic “Deep Throat,” is the festival’s opening night film.
Throw in this year’s Hubley winner, cinematographer Ed Lachman, whose “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985) will have a screening, and the Excellence in Acting Award winner, Matt Dillon, and that makes for a lot of talent to watch window-shopping on Commercial Street.
As for this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge conversation, Waters will be hosting aging enfant terrible Harmony Korine, whose latest film, “Spring Breakers” (screening in the festival) polarized critical opinion. “I thought it was delightful,” opined Waters about the film. “It was like ‘Where the Boys Are’ meets ‘Scarface.’ A friend said, ‘That was the most irresponsible movie I ever saw.’ I said, come on — it’s not that good!’ ”
Sounds like it will be a lively discussion.
Provincetown’s appeal isn’t limited to the attendees. White has put together a program of features and documentaries that she thinks rivals the best of the past 15 years. “ ‘I’m So Excited!’ [Pedro Almodóvar’s new film] I thought was hilarious,” she said over the phone last week. “ ‘Fruitvale Station’ — so good, so talented, that filmmaker [Ryan Coogler] is going places. There’s a great world premiere called ‘The Volunteer’ [directed by Vicky Wight], about a woman who quits her job to work in a soup kitchen. And ‘The Moo Man’ [directed by Andy Heathcote] is a vérité film about a dairy farmer in southern England: He’s very attached to his cows and by the end you will be, too.”
Waters has also picked a film to be shown in a special screening. “This year I’m showing a film by Ulrich Seidl,” he said. “In Artforum I said that Fassbinder died, so God gave us Seidl.” The film, “Paradise: Faith” (2012) “is the second in a trilogy. It’s about a woman who’s so religious she falls in love with God – and then He breaks up with her. An extremely Catholic movie.”
Another film that has personal resonance for him is Jeffrey Schwarz’s “I Am Divine,” a documentary about the 300-pound transvestite star of “Pink Flamingos” and many other Waters films, who died in 1988 at 42.
“It’s a loving, honest tribute to who Divine really was,” he said. “Divine was never in drag except when he was working; he was a gentleman, almost the opposite of that character. I think for that character he drew on the rage he felt when he was hassled as a kid. But when you see the movie, you see a different picture.
“I’ve probably made as many movies without Divine as I made with him,” he added. “But Divine was my muse. We were partners, we were friends. I wrote movies for him. And I don’t write movies for a specific person anymore.”
But don’t get the idea that Waters, 67, is getting pious or nostalgic in his later years. He still sees the festival as a time to have fun. Asked about his most memorable experiences, he says, “I’ve had plenty but none I can share with The Boston Globe! I have a private party every year that I will keep private.” He wouldn’t comment on whether this is his rumored “popper” party, but he noted that this is the only state where the recreational use of those frisky amyl-nitrate capsules is illegal.
Other than the poppers ban, Waters had no complaints about Provincetown, which was reached in 1620 by Pilgrims fleeing persecution and a place that has offered refuge to nonconformists ever since. He thinks it’s the ideal spot to celebrate independence in cinema.
“Provincetown has always been a great place for bohemians,” said Waters, a summer resident for the past 49 years. “And a bohemian in the old days was a nicer way to say ‘part gay.’ It’s still a very mixed crowd of people who don’t like to be like everybody else. It’s like Mortville in [Waters’s 1977 film] ‘Desperate Living’ — a town where you could live if you were too embarrassed to live anywhere else.
“When I’m trying to get celebrities to come here I write, ‘You’ll love it, it’s a gay fishing village!’ ”Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.