If the nightly news thing doesn’t work out, Brian Williams can always fall back on stand-up comedy. The NBC anchorman had the audience in fits of laughter with his drily surreal 15-minute opening remarks at Saturday night’s Screenwriter’s Tribute at the 17th annual Nantucket Film Festival. The event, held at the Siasconset Casino, was the culmination of the weekend festivities and honored three women storytellers: Lucy Alibar of the much buzzed-about “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (a festival favorite slated to open in Boston on July 6), “Ethel” documentarian Rory Kennedy (whose mother and most recent subject, Ethel Kennedy, was present), and belle of the ball Nancy Meyers, writer-director of everything from “”Father of the Bride” to “It’s Complicated.”
After Williams slayed the attendees with fictional (we hope) anecdotes about running over piping plovers on the beach and helping MSNBC’s Chris Matthews chopper out heat-stricken festivalgoers, Meyer’s friend and frequent star Diane Keaton took the stage in a glow of “Annie Hall” cosmic bliss (the hat!), toting a framed photo of Meyers as a little girl, and praising the filmmaker for focusing on “us invisible older women. To her, we’re beautiful and charming and we get two guys instead of one.”
Meyers accepted the tribute with some wise words for would-be scripters in the audience, calling screenwriting “a kind of brilliant therapy we get paid for” and noting that, while we’re not exactly living in a Golden Age of filmmaking, “I do see the writers as the ones who just might save the day.”
The tribute was followed by a private dinner for festival guests and boardmembers, held across the street at the Chanticleer and hosted by businessman and NFF board director Mark Famiglio and his wife, Jennie. Williams, Matthews, Keaton, and Meyers held court at Table 1 with Williams’s daughter, “Girls” costar Allison Williams, joining them. (No wisecracks from proud dad about Allison’s scenes in the daring HBO comedy-drama.) NFF executive director Colin Stanfield (along with wife Christina) and artistic director Mystelle Brabbee kept the evening humming.
The dazzle has been especially bright this year. Earlier in the day, local audiences were treated to a staged reading in the auditorium of Nantucket High School of the latest screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (”Election,” “About Schmidt”). A roster of actors including Steve Zahn, Tom Cavanagh (”Ed”), Stephen Root, Cara Seymour, Anne Meara, and New England-bred comics Mike Birbiglia and Mike O’Malley brought life to “The Lost Cause,” a darkly comic story of a Civil War reenactor (Zahn) who takes his passion much too far. And Friday saw the high school taken over by a manic All-Star Comedy Roundtable, hosted by Bill Hader of “SNL” and featuring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and a completely unhinged Jim Carrey, who began the session affixing duct tape to his rear end and went from there. High points of the craziness: Carrey recounting his worst-ever onstage low point (opening for a rock band in his early years and getting hit with a urine-soaked towel) and Stiller taking loud, unwanted advice from parents Meara and Jerry Stiller seated in the third row. The event will eventually be broadcast on cable channel EPIX, but for those present it was a live dose of laughing gas.