PROVINCETOWN — When I go to the Provincetown International Film Festival, as I have done for 13 of its 14 years, I pray for rain.
The town, with its soft dappled sunlight, has to be one of the hardest places to sit in a dark theater. But sit I do because once the movies start, there is a kind of contagion about it.
The whole town is abuzz: “What have you seen?” A vortex of bleary-eyed people with festival passes hanging around their necks propels you into movie after movie.
The first year of the festival, in 1999, I was visiting here and had no idea the festival was going on. A friend talked me into seeing one of the movies (last year there were 55 full-length films plus dozens of short films) and we sat on the floor of the Provincetown Art Association & Museum and watched a surreal documentary that seemed to involve psychedelic drug use on the part of the filmmaker. I don’t remember the precise subject matter of the film. I just remember thinking, “I’m in Provincetown — why am I inside?”
In 2001 I was here with my boyfriend at the time and our innkeeper suggested we check out the film festival. We ended up going to an entertaining coming-of-age feature, and we were hooked.
I’ve been back every year since. On film festival weekend the whole town becomes a Sundance on the Harbor. Film buffs line up early, angling for a seat down front. That’s not a bad idea, because at most of the venues there are good seats and bad.
Venues range from the historic (Town Hall, where you sit under a replica 19th-century chandelier in a building restored with the showy colors of its Victorian heyday), the campy Wellfleet Drive-in (a real 1950s throwback), the plush Waters Edge cinemas at Whaler’s Wharf (a three-story mall rebuilt after it was destroyed in a fire some years ago), and the cozy, second-floor space above the Schoolhouse Center, where the lack of comfort in the folding chairs is made up for by the intimacy of the experience.
In a town this small — just under 3,000 year-round residents in 9 square miles — you are likely to glimpse festival acting and directing honorees as well as other famous faces. Look for filmmaker John Waters riding his bike down Commercial Street. He attends every year.
In an acknowledgement of Provincetown’s core constituency, many films have gay themes. There are also movies on the arts and the environment, keen topics of interest in this town, which is both the country’s oldest arts colony and part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Featured films for this year’s 15th anniversary include the East Coast premieres of “I’m So Excited!,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar; “Lovelace,” directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; and “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes,” directed by Francesca Gregorini; and the documentary “I Am Divine,” directed by Jeffrey Schwartz.
The 2013 Filmmaker on the Edge Award will be given to Harmony Korine, whose offbeat films have included “Gummo” and “Kids.”
15TH ANNUAL PROVINCETOWN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Wed-Sun June 19-23. Order tickets online at www.ptownfilmfest.org. Single film tickets from $13. Most movies sell out in advance.