What did you do on your summer vacation? I went to the movies.
To combine the pleasures of filmgoing with a relaxing getaway, check out these top-notch film festivals in New England that run from June to September. Each one has cultivated a particular niche in the film festival landscape, offering a unique experience in a distinct setting. As Mystelle Brabbée, executive director of the Nantucket Film Festival puts it, “Three hundred people sitting together, watching a story from beginning to end, is a beautiful thing.”
Celebrating its 18th year, the Provincetown International Film Festival (June 15-19) early on branded itself “edgy” for good reason. Not only is the town literally on the edge of Massachusetts, the PIFF draws on its renowned colony of artists and writers and its large LGBT component to give this festival a hip and eclectic vibe, aided by the high-profile participation of director and bon vivant John Waters. A key PIFF allure is “a passionate, sophisticated audience of film lovers. There are the conversations in lines or sitting at the bar eating oysters,” says Christine Walker, PIFF’s executive director. That intimacy is fostered by the town itself: most events take place within walking distance along bustling Commercial Street. June is quieter than July and August; it’s easier to find lodging (listed on the websites of all the festivals) and lots of dining options. This year, the PIFF hosts two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee as its Filmmaker on the Edge; and Tony and Emmy-winner Cynthia Nixon as its Excellence in Acting honoree. The festival also makes great use of the only drive-in left on Cape Cod, in neighboring Wellfleet, with its annual “A Night at the Drive-in” double feature. For more information go to www.ptownfilmfest.org.
Organizers of the Nantucket Film Festival (June 22-27) stress that it’s easy to get to the island in summer. Several airlines that can get you there in about 15 minutes from Hyannis and Hy-Line Cruises and the Steamship Authority have frequent ferry service from Hyannis. Once there, the rewards are plentiful. “There’s a spirit on the island that’s magic,” says Brabbée. “Geographically we are so different from any place else. . . . We have beaches all over but when the fog sets in, there’s an air of mystery. We have a loyal audience that returns, yet the festival is also a destination for people from Boston who want to explore, whether they come for a week or just for two days.” The NFF’s focus is on screenwriting and storytelling. Writer/director Oliver Stone will be honored with the Screenwriters Tribute Award, hosted by Seth Meyers, on June 25. The beauty of Nantucket and the solid reputation of the festival attracts the A-listers that this festival routinely hosts. The early involvement of Ben Stiller and his mother Anne Meara drew young comics over the years such as Sarah Silverman and Molly Shannon, who returns this year with her new film “Other People.” For more information go to www.nantucketfilmfestival.org.
The oldest film festival on Cape Cod and the Islands is the Woods Hole Film Festival, which celebrates its 25th season July 30-Aug. 6. Woods Hole — a village in the town of Falmouth — is home to the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory. “When we started, Cape Cod was very different,” says Judy Laster, founder and executive director. “I’m aware of the depth of talent in the sciences and the arts here, so it’s exciting to integrate that into our programming.” But it’s the quaint Cape Cod village itself that defines the experience. “Physically, the film festival is contained in a walking framework. People can walk around and meet filmmakers; there’s a buzz on the street that’s contagious,” says Laster. “We care about emerging and indie filmmakers and about helping them, so many alumni return.” From nurturing the festival for 25 years as others blossomed around New England, Laster stresses that the fest are about community, not competition. “We all play a huge role in supporting indie films that [otherwise] may not get seen before an audience. There are many alternatives now, but there’s nothing like the in-person experience,” she says. “People like to do things together.” For more information go to www.woodsholefilmfestival.org.
There no need to mourn summer’s end when you can head to the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, marking its 11th year Sept. 6 -11. Director and programmer Richard Paradise says the MVIFF, which showcases independent and international films, wants to draw new visitors not just to the festival but to the island itself, which boasts “the beaches, the beauty, the emotional connection,” he says. “September is a perfect time. The light is different. Most of the families and kids who vacation in August are gone.” The festival audience — 65 percent locals and 35 percent visitors, says Paradise — “tends to be couples, older people, European visitors; people with interest in global cinema.” Although it’s easier to get accommodations with lower rates, Paradise stresses that travelers should book early because the Vineyard in September “is a big destination for weddings.” The MVIFF also hosts the FILMUSIC Festival in June and DOC Week in August. “People are going to movies less. The only way to create excitement is to get festival films,” says Paradise. Getting to the island is easy: the Steamship Authority provides a 40-minute, year-round ferry from Woods Hole. There’s also ferry service from Hyannis and New Bedford. For more information, go to http://mvfilmsociety.com.
Fans of documentary film should make attendance at the Camden International Film Festival an annual rite. Celebrating its 12th year Sept. 15-18, CIFF is nestled in the picturesque town of Camden (with some events in nearby Rockport and Rockland) on Penobscot Bay on Maine’s midcoast, about a four-hour drive from Boston. CIFF has established itself as a premiere festival for showcasing new documentaries. Nearly all its screenings have filmmakers in attendance, from legends like Barbara Kopple and Alex Gibney to emerging filmmakers. One of CIFF’s most unique programs is the North Points Pitch, where five filmmakers present a film-in-progress and get feedback from industry experts. But the festival owes much of its appeal to Camden itself. “When you go to a festival in a tiny town, it’s an intimate experience, and the community is truly integrated,” says Ben Fowlie, CIFF founder and executive director. “You are surrounded by artists and creators. You are allowed to immerse yourself completely in the process. People can see films or they can go on a hike and watch the sunset. It all plays into the CIFF experience. I love seeing a full house, but it’s also about visitors from Brooklyn and Cambridge going on a hike up Mount Battie and maybe connecting with a filmmaker in a way that’s more meaningful.” For more information, go to www.camdenfilmfest.orgLoren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.