Previewing the Woods Hole Film Festival at 25

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Chris Cooper in “Coming Through the Rye.”
Chris Cooper in “Coming Through the Rye.”

Newbury native and award-winning actress Erica Fae (she's played recurring characters on "Boardwalk Empire" and "Doll & Em") creates roles for stage and screen from the stories of women; some are famous but most have been forgotten by history.

"There is a disconnect between being a woman and my thoughts, concerns, and passions and the kinds of stories that are being told about women on films and TV," Fae says.

Fae was doing research on the late 1800s for a stage role when she stumbled on accounts about two women lighthouse keepers, Ida Lewis, of Rhode Island, and Abbie Burgess, of Maine. Intrigued, Fae continued to dig and discovered information about other women who assumed lighthouse positions after fathers or husbands died or became too ill to work. The result of that research is her debut feature, "To Keep the Light," which Fae wrote, directed, and stars in as Abbie, a composite character based on the real-life women who maintained lighthouses in New England in the 19th century while dealing with isolation, loss, danger, and the mistrust of the community.

Fae shot her film on Maine's coast (she got permission from the town of Mathias to shoot at a privately owned lighthouse). "To Keep the Light" screens Aug. 1 at the Woods Hole Film Festival, with Fae on hand for a post-screening discussion. Fae's first film, the short "Christine 1403," about medieval writer Christine de Pizan, screened at the festival in 2007.


Showcasing emerging indie filmmakers and bringing filmmakers back with new work is one of the hallmarks of the WHFF, which hits the 25-year mark this year. Running July 30 to Aug. 6, the festival offers an intimate experience in the quaint Woods Hole section of Falmouth, with screenings at five venues, all within walking distance of one another.


Judy Laster and filmmaker Kate Davis launched the festival in 1991 as an hourlong program of shorts. It's grown since that modest beginning: This year's event boasts 17 fiction features, 22 documentaries, and dozens of shorts, plus workshops, master classes, panel discussions, and the annual Filmmaker-in-Residence program.

Other notable features include "Coming Through the Rye," from Woodstock, Vt., director James Sadwith, whose credits include the TV miniseries "Sinatra" (1992). It's about a 16-year-old boy (Alex Wolff, soon to be seen in "Patriots Day") who travels to New Hampshire in search of author J.D. Salinger, played by Oscar winner and Kingston resident Chris Cooper, who'll be in attendance. Another festival alum, writer-director Ben Hickernell ("Lebanon, Pa.") returns with "A Rising Tide," about a young chef (Hunter Parrish, of "Weeds") trying to save his family's restaurant after it floods during Hurricane Sandy.

Ari Issler and Ben Snyder wrote and directed "11:55," set in Holyoke, about a US Marine (played by Victor Almanzar) returning to his depressed hometown only to be pulled back into the violent past he tried to escape.

Penny Lane ("Our Nixon") returns to WHFF with her audacious documentary "Nuts!" (see story, N10). Using animation, stock footage, and interviews, "Nuts!" tells the improbable but true story of John Romulus Brinkley, who fraudulently claimed to be a medical doctor and in the 1920s peddled an impotence cure involving goat testicles. He then became a radio pioneer in the nascent days of broadcasting.

Also notable is Adam Irving's debut feature, "Off the Rails." It follows Darius McCollum, a man diagnosed with Asperger syndrome who is obsessed with public transit. McCollum has gone to jail 32 times for impersonating various members of the Metro Transit Authority in New York City. "Off the Rails" won the John Schlesinger Award, presented to a first-time feature filmmaker (documentary), at this year's Provincetown International Film Festival.


Among the shorts is another PIFF award winner (for best New England short film), "Black Canaries." It's a coal-mining folktale set in the early 1900s from Vermonter Jesse Kreitzer ("Lomax"). Also direct from PIFF is "Ribbons," the directing debut of Provincetown native Brandon Cordeiro, about a young man's memory of growing up in Provincetown during the AIDS epidemic and the community response that he witnessed.


Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.