Notes from the Nantucket Film Festival, an incubator of neighboring islands

Everyone wants to come to the Nantucket Film Festival, a place where independent filmmakers chat and mingle with some of the most successful people on the planet, trying to do good things.

They mix that up without the pressure or panic of some bigger festivals, because Nantucket is a beautiful island, 30 miles out to sea. No one has anywhere to go, at least for a while. There’s time to really watch the movies, and really talk, and maybe make some progress.

About an hour from mainland Massachusetts by ferry and 40 minutes from New York by plane, the island of lighthouses, pristine beaches and quaint cedar-shingled buildings is also home to the festival founded in 1996 by the siblings. and film producers Jill and Jonathan Burkhart. Mystelle Brabbee, who started as an intern back then, is now the festival’s executive director, splitting her time between the island and New York.

“He’s got that kind of incubator feeling,” Brabbee says. “The mind is like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.'”

Won’t you take 10 seconds to subscribe to our newsletter?

Steve Martin and Judd Apatow are among the former guests attracted by the prestige of the festival and the charm of its surroundings. This year’s impressive lineup included Ben Stiller and John Turturro, who talked about their Apple TV+ drama Breakup. Also in attendance were Cooper Raiff, writer-director-star of the Sundance hit Cha Cha real smoothwhich Apple quickly scooped up for $15 million, as well as Marcel the shod shell writer-producer-star Jenny Slate, and Ramin Bahrani, the White Tiger director who shared his new documentary 2nd chance. The jurors included John Patten Ford, director of the next Criminal Emilyanother Sundance star.

Barry Jenkins, who was scheduled to attend, had to switch to a virtual appearance at the last minute. But, because it’s Nantucket, other great people seem to magically show up at the festival, even if they aren’t on the official schedule. They include producers, investors and brilliant writer-producers like Thread veteran George Pelecanos, co-creator of The devil. He attended a highly successful speed-dating style industry mixer on Saturday afternoon, overlooking the harbour.

One example of festival-goers trying to embrace positive change came during a Saturday morning screening of the Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing documentary Endangered, about threats against journalists across the country, which will soon air on HBO. It details how news gatherers from Brazil to Mexico to the United States face a similar torrent of stupidity and abuse when trying to relay facts: fake news calls (or wrong reviews) to abuse by overzealous, press-pass-blind cops as they arrest and tear gasse reporters.

Despite the beautiful weather and proximity to beaches, the film drew crowds of people who watched intently. And instead of spinning off afterwards, a little depressed by the state of the world and grateful for Nantucket’s easy access to the palliative comfort of ice cream and lobster rolls, they stayed to talk – and think about what what they could do.

A gentleman we met at the Nantucket Film Festival

Because Nantucket is Nantucket, chances are that at any screening given at the Nantucket Film Festival, someone present will have the means to improve a situation. You’ve heard that the real business is done on the golf course. But in a better world, they can also be born in movie theaters.

Grady and Ewing discussed their hopes for some sort of News Corps, like the Peace Corps, that could train young reporters. A Q&A about the film turned into a group and brainstorming session that continued outside the theater.

“Soros could pay for that,” someone joked. At least I think it was a joke.

It helped that they were reunited at the Dreamland Theatre, one of the most charming theaters and community spaces in the country. Its history, like so many others in Nantucket, goes back a long way: it once served as a meeting place for people who organized against slavery.

It has been rebuilt over the years to look brand new, spacious and welcoming – the first thing you see on entering is a bench with a statue of Mr Rogers, positioned to take his picture with you. Why is he here? Who knows? It’s a weird and delicious surprise, like so many things on the island. (A cool guy and neighbor offered to take my phone so I could take a picture with Mr. Rogers, and I later learned he was award-winning producer Gill Holland, who is one of the advisers of the festival and has over 130 credits to its name. See? There’s no shortage of pleasant surprises.)

Why isn’t it everywhere like Nantucket, I wondered – then remembered that when I looked at last-minute hotel rooms, the cheapest was around $700 a night.

The sheer cost of the island can be a barrier to entry for independent filmmakers – finding “enough beds on the island” has always been a problem, notes Brabbee – but she and her team are making the festival accessible with the assistance from hotel partners and residents who open their homes. Grady and Ewing thanked a woman in their audience on Saturday morning for the time spent at her beautiful home.

“We do this because of the kindness of many people who have homes,” Brabbee says. “We have a homestay program where they host filmmakers and guest houses, or we have hotel partners. So we make it work. »

The festival mostly had to make it work in 2020, when it quickly went live due to – well, you know – and in 2021, when it expanded to 11 days and offered a cavalcade of outdoor wine and dining experiences all over the island. Brabee compared it to “producing a wedding every night”.

She wondered if guests would be comfortable returning to theatrical screenings this year – some of the festival-goers are older – and was delighted to see long lines of people eager to get into films. But she notes that Nantucket has always been a renowned festival as much for the films as for the events surrounding them.

“We have always relied heavily on what we call our flagship programs: staged readings, storytelling, Morning Coffee. We had 350 people telling stories late Friday night,” she says.

This year’s events also included a Skate Jam in honor of skate dreamsdocumentary by Jessica Edwards on the rise of women’s skateboarding.

“Everything was free. Children came, people who don’t normally come to the festival came. And so it was just fun and surprising that way,” Barbee says. “Every time you change location you change the pattern of something, it’s just fun.”

You can find out more about the Nantucket Film Festival, which ends today, on the festival’s website.

Lynn A. Saleh