Cinema in Paradise
By Doreen Munsie
Nantucket conjures up images of blue skies, beautiful sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and charming cobblestone streets lined with unpainted shingled houses. You probably don’t think movies and a film festival.
In fact, every summer in late June, this island, 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast, hosts a film festival that brings film buffs to attend previews – a schedule of approximately one hundred screenings over six days. Founded in 1996, the festival ranks in the top ten premier national film festivals. It’s not as leading edge as Sundance, nor as glitzy as Cannes, but it has its own low-key vibe and unique setting. It is cinema in paradise.
Being blessed by having dear friends with a house on the island, my husband and I have gone to the festival over a long weekend for the past several years. For movie fans it’s a marathon of feature and documentary films sprinkled with roundtables and panel chats with directors, actors, and screenwriters. Not everyone would want to see ten films over three days but, with our shared enthusiasm for movies, we look forward to the concentrated film experience.
Interspersed between show times, we have managed to enjoy the best of the island, lovely food, exploring nature, boutique shopping, and people watching. Here’s a rundown of some paradise favorites: Eat at Dune (it’s pricey but delicious), Summer House (for a seaside bite), Sconset Cafe (tiny and special), Brotherhood of Thieves (an island institution), and The Proprietor’s Bar and Table. Check out the gorgeously renovated Greydon House hotel, go to the Sand Bar beach for their “buck a schuck” oysters, have a cocktail at Cru on the marina and people watch. (Courtney Kardashian was spotted one weekend, though thankfully not when we were there). Go to The Juice Bar for the best homemade ice cream – as proof, there’s always a line around the block. Don’t miss the Great Point Beach wildlife refuge drive to the island’s tip – and bring a very indulgent lobster salad from Barlett’s Farms to picnic on. Of course, browse the pretty, quaint shops in this pristine and wonderful town.
With the films come movie stars, directors, and producers. There are festival cocktail parties where guests can hobnob with celebrities. In the few years we’ve been attending, I’ve had breakfast with Katie Couric, dinner with Adam Driver, and gone shopping with Ben Stiller. Okay, maybe I just looked at the back of Katie’s head at Island Kitchen, Adam was in American Seasons restaurant at the same time as us one night, and I did pass Ben Stiller on Broad Street while we were both carrying shopping bags.
We’ve attended panel discussions with independent filmmakers like Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), as well as Hollywood directors like Oliver Stone. But where else could I go and find myself in an audience sitting directly in front of actress/director/screenwriter Greta Gerwig? After acting for ten years, she released her directorial debut, “Lady Bird”, which was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. At 34, she was only the fifth woman ever nominated for directing in 90 years of Academy Awards, and the first female nominee in almost a decade. (In 2010 Kathryn Bigelow was the only woman to ever win (“The Hurt Locker”.) Gerwig’s achievement should be recognized and congratulated, so I did. I said, “I think you’re amazing” and shook her hand. She thanked me, and <blushed>!
The festival’s progressive stance is to be applauded. Women dominated this year’s lineup for screenwriter tributes and panels. A Comedy Roundtable featured all female “Saturday Night Live” writers led by Jane Curtin. The festival is also notable for its refreshing diversity of films with people of color. Already making its mark with critics, the Centerpiece Film this year was, “The Farewell”, from a female and Asian director and writer, and starring Awkwafina, the breakout actress from the hit “Crazy Rich Asians”.
Sometimes life happens. A few days prior to this year’s festival, a family medical situation prevented us from going. Being in a hospital is about as far from paradise as one can imagine. But housebound during that long weekend it was supremely fitting that while I missed previewing films in Nantucket, I scrolled through the cable channels, found and re-watched the 1989 Oscar-winning best foreign film, “Cinema Paradiso”. This 1988 Italian drama written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore is a story of a boy’s lifelong passion for film. If you’re a movie fan, and haven’t seen it, rent it. This ode to the magic of movies, subtitled, sometimes slow, even after 30 years, is still beautiful, and has an ending scene that is one of the most memorable I have ever watched.
Movie attendance hit a 25-year low in 2017. Industry followers were sounding the death knell for the theatre business with the rise of streaming services. But 2018 was a rebound year. Audiences were showing up and the domestic box office finished the year with a record $11.85 billion. One study showed that movie theatre attendance and streaming consumption are positively correlated – that those who are frequent moviegoers are also more frequent consumers of streaming content.
As someone who came very late to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and rushed to binged-watch the first seven seasons (that’s 67 episodes!) while concurrently watching the series final season eight, I am living proof that theatre and streaming viewing are not mutually exclusive. The big screen, and the shared audience viewing, enhances some films.
Theatre companies are dreaming up ways to ramp up the experience and build audience. Personally, I don’t need to join a movie club just to skip the ticket line. I also don’t need the 72-foot wide Imax screen, 3-D viewing, or surround sound. I certainly don’t need to eat dinner in a dark theatre with a “chef-driven” menu or signature cocktails served seat-side (though admittedly those plushy new seats are pretty great.) All I need is the film’s power, the genuine ability of a movie to affect, entertain, delight, challenge, or even change you. Just add some popcorn and an occasional pack of peanut M&Ms, and I’m good.
Next year the Nantucket Film Festival celebrates its 25-year anniversary. Cinema and paradise await me.