Death and Change are Frequent Themes at the Woods Hole Film Festival

August 1, 2010

Most of the narrative films I previewed this year touch on death of a family member, or the aftermath of death for the living. In this category are “House of Bones,” a documentary about a family house on Martha’s Vineyard after the death of the director’s grandmother; “Lebanon, PA,” a drama about a man following the death of his father; “The Old Boy,” a documentary about the director’s 92-year-old grandfather;  “Roots in Water,” a narrative short about three adult siblings after the death of their mother; and “Harvest,” about a dysfunctional family in the final summer of the grandfather’s life.

Death, in these films, is not an event to be mourned so much as it is an impetus for change. The remaining two films I previewed were about change too, but it was traveling to a new place that brought on change. In “One Too Many Mornings,” a young man seeks to escape his own problems by traveling to see a friend, while, in “Feed the Fish,” a man in mid-life crisis is convinced by a buddy to go on a trip with him.

One Too Many Mornings

Directed by Michael Mohan, “One Too Many Mornings” (90 min., 2010) is a coming-of-age comedy that follows Peter (Anthony Deptula) as he escapes problems with his girlfriend by driving eight hours to visit Fischer (Stephen Hale, a friend from high school who now lives in a church, earning his keep by shutting off the lights at night and locking the front door.  Fischer is happy with the way things are, but he has a serious alcohol problem, which threatens his position at the church.

The film title comes from the Bob Dylan song of the same name (“We’re both just too many mornings/An’ a thousand miles behind.”) As the film progresses, Peter and Fischer try to help each other, learning more about themselves in the process. The film is billed as a comedy, and in part it is, but the seriousness of Fischer’s alcohol dependency makes “drama” a more suitable description.

Both Deptula and Hale also served as writers and producers for the film.

“One Too Many Mornings” was shown yesterday (Saturday, July 31) at 9 PM in the Old Woods Hole Fire Station.

Feed the Fish

In “Feed the Fish” (a comedy directed by Michael Matzdorff , Joe Peterson (Ross Partridge) is a writer who has written one children’s picture book, “Feed the Fish,” about a cat who is eaten by a goldfish. Fortunately, the cat has nine lives, and Joe plans to follow up with eight more stories. Ask to explain the popularity of the book, he says, simply, “Kids like violence.”

Two years later, in Venice Beach, California, though, Joe has been unable to write another book. The magic is lost. His relationship to Lorraine (Vanessa Branch) is on the rocks. Lorraine’s brother JP (Michael Chernus) arrives, and Joe explains a plot he is considering for “The Lost Fly.” A fly gets trapped in a passing car and is swept away from his family.

JP tells Peterson that he needs a change of scenery and convinces him to come with him to Wisconsin to do the Polar Bear Plunge, a family tradition. He immediately meets a beautiful waitress, Sif (Katie Aselton), a slightly deranged sheriff (Tony Shalhoub of “Monk” fame), and a kindly old man who helps him feel welcome (Barry Corgin, from “Northern Exposure”), all of whom turn out to be related.

While out preparing for the Polar Bear Plunge, JP is bitten in his delicate region by a badger and remains hospitalized for most of the film, leaving Joe to navigate life in the small town by himself, finding himself –and a new direction in his children’s stories—in the process.

Much of the humor is based on Northern winters and small-town life. There are some beautiful shots of ice and snow, though, including the Northern lights.

“Feed the Fish” will be shown at Monday, August 2, at 7 PM in Redfield Auditorium, and Saturday, August 7, at 9 PM, at the Old Woods Hole Fire Station.

House of Bones

“House of Bones” (89 min., 2008) is director Victoria Campbell’s story of the “Big House” on Martha’s Vineyard, where her grandmother Beebee and parents Dolly and Bruce lived. After the death of grandmother, the four siblings, three daughters and a son, reminisce about the house, their summer vacations there, and their grandmother and extended family, as they make plans to sell the “Big House,” a house none of them can afford to maintain.

The house was, indeed, big. It had 22 rooms and 10 bedrooms “filled with the salty smell of the sea.” A long porch extended around the house. On the third floor, originally constructed for servants, was a private suite, where Dolly and Bruce lived.

We learn about the history of the house and the family, whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower and included Myles Standish. The house, built by the Saltonstall family in the 1890s, was purchased by Ms. Campbell’s great grandmother in 1940, after she was widowed.

Ms. Campbell’s narration holds this film together; she tells the intertwining stories of the family members while the contents of the house, and, ultimately, the house itself, are sold.

The film will be screened Tuesday, August 3, at 5 PM at the Old Woods Hole Fire Station.

Lebanon, PA

In “Lebanon, PA” (100 min., 2010), directed by Ben Hikernell, Philadelphia ad writer Will (Josh Hopkins) heads for Lebanon, Pennsylvania, after the death of his father for the funeral and to deal with his father’s house and possessions. He has not had much contact with his father over the years, and is drawn to the simple life that he images his father lived there as a teacher and model boat builder.

He meets his distant cousin, who lives across the street, and his pregnant 17-year-old daughter, CJ (Rachel Kitson). Once her father finds out about the pregnancy, he and the parents of CJ’s boyfriend try to engineer a quick marriage, but CJ rebels.

Will also meets a woman in a bar (Samantha Mathis), whom he later finds was one of his father’s colleagues, and CJ’s teacher. She is married, but Will pursues her anyway, and tries to fit himself into small town life. He is drawn to the idea of starting fresh there, with a house where he can mow the lawn; his girlfriend broke up with him in the early scenes of the movie, and he grows disillusioned with the ad industry out in the hinterland, where he realizes his messages don’t ring true.

All the pieces do not neatly fall into place, but that is what makes this film about the cultural divide ring true.

“Lebanon, PA” will be shown Tuesday, August 3, at 9 PM, in Redfield Auditorium.

The Old Boy

Matthew Cardarople’s short film, “The Old Boy” is a moving tribute to his grandfather, Philip J. Cardarople, of Sandwich. Filmed in Sandwich and in Boston, the film is a sensitive portrayal of the 92-year-old Cardarople, who takes loving care of his bedridden wife of 65 years, Florence (“Fudgie”). His once-active life seems to have come down to preparing and eating three meals a day and enjoying reruns of “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

He had three sons, and wishes he had had nine—for a baseball team. Long ago Mr. Cardarople played baseball, and he is a strong supporter of the Boston Red Sox, listening to the games on the radio. As a way of honoring his grandfather, Matthew and his family raised $1,750 to send him to the Baseball Fantasy Camp at Fenway Park.

We see Mr. Cardarople practicing batting before the big day and being outfitted with a baseball outfit; he receives an official-looking Red Sox shirt with his name on it when he arrives, by limousine, in Boston. He has a wonderful day, culminating in his proudly retelling the stories to his wife, when he returns home. “People were cheering as I was running!”

Mr. Cardarople died two weeks after the documentary was shot, but it remains a fitting remembrance of the man, and to his grandson’s love and respect for him.

“The Old Boy” will be shown on Tuesday, August 3, in Lillie Auditorium.

A clip from “The Old Boy” of Philip and Florence watching the Lawrence Welk Show

Roots in Water

Still from “Roots in Water”

“Roots in Water” is a 10-minute short directed by Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, the daughter of Martin. It is set in Maine, in a house along a rocky lake, where three siblings have come together after the death of their mother. The scene is tense. The oldest, Frank, a doctor living in Arizona, criticizes the younger brother’s desire to file a medical malpractice suit, and, for that matter the whole way of life lived by the younger siblings, Tom and Livie, who share their late mother’s desire to make the world a better place.

“You have to make everything a world cause,” says Frank. “Why does one person feel the need to impose his beliefs on another person?” Though, of course, it is Frank who insists that others do things his way. Judy, his wife, cautiously tries to mediate.

The title, “Roots in Water,” refers not only to the family home by the lake, but to the fragility of family roots, and how the death of the mother changes family dynamics. Views of the lake, the house, of people standing and sitting, tell much of the story.

It will be shown tonight at 9 PM at the Old Woods Hole Fire Station.


In “Harvest,” which was filmed in Madison, Connecticut, a family deals with the impending death of the Siv (Robert Loggia), patriarch of the family. His wife Yetta (Barbara Barrie) is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but keeps herself busy, sweeping the grass.

His daughter Anna (Victoria Clark) and son Benny (Arye Gross) live in the house with him, and Anna convinces her son Josh (Jack Carpenter) to spend the summer at home, rather than join his girlfrienc and other college friends at a beach house. Rounding out the household is the maid and caretaker of Yetta, Another son,  lives nearby but is estranged from the family.

The story is told through the eyes of Josh, who, over the summer, gets to know his grandfather better, while trying to deal with family sorrows, losses, and resentments that have simmered over the years.

There are some nice shots of Madison, a small New England town along the coast, which will appeal to Cape Codders. A Fourth of July parade shows down downtown Madison scenes, as does the grandfather’s bicycle ride through town (on one of his very robust days before cancer claims him).

Somewhat autobiographical, director Marc Meyers told me that it was an idealized story, based in part on the death of his own grandfather. The characters are multi-faceted and so authentic that it sometimes feels like a documentary instead of a narrative film.

“Harvest” will be shown Friday, August 6, at 7:30 PM at Woods Hole Community Hall.

The trailer for “Harvest.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s