Woods Hole Film Festival Celebrates 25 Years

NormanLear1 ComingThroghtheRye-ChrisCooper

Above: “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” and below: Chris Cooper in “Coming through the Rye.”

The Woods Hole Film Festival kicks off its 25th annual festival at Redfield Auditorium on Saturday, July 30.  The WHFF runs for eight days and supports emerging independent filmmakers; it is the oldest film festival on Cape Cod and the Islands.

This year’s program is notable for the number of films from outside the US (more than 30 countries are represented), as well as those made by women (more than a third of the films), mirroring the trend found at many major festivals this year, such as Tribeca and Cannes.

To commemorate its silver anniversary, and in conjunction the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the festival has upgraded the screening capability at WHOI’s Redfield Auditorium with a new screen, a digital cinema projector, and a 7:1 surround sound system. The Marine Biological Laboratory also upgraded Lillie Auditorium with new projection and sound, and venue partner Falmouth Academy recently broke ground for a new performing arts center, which is anticipated to be completed in in 2017. Together these improvements will provide an exceptional film-going experience on Cape Cod for both filmmakers and audience members.

“The 25th anniversary is a good time to look back at what we’ve accomplished as we make plans for the future,” said Judy Laster, the festival’s founder and director. “Working hand-in-hand with our community partners on these upgrades ensures the festival’s continuing existence during the summer festival while enabling us to expand and enhance our year-round film series programming.”

The festival began in 1991 with an hour of five short films curated by Laster and award-winning filmmaker Kate Davis, who spent childhood summers together in Woods Hole. The festival now shows more than 130 films over eight days, and also holds workshops, master classes, and panel discussions led by established filmmakers participating in the Filmmaker-in-Residence program. Past participants have included Les Blank, Barbara Kopple, Sebastian Junger, and others.

“With five screening venues, most of which are within walking distance of one another, we have created an environment that is both intimate and thought-provoking,” said Laster. “It enables both filmmakers and audiences from around the world to have real conversations with one another in an inspiring setting.”

This year’s Filmmakers-in-Residence include Suzanne Mitchell and Rachel Grady. Mitchell has created documentaries on social issues with past Filmmaker-in-Residence Barbara Kopple and supervised HBO docudramas and produced network news. She will screen her newest documentary, “Borderline,” about a woman with a borderline personality disorder, and her 2013 film, “Running Wild: The Life and Times of Dayton O. Hyde.”

Rachel Grady partnered with prior Filmmaker-in-Residence Heidi Ewing on such films as “Detropia” and “Jesus Camp.” Her latest documentary, “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” is about the legendary writer and producer of such TV shows as “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude.” It will be shown on opening night.

The festival champions emerging and independent filmmakers from New England, especially Cape Cod and the islands, many of whom are returning with new films. Falmouth resident Beth Murphy (“Beyond Belief”) is represented by her most recent documentary, “What Tomorrow Brings,” in which she investigates the first all-girls school in a remote Afghan village. The screening will be preceded by a performance by Afghan musician Quais Essar.

Greater Boston residents Bestor Cram (“Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison”) and Jenny Phillips (“Dhamma Brothers”) team up again on “Beyond the Wall,” which is about an innovative treatment program for prisoners reentering society in Massachusetts.

Cape Cod residents Elise Hugus (“The Watershed”) and Daniel Cojanu (“When the Ocean Met the Sky”) return with “Sustaining Sea Scallops,” a short that documents the remarkable renaissance of the Atlantic’s sea scallop industry after its near collapse in 1999.

Boston area resident Amy Geller (“For the Love of the Movies”) returns with “The Guys Next Door,” her directorial debut with Allie Humenuk, about a gay couple whose friend, the mother of three teenagers, becomes a surrogate for their two daughters.

Oscar-winning actor and Boston-area resident Chris Cooper, who will attend the festival, makes his second festival appearance in “Coming through the Rye,” about a 16 year-old boy who travels to New Hampshire in search of author J.D. Salinger.

Although not a New England native, festival alum Ben Hickernell (“Lebanon, PA”) returns with “A Rising Tide,” a narrative feature about a young chef trying to save his family’s restaurant after it floods during Hurricane Sandy. The film which stars Tim Daly (“Wings”) and Topher Grace’s new bride, Ashley Hinshaw.

Several Boston-area filmmakers are participating in the festival for the first time. Barry Frechette’s affecting “The Paper Lanterns” follows Shigeaki Mori’s lifelong calling to tell the story not only of Hiroshima’s Japanese victims, but also of his quest to locate the relatives of the twelve US airmen lost there.

James Demo’s “The Peacemaker” portrays Cambridge resident and international peacemaker Padraig O’Malley as he strives to make peace for others in critical areas throughout the world, using the peacemaking model he learned during his recovery from addiction, while struggling with finding peace for himself.

A number of films have Cape Cod and islands connections. Thomas Bena’s documentary, “One Big House,” chronicles the campaign waged on Martha’s Vineyard by an unlikely band of concerned locals—everyone from Hollywood filmmakers to the town custodian—to pass a new bylaw limiting the island’s house size.

Richard Elson’s short documentary,”Safe Harbor,” covers the most recent research efforts in understanding and protecting the inhabitants of Wellfleet Harbor’s fragile ecology. Local radio producer Samantha Broun’s first documentary short, “Crest of the Hill,” is about a man with Alzheimer’s who sells his family home.

Falmouth Academy alum Robert Jones’s new short, “The Raft,” is about a fantasy-prone boy who realizes the truth behind a decision his grandfather made during WWII. It stars Ed Asner.

Brandon Cordiero’s directorial debut, “Ribbons,” is about a young boy growing up in Provincetown during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The ocean is a natural topic for a film festival that takes place by the sea. Three films take place in Maine: Joel Strunk’s “Anatomy of a Tide,” set in a remote island fishing community on the coast of Maine; Derek Kimball’s mystery drama, “Neptune,” set off the coast of Maine; and Erica Fae’s “To Keep the Light,” inspired by true stories about a lighthouse keeper’s wife who struggled with her work and her sanity as she cared for her sick husband in 19th century Maine.

The documentary “Ocean Stories” recounts renowned marine biologist and conservationist Dr. Greg Stone’s youth of treasure hunting and deep-sea exploration and warns of the consequences of destroying the ocean’s ecosystems.

The 10th Annual Kids Day features the remarkable “Song of the Sea,” an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Film based on the Irish legend of the Selkies. The meticulously hand-drawn film will be shown to its best advantage on Redfield Auditorium’s new screen.

The festival features live music at the nearly nightly parties, including high-profile artists Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, the James Montgomery Band, the School of Hard Knocks (featuring players from the legendary Uptown Horns, the Rolling Stones, and Peter Gabriel), and local favorites Bittersweet and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.

There are also music-related films and events. Two documentaries shed light on several noteworthy music industry contributors. “Revival: The Sam Bush Story” features luminaries such as Allison Krauss, John Oates, and Emmylou Harris, heralding the talents of Sam Bush, the father of “Newgrass” music. Bush will attend the screening.

“Sidemen: The Long Road to Glory” captures the lives and legacies of Muddy Waters’s and Howlin’ Wolf’s sidemen—pianist Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and guitarist Hubert Sumlin—through interviews with the musicians they inspired, including Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Shemekia Copeland, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Joe Perry.

The festival will also welcome two other musical guests: composer, arranger, saxophonist, and conductor John Altman, and writer, composer, librettist, musician, performer and director Rinde Eckert. Altman has numerous film scoring credits and has arranged 19 platinum records for musicians such as Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Barry White, Diana Ross and Van Morrison. He will talk about his career after screening the 1928 silent film “Shooting Stars,” which features his new score commissioned by the British Film Institute.

Eckert will perform musical excerpts from “And God Created Great Whales,” his critically acclaimed Off-Broadway show about a piano tuner and composer who attempts to finish an opera based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” before his memory fails.

“Just as it takes a lot of filmmakers to make for an interesting festival, it has taken a lot of people to make a festival like this happen year after year. Our 25 years of experience combined with the installation of the latest projection equipment positions us to continue nurturing the next generation of filmmakers,” said Judy Laster.

The festival is supported in part by grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Falmouth Fund of the Cape Cod Foundation, and the Woods Hole Foundation. Media sponsors include WBUR-FM and WMVY-FM. Festival sponsors include Celebrity Cruises, Inner Glow Yoga, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, ICape Solutions, and Talamas.

Admission to screenings, panels and parties is $14 per event; special events are $25. Ticket packages and full festival passes are also available. Member discounts are available. Tickets are for sale online through the festival’s web site at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org or in person during the festival at the box office at the Old Woods Hole Fire Station at 72 Water Street. For more information, call (508) 495-3456 or email info@woodsholefilmfestival.org.

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