Hollywood celebs, as well as their films, come to the Vineyard

"Rosenwald" is a documentary about Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, pictured here with students from a Rosenwald school.

Photo courtesy of Fisk University

Hollywood brings more than its films to the Vineyard. Filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, producers, and other Hollywood professionals come not only to vacat

Julie Taymor's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will show at the Martha's Vineyard Film Center on Saturday, August 22. Photo courtesy tfana.org
Julie Taymor’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will show at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Saturday, August 22. Photo courtesy tfana.org

ion, but to talk about their work while they’re here. Upcoming examples are screenwriter Sarah Kernochan, who will discuss her new film “Learning to Drive,” a midlife comedy starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, on Wednesday, August 26, at the Chilmark Community Center in the finale of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s (TMVFF) summer series. Summer resident, Yale Repertory Theatre founder, and playwright Robert Brustein will join Julie Taymor, theater and film director of “Lion King” fame, to discuss her 2014 film, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Saturday, August 22. Director Aviva Kempner may be less known than these Hollywood compatriots, but her new film “Rosenwald” explores a form of celebrity that is genuinely heroic. It plays at the Film Center on Wednesday, August 26.

Many links draw such Hollywood celebrities to the Island, including Vineyard family connections. Ms. Taymor has visited the Island to stay with her mother Betty Taymor, a longtime summer resident. Ms. Kernochan and her husband, playwright and filmmaker James Lapine, summer in Edgartown. Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister Maggie grew up summering in Chilmark with their parents. Mr. Gyllenhaal appeared earlier this summer at the TMVFF screening of his new movie “Southpaw,” and Ms. Gyllenhaal, who is married to actor Peter Sarsgaard, continues to summer on-Island with her family, attending TMVFF events. Mr. Gyllenhaal has said the summer is about family, and the Island is about family, as is “Southpaw,” according to TMVFF production and marketing manager Cassie Dana.

Stars without Vineyard connections reach out more and more to ask if they can come, Ms. Dana says. “You offer travel and lodging and provide a vacation for them. Tom [Bena] takes them out surfing, and we have dinner with them.” The power of Martha’s Vineyard is quite a draw, says TMVFF programming and managing director Brian Ditchfield. Sponsor Cape Air provides support, as do the Beach Plum Inn, the Harbor View Hotel, and the Captain Flanders Inn. Mr. Ditchfield and other members of TMVFF attend Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, where their networking can lead to participation in the summer film festivals. Mr. Paradise, founder and head of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, also attends film festivals, both to find new films and to meet the filmmakers associated with them.


A midsummer night’s magic

The discussion Saturday night after “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be free-flowing, says Mr. Brustein. “Julie’s career is so fascinating and various, as is the way she approaches theater, the way she approaches film, and the way she approaches Shakespeare, as opposed to her film on Frida Kahlo,” he said in a brief telephone interview, and it will be a subject of the discussion.

Ms. Taymor’s 2014 film of the famous Shakespeare romantic comedy stars Kathryn Hunter as the remarkably acrobatic Puck, who wields magic at the command of king of the fairies Oberon, played by David Harewood. Set in Athens, the plot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” revolves around the romantic problems of Hermia (Lilly Englert) and Lysander (Jake Horowitz), as well as Helena (Mandi Masden) and Demetrius (Zach Appelman). Hermia’s father favors Demetrius for his daughter, while Helena yearns for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander try to escape Athens for the woods, where Puck casts mischievous spells over both of the couples as well as Oberon’s intended, Titania (Tina Benko). A subplot designed for the groundlings develops its own play-within-a-play about Ovidian lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Ms. Taymor’s skill at creating dazzling special effects and costumes makes her version of the play a festival for the eyes.


Julius Rosenwald — a true hero

Ms. Kempner’s biographical documentary about the Jewish philanthropist outlines the accomplishment of a truly remarkable man. After making a fortune in the retail business as the president of Sears, Mr. Rosenwald began devoting his time and money to help the cause of civil rights. Influenced by black educator Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University, he built more than 5,300 schools for African-American children during the Jim Crow days in the South. The Rosenwald Fund went on to support countless numbers of African-American artists and public figures, and Ms. Kempner has laid out their remarkable accomplishments as aided by Mr. Rosenwald. This documentary, while not as glitzy as a Hollywood film, offers a far more important piece of American history. Ms. Kempner will lead a discussion following the film.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Saturday, August 22, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For information and tickets, see mvfilmsociety.com.

“Learning to Drive,” Wednesday, August 26, 7:30 pm, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, Chilmark Community Center, Chilmark. For information and tickets, see tmvff.org.

“Rosenwald,” Wednesday, August 26, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For information and tickets, see mvfilmsociety.com.


This article by Brooks Robards originally appeared on mvtimes.com.