MVFF is here

The 19th annual M.V. Film Festival opens with a bang on Thursday, March 21. Thirty full-length films, two short film programs, theatrical events, filmmaking workshops, children’s programs, music, and food will be on deck at three venues: the Chilmark Community Center, the Chilmark School, and Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern.

“We’ve always felt the M.V. Film Festival is more than films,” said artistic director Brian Ditchfield in a telephone interview last week that included other film festival staff. With its multiple activities, MVFF is a festival in the true sense of the word.

Three film workshops for children will be led by the New York arts education organization Stages on the Sound. MVFF founder and director Thomas Bena called it “a natural fit and a fabulous enhancement to our programs.”

Once again, filmmakers and film subjects, many of whom have connections to the Vineyard, will attend screenings to discuss their work. The festival continues its emphasis on documentaries, and a number of films will play twice to accommodate sold-out screenings.

On Sunday, a one-hour community forum, “Jump In,” is another all-new activity. Bena explained, “It’s so you can work with some real, tangible things that you can do right here on Martha’s Vineyard.” According to Bena, “a nice mix of children and adults” will participate. Islander Brock Callen, committed to reversing the environmental degradation of oceans, will host, and the forum follows a Sunday screening of “The Human Element.” This cinematic probe of climate change is free.

The festival received more than 500 submissions, and staff attended Sundance and other events to find the right films, according to managing director Hilary Dreyer. “Courageous Women” will include a number of the festival’s films, she said, and the theme coincides with Women’s History Month. “Blowin’ Up” is set in an experimental Queens, N.Y., courtroom and focuses on cooperation among judge, prosecutor, and defense. Former Vineyard resident Eliza Hook is central to the narrative, and she will attend the Saturday screening. A festival favorite from last summer, “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable,” about the surfer who lost an arm to a tiger shark, returns on Saturday.

The late Aretha Franklin provides the subject for “Amazing Grace,” a documentary based on 1972 footage taken at Los Angeles’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Playing on Sunday, “Amazing Grace” features the live recording of this revered singer’s most successful gospel album in history. Also on Sunday, “Olympia” contains interviews of prominent actress Olympia Dukakis. Director Harry Mavromichalis and Dukakis will participate by Skype. Two MVRHS teachers, Juliana Germani and Corrine Kurtz, will lead the discussion about male verbal harassment in Brazil accompanying “Enough with the Cat Calling/Chega de Fiu Fiu.” Students Brenna dos Santos, Laryssa Fernandes, and Ana Lara Souza will also participate in the Sunday screening. Yet another “Courageous Women” film, “Ophelia,” a feminist reworking of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” plays on Sunday. Vineyard summer resident Robert Brustein, founder of the Yale and American Repertory theaters, will lead a discussion earlier in the day called “Understanding Hamlet.” Actors Scott Barrow, Brooke Hardman Ditchfield, and Chelsea McCarthy, who brought the Island a production of “Hamlet” last summer, will perform scenes from the play. Another free theater event, a performance called “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” will happen on Saturday.

Vineyard filmmaker Len Morris’s new documentary, “The Children of Bal Ashram,” will launch the festival on Thursday. Featuring Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and his activist wife Sumedha, this film outlines the history and success of the Rajasthan refuge in India for children trafficked, sexually abused, or rescued from enforced labor. It is an inspiring story from Morris, who has built a reputation for films about the plights of children in “Rescuing Emmanuel” (2009) and “Stolen Childhoods” (2005). Morris will lead the postfilm discussion, as well as co-producers Georgia Morris and Petra Lent and editor Chris Mara, all of Galen Films. “The Children of Bal Ashram” will play again on Saturday. “The Biggest Little Farm,” about two farmers, with director and subject John Chester leading discussion, follows that night.

A host of acclaimed films are included in the schedule. Among them are “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the awardwinning documentary about Fred Rogers and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” on Friday and Saturday. A special treat will be the appearance of David Newell, the show’s Mr. McFeely. Sure to be a sellout is Friday’s “Running With Beto,” about the progressive politician from Texas, and it will play again on Saturday. Vineyard visitor David Modigliani, who directed, will lead the postfilm discussion. “Apollo 11, another hit documentary, plays on Saturday, and uses previously unreleased footage to cover the preparations, launch, and voyage of the 1969 moon landing. Oscar-nominated “The Insult,” following a dispute between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee, is on Friday’s schedule. “A Private War” concerns war correspondent Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike. Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman will attend the Saturday screening. Battery Dance is the subject of “Moving Stories,” playing on Sunday, and features founder and artistic director Jonathan Hollander, who will lead the discussion. Hollander says, “I trace my love of dance to the square dances at the Chilmark Community Center.”

Children’s activities have long played an important part of MVFF. Four films for kids will play over the weekend, and three workshops are scheduled: “Shooting from the Hip” and “Filming on the Fly” on Saturday, and “The Finishing Touches” on Sunday. All are free. Children will work with members of the festival’s film production department, headed by Ollie Becker, who will play some of his films to help participants. The goal is to produce a finished product in 48 hours.

Another important MVFF element spotlights local filmmakers. Playing on Sunday, “Vineyard Documentary Shorts” includes conversations with the directors and writers. After the Sunday events, there will be a closing night party.

“We really encourage people to come just to enjoy the Hay Café, the music and the food, and just hang out,” Bena says. Twelve musical acts will perform over the weekend. Look for Jeremy Berlin, Griffin McMahon, Lucy Mayhew, Dave Hannon, Ellen Biskis, the Pickpocket Bluegrass Band, Rob Myers, Lydia Fischer, Jared Salvatore, Jodie Treloar, and David Stanwood. The Hay Café will provide food by Morning Glory Farm’s Robert Lionette and Todd Christy’s coffee, along with the festival’s popcorn and Pie Chicks baked goods.

“This year there are more films than we’ve had before,” says Ditchfield. “Farmers, music lovers, children, hardcore documentary lovers, foreign or domestic film fans, or anyone else — there’s something for everyone.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival website,, lists all films and activities, in addition to a tasting menu.

This article by Brooks Robards originally appeared on