21st Nantucket Film Festival -June 2016

by: Joshua H. Balling

THE NANTUCKET FILM FESTIVAL was founded in 1996 to spotlight screenwriters instead of actors and directors. At this festival, the story – and the storyteller – take center stage. The 21st anniversary edition opens June 22 and runs through June 27, screening more than 75 feature-length and short films in all genres that strive to stay true to that mantra.

Mystelle Brabbée said she hopes each audience member is moved in some way when they leave the theater after watching a festival film.
The documentary “Life, Animated,” about an autistic boy who uses Disney animated films to communicate with his family, will be the opening-night film. “Hunt For The Wilderpeople,” starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, closes this year’s festival.

“Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You,” a portrait of the influential creator of sitcoms like “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons,” will be the centerpiece film.

“The festival is all about what makes a good story, about presenting to the audience films and signature programs they can’t really see anywhere else,” executive director Mystelle Brabbée said. “We are thrilled to have such an incredible lineup. This island has become a haven for both established and up-and-coming talent as we celebrate cinema and screenwriting every June.”

Spotlight Films include Jeff Feuerzeig’s “Author:

The JT Leroy Story;” Mike Birbiglia’s “Don’t Think Twice,” starring Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs; Clay Tweel’s “Gleason;” Sophie Goodhart’s “My Blind Brother,” starring Nick Kroll, Adam Scott and Jenny Slate; Chris Kelly’s “Other People,” starring Molly Shannon, Jesse Plemons and Bradley Whitford; and Sian Heder’s “Tallulah,” starring Ellen Page and Allison Janney.

More than 30 other feature films will also be screened, including two world premieres: Xavier Manrique’s “Chronically Metropolitan,” a sardonic romantic comedy about a young writer’s attempts to win back his ex, starring Shiloh Fernandez, Mary-Louise Parker and Chris Noth; and Paul Serafini’s “Annabelle Hooper And The Ghosts Of Nantucket,” a mystery adventure shot on the island about a teenager’s investigation of a legendary ghost story, starring Bailee Madison.

Nantucket filmmaker John Stanton’s most recent work, the 30minute documentary “The Last Bay Scallop?” looks at the potential loss of the island’s commercial bay-scallop fishery and the culture surrounding it. It is one of just four documentaries at the festival that will be followed by a panel discussion.

For the seventh year in a row, the festival will screen a Disney•Pixar film on opening day. This year it’s “Finding Dory,” a return to the characters in “Finding Nemo,” directed by Andrew Stanton and co-directed by Angus MacLane.

The 2016 festival will also include a full lineup of signature programs including the annual Screenwriters Tribute, which will be presented to Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Oliver Stone (“Platoon,” “Wall Street,” “Born on the Fourth of July”); “Late Night Storytelling,” hosted by comedian and NPR host Ophira Eisenberg; “Morning Coffee With...” conversations with cutting-edge filmmakers; and “In their Shoes” discussions with noted screenwriters, actors and directors.


The festival was founded by brother and sister Jonathan and Jill Burkhart, who grew up on the island, to celebrate the art of screenwriting in the world of cinema.

Movies that have screened over the years and gone on to wide release and critical acclaim include “The Full Monty,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” “Girlfight,” “The Door in the Floor,” “Hustle and Flow,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Messenger” and “20 Feet from Stardom.”

“It’s crazy. Actors and directors get all the credit in this business. When the writers write, we work. I’m a producer. I don’t get a paycheck if there’s no screenplay. The writers deserve all the credit,” Jonathan Burkhart said.

“The idea way back in the beginning was that writers need more say, and to be presented as important. That is the reason we are here. We knew early on that the writer ought to be presented first and foremost as the reason films are made. We happened to come up with the idea just before about 50,000 people across the planet decided to have a film festival. Provincetown, Newport, a couple in Boston are just in our region now. But that’s good. Let’s give these filmmakers exposure,” he said.

This year’s lineup of films (visit http://www.ack.net for the complete list with synopses) was chosen from filmmakers’ submissions and programmers’ choices from other festivals.

“The selection process always stays the same. We’re looking for the best films out there, the best-told stories, the best writing, the best storytelling, and that never changes,” Brabbée said. “I’m always excited to show our audiences that independent documentary and narrative film work is thriving and alive. Our job is to show them those films they won’t be able to see in their local multiplexes.”

Festival film-program director Basil Tsiokos agreed.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is our guiding philosophy. It has been, and remains, that we want to screen the best work that represents fantastic storytelling through great screenwriting and documentary filmmaking. Storytelling remains central to our mission. It may be done in different ways, but we look at it as one of the primal things that need to be addressed when we choose films,” he said.

“Sundance is a good source for us, and I work there as well, so I get to see the films in advance. There are also titles that debuted elsewhere, like South by Southwest, and the Tribeca Film Festival. But there are some that are not at the bigger festivals, that came through the submission process. We treat it very seriously. The last thing any film programmer wants to do is miss out on hidden gems, those that didn’t have the benefit or buzz of a bigger festival.”

Ultimately, Brabbée said she hopes each audience member is moved in some way when they leave the theater after watching a festival film.

“I want them to have a transformative experience. You walk into a dark theater, you sit down and spend

90 minutes with a particular story, and hopefully it moves you in such a way that you have a new perspective on the world in some way, shape or form, that you’re different than you were when you walked in,” she said. “Are you a completely different person? No. But have you just remembered some part of your past you’ve forgotten, connected the dots? Have new windows opened, new perspectives? Was there an ‘a-ha’ moment here or there? It happens a lot.”


The opening, closing and centerpiece films are “complete audience winners,” Brabbée said.

“Life, Animated” chronicles the story of Owen Suskind, who has autism. After years of struggling to connect with his son, Ron Suskind discovers that Disney animated films provide the key. The film won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“Documentaries are often a bit heavier, a bit darker, but this is not. It’s a sweet, warm, coming-of-age film about autism, and connecting to autism through the magic of film. It’s really quite special, plus there’s a regional connection (Owen Suskind lives in Hyannis in the film),” Tsiokos said.

In “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” a rebellious city kid and his foster uncle escape into the bush after his new foster home in the New Zealand countryside doesn’t quite work out, only to find themselves the subjects of a national manhunt.

“It would be a family film, but there’s a little bit of blood and some language, but it’s an adventure film, radiant and uplifting. It’s a relationship film, one of those relationships you just can’t get enough of. You’re left with a warm testament to these two characters who bond over unlikely circumstances,” Brabbée said.

“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” examines the man considered one of the most influential creative forces in television history, who changed the face of the small screen through hit shows like “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons,” which tackled taboos of race, class and gender through humor.

“It’s a wonderfully-told story, about a wonderful storyteller, somebody who really changed the face of television. His shows mark a time in history,” Brabbée said. “Norman Lear is a 93-year-old storytelling machine. He is still working. He’s involved in two series right now. This felt to me like a film we had to bring to the festival.”


Comedian and writer Seth Meyers will present Stone the festival’s Screenwriters Tribute June 25 at the Sconset Casino.

With a career spanning more than 40 years, Stone has written and directed more than 20 full-length feature films, including some of the most provocative of the last four decades. His works include “JFK,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Nixon,” “World Trade Center,” “Any Given Sunday,” and “W.” He won the Academy Award for Best Director for “Platoon” in 1986 and again in 1989 for “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Stone has also written screenplays for films including “Midnight Express” (for which he won his first Academy Award), “Scarface” and “Conan the Barbarian.” In addition, he has produced or co-produced a dozen films including “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “The Joy Luck Club” and “Reversal of Fortune.”

His upcoming film “Snowden,” which he co-wrote and directed, will be released in the fall and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood and Melissa Leo.

Born in New York City, Stone served in the U.S. Army infantry in Vietnam, and was decorated with the Bronze Star for Valor. He is a graduate of the New York University Film School.

“As a festival that shines a spotlight on screenwriters, we have a long list of writers with a long body of work who have made an impact on American cinema,” Brabbée said. “Oliver Stone is at the top of that list. He’s a provocateur. He takes on big, huge subjects, often with protagonists who are sometimes divisive. He often takes a stance. He has a point of view, as artists often do. His fans are sometimes disappointed, and sometimes over the moon. When someone takes risks like that, it’s thrilling.”

Previous awardees include Aaron Sorkin, David O. Russell, Judd Apatow, Nancy Meyers, Barry Levinson, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Steve Martin, Charlie Kaufman, James Schamus and Walter Bernstein.

“Oliver Stone is a writer’s writer. He writes all of his own screenplays. People see him as a director, because that’s who so often gets the recognition. Oliver Stone starts it and ends it,” Brabbée said.

Stone will discuss his work during “In Their Shoes...” with documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight,” “Freakonomics”).

Meyers, host of the NBC late-night talk show “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” was formerly a head writer for “Saturday Night Live” and also hosted the show’s news parody segment “Weekend Update” and the 66th Emmy Awards in 2014.

A two-time film festival attendee, he has been a panelist and a host on Ben Stiller’s “All-Star Comedy Roundtable.”

For complete coverage of the 21st Nantucket Film Festival, pick up The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. The festival program, also produced by the I&M, is available at the newspaper’s Milestone Rotary office, the film-festival box office in the Greenhound Building, 10 Washington St., and other locations around town. ///

Joshua Balling is the associate editor of Nantucket Today and the managing editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket's newspaper since 1821.

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.