Lights… Camera… Action!

23rd Nantucket Film Festival celebrates storytelling on the screen

by: Joshua H. Balling

The 2018 Nantucket Film Festival rolls into town June 20-25, with an eclectic six-day lineup that includes more than 100 feature-length and short films, and a tribute to “The Squid and the Whale” screenwriter Noah Baumbach.

Now in its 23rd year, organizers say they’ve chosen a program of narrative films and documentaries that stays true to the festival’s founding principle, to celebrate the story – and the storyteller – on the big screen.

Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) will be presented the festival’s annual Screenwriters Tribute.

“Boundaries,” a comedy starring Vera Farmiga as a single mom forced to drive her estranged pot-dealing father (Christopher Plummer) to Los Angeles after he is kicked out of a retirement home, will be the opening-night film. “Love, Gilda,” a documentary that reveals the personal side of comedian Gilda Radner through recordings and journal entries, will close the festival.

Another documentary, Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” which depicts the life and legacy of the late Fred Rogers, host

of the popular children’s television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and a longtime Nantucket summer resident, is the centerpiece film.

Among this year’s narrative titles are several which highlight strong female leads, including Susanna White’s “Woman Walks Ahead,” starring Jessica Chastain; Isabel Coixet’s “The Bookshop,” starring Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson; Marianna Palka's “Egg,” starring Christina Hendricks and Alysia Reiner; Marc Turtletaub’s “Puzzle,” starring Kelly Macdonald; Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” starring newcomer Elsie Fisher; Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” starring Glenn Close and Richard Eyre’s “The Children Act,” starring Emma Thompson.

“First and foremost, when putting the program together for the Nantucket Film Festival, we want the lineup to be the very best films, not necessarily with any agenda in mind,” film program director Basil Tsiokos said.

“That being said, we are certainly aware of all the crazy stuff happening around how women are treated in Hollywood, and the world in general, and we are responding to that. We would be tone deaf not to respond to what’s happening in the world. They synched up this year. Some of the very best films out there have women in lead acting positions.”

For the ninth year in a row, the festival will screen a Disney•Pixar film on opening day. This year the studio will showcase the animated feature “Incredibles 2,” with Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson and John Ratzenberger doing the voice work.

The festival will also continue its relationship with the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra in screening a classic silent film accompanied by a new orchestral score. This year, Berklee students will perform their original score for the new restoration of “The Man Who Laughs” (1928), based on the Victor Hugo novel and starring Mary Philbin and Conrad Veidt. Veidt’s character is widely acknowledged to have been the genesis of the iconic Batman villain, the Joker.

Nearly 50 feature selections have been announced, including two world premieres: Galt Niederhoffer’s “10 Things We Should Do Before We Break Up,” starring Christina Ricci and Hamish Linklater as strangers who decide to try to be a couple when a one-night stand results in pregnancy; and Donal Lardner Ward’s “We Only Know So Much,” a multigenerational family drama featuring Jeanne Tripplehorn and “Stranger Things’ ” Noah Schnapp.

The festival will also present four Sundance Audience Award winners: Andrew Heckler’s KKK drama “Burden,” starring Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker and Andrea Riseborough; Aneesh Chaganty’s “Searching,” a thriller starring John Cho and Debra Messing which takes place entirely on a laptop screen; Rudy Valdez’s personal documentary about his incarcerated sister, “The Sentence;” and Alexandra Shiva’s “This Is Home,” a documentary about Syrian refugees adjusting to life in Baltimore. Other documentaries include profiles of actress Jane Fonda and comedian Robin Williams.

Baumbach, nominated for a 2005 best original screenplay Oscar for “The Squid and the Whale,” will receive the festival’s 2018 Screenwriters Tribute Saturday, June 23.

“Noah is very much a writer’s writer. He pays attention to the written word. They are sacred to him. Actors working for him have to nail each word of the script,” festival executive director Mystelle Brabbée said.

“Not to mention, so many of his films are great films that have added to the lexicon of American cinema. He has had an impact. This is not a lifetime achievement award. Noah is in the middle of his career. It is very specifically in-

tended to honor people who have made an impact on American cinema, and to do it at different stages in their careers.”

Morgan Neville, who won the 2014 Oscar for best documentary for “20 Feet From Stardom,” will receive the Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling Award; and Heckler the New Voices in Screenwriting Award.

Ben Stiller’s All-Star Comedy Roundtable is returning to this year’s festival June 22, but this year with a twist, as an evening of spontaneous storytelling and improvisational comedy with Stiller, Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) and Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”), the duo who are touring the nation this summer with their own improv show.

“This is a different type of roundtable. My sense from Ben is that he always likes to push the boundaries. I was personally inspired to do something like this after thinking about ‘Love, Gilda’ and the Robin Williams documentaries, and I had heard about Middleditch and Schwartz doing their show,” Brabbée said.

“It sounded fun and wild. They are pushing the boundaries of storytelling for sure. How can two people sustain an hour of improv?”

New this year, the festival will present a live taping of National Public Radio’s “Ask Me Another,” hosted by festival regular Ophira Eisenberg, which mixes trivia games with comedy and music.

Returning signature programs include “In Their Shoes” conversations with MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews and other interviewers and “Morning Coffee With . . .” discussions. ///

The 23rd Nantucket Film Festival, June 20-25. For more information, visit