The Woods Hole Film Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary from July 31 to August 7 with 52 feature films and 98 short films from 22 countries, more than half of which are directed by women. While last year all shows were virtual due to the pandemic, this year’s festival will be a hybrid, with some films screened at both the Simon Center for the Arts at the Falmouth Academy and the Cotuit Center for the Arts in person, with online streaming. This year the festival’s branded events will also take place, including both face-to-face and virtual question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, workshops and masterclasses with Filmmaker-in-Residence Alexis Gambis, panel discussions, morning filmmaker chats, parties and an awards ceremony .
“In a challenging year for film production, we are happy to present a full list of some of the best emerging independent films from around the world,” said Judy Laster, founder and director of the festival.
The festival features a mix of early and seasoned filmmakers, many of whom have participated in the festival on multiple occasions, with an emphasis on films and filmmakers with ties to New England, science, music and politics. There are 22 world, seven North America, three US and 65 New England premieres.
Nine feature films have links to New England. Notable is “Lilly Topples The World,” winner of the South By Southwest Grand Jury Award for Documentary Films in 2021. It is followed by 20-year-old Lily Hevesh, who is from Sandown, New Hampshire, and the tallest domino figure in the world is toppler and the only woman in her field. It’s an unlikely American story of a quiet adopted Chinese child who transforms into a global artistic force with over a billion YouTube views. Much of the film was shot in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Best Summer Ever, a hybrid narrative and documentary filmed in Lincoln, Vermont, at Zeno Mountain Farm, a retreat and camp for people with and without disabilities and other marginalized communities, takes the teenage music genre with eight original songs plus a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities. It represents the feature film directorial debuts of Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, with a cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Benjamin Bratt and Peter Sarsgaard. Festival alum and Vermont-based Jay Cravens “Jack London’s Martin Eden,” based on the 1909 London novel about a poor and untrained sailor meeting an attractive young woman of wealth and education, was filmed entirely on Nantucket. “Memoirs of a Black Girl,” a coming-of-age story directed by Thato Rantao Mwosa, was filmed in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and features an entire cast of Boston actors. The Catch, about a young woman returning to her hometown and estranged family on the rural Maine coast, was filmed in Gloucester and Rockport. Massachusetts-born director Matthew Balzer developed the plot based on true crime stories and anecdotes about real New England fishermen.
Notable New England-related shorts include: John Gray’s “Extra Innings,” starring Peter Riegert, about an aggressive sports reporter who interviews the Boston Red Sox manager to uncover secrets from his past; John Dutton’s Discover Wonder: The Octopus Garden on a research expedition using Alvin, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s human-manned submersible, to explore two miles into the abyss of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monterey Bay National Marine travel to Sanctuary, where they discover one of the rarest and deepest octopus breeding colonies in the world; and Fermín Rojas’ “King Philip’s Belt: A Story of Wampum,” which illustrates how the Mashpee and Aquinnah Native Wampanoag of Cape Cod weave a new ceremonial wampum belt for the first time in nearly 300 years in the hope that the belt calls to the legendary belt that was once worn by Sachem King Philip (Metacom).
Two films that were originally shown as short films at the festival are now being shown as feature films by the original directors. “Last Night in Rozzie,” directed by Sean Gannet and shot in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston, features a script by Boston-born Ryan McDonough. When a New York attorney (Neil Brown Jr.) returns to Boston to reunite his dying friend (Jeremy Sisto) with his young son, he faces a childhood trauma. Jeremy Ungar and Ivaylo Getov’s “Soy Cubana” features Vocal Vidas, an all-female Cuban quartet that was invited to its first show in America in 2017 when relations between the US and Cuba were forged. What began as a concert became a journey across physical and ideological boundaries and a confirmation of the unifying power of music.
Other narrative features include: “Peace by Chocolate,” director Jonathan Keijser’s directorial debut, based on the true story of Tareq Hadhad, who fled war-torn Syria with his family and settled in his new small-town Canadian life while between episodes trapped was his dream of becoming a doctor and preserving his family’s chocolate legacy; the world premiere of “What Are You Doing New Year?” a romantic Christmas comedy directed by and with Christine Weatherup, Marc Evan Jackson and Janet Varney; and the New England premiere of Talia Lugacy’s “This Is Not a War Story,” starring Frances Fisher and actress executive producer Rosaria Dawson. The latter is about a ragged group of combat veterans in New York whose antiwar art, poetry, and papermaking hold them together despite the ghost of their friend’s suicide and the fact that healing from war is sometimes an impossible mission.
Films about music are another hallmark of the festival. In addition to the aforementioned “Best Summer Ever” and “Soy Cubana”, there are three other feature films and a short film with musical themes. Festival alumnus David Henry Gerson’s “The Story Won’t Die” is a documentary about a Syrian rapper who was tortured for his lyrics by Bashar Al-Assad and who survived one of the deadliest wars of this century with his music. Together with other creative personalities of the Syrian uprising, he tells the story of revolution and exile and reflects on a global struggle for peace, justice and freedom of expression. “Behind the Strings”, directed by Hal Rifken, tells the story of the Shanghai String Quartet, four classically trained musicians who fled to the USA after the end of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and have since performed all over the world for 36 years. The film covers their making, rise and success, the price they had to pay to stay on top, and their triumphant return to China to play the music they love. “For the Left Hand” by Gordon Quinn and Lesley Simmer tells the story of the aspiring pianist Norman Malone, who was paralyzed on his right side at the age of 10 after an attack by his father. For the next few decades he secretly mastered the left-hand repertoire before a chance discovery of his talent led him to his concert debut. The documentary “Vinyl Nation” by Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone deals with the resurgence of vinyl records, the diversification of vinyl fans and the unifying power of music in these divided times. The short documentary “A Concerto Is a Conversation” by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers traces the lineage of a virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall through his 91-year-old grandfather.
Several full-length films are part of the festival’s Bringing Science to the Screen program. Annie Kaempfer’s “The Falconer” puts Rodney Stotts, one of the few African-American falconers in the USA, in the spotlight. Raised in Washington, DC, Rodney lost friends and family to drug and street violence during the crack epidemic. He was destined for the same until he joined the Earth Conservation Corps, an organization that included downtown children, to clean up local rivers and habitats to promote wildlife restoration. The documentary “Towhich We Belong” by Pamela Tanner Boll and Lindsay Richardson shows farmers and ranchers leaving behind conventional practices that are no longer profitable or sustainable. “Observations at 65 ° South” by Lillian Hess follows a team of nine “rogue” scientists who set off for Antarctica in a small sailing boat to fundamentally change the practice of polar research.
The competition will also show “Son of Monarchs” by filmmaker Alexis Gambis, a narrative film about a Mexican biologist living in New York who is returning to his hometown in the majestic monarch butterfly forests of Michoacán. The film premiered at Sundance in 2021 and was awarded the Sloan Feature Film Prize. Mr Gambis, whose films combine documentary and feature film and often involve animal perspectives and experiments with new forms of scientific storytelling, will be doing a virtual master class on science films on Monday 1st August and participating in a virtual discussion on Thursday 5th August , on how filmmakers and scientists work together to make films about complex scientific concepts with Nipam Patel, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. Dr. Patel was involved in the production of “Son of Monarchs” and the Marine Biological Laboratory also supported Mr. Gambis with material for his previous feature film “The Fly Room”.
Two political films are supposed to provide fascinating viewing. The Berrigans: Devout and Dangerous explores the legendary lives of two priests and a nun who took on the US government, and features Bill Pullman, Liam Neeson and Martin Sheen. Skye Wallin’s “American Gadfly” portrays 89-year-old former Senator Mike Gravel, who comes out of retirement when a group of teenagers persuades him to run for president one last time. It also includes interviews with the other candidates Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Rick Santorum and Andrew Yang.
The festival is partially supported by the presenting partner WBUR and grants from the Mass Cultural Council, Mass Festivals, the Falmouth Fund of the Cape Cod Foundation in support of Bringing Science to the Screen, the Cape Cod 5 Foundation, the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, the Woods Hole Community Association and the Cape Cod Arts Foundation.
Passes are currently available on the festival website. Single tickets and ticket packages are available from July 1st. The passes cost between $ 35 and $ 225, with various member discounts and access to movies and events on the virtual platform. Ticket packages for in-person and virtual demonstrations range from $ 75 to $ 120. Single tickets for films, workshops, and panel discussions cost between $ 14 and $ 20.