FESTIVALS: In Nantucket, Skinny Dipping, Screenwriting, and "Coming Soon"
by Mark Rabinowitz
The 4th Annual Nantucket Film Festival (NFF) wrapped up on June 20th after four days of screenings, panels, discussions, and parties and even managed to get in the customary filmmakers' softball game. While a mid-week bout with rain might have stymied some outdoor fun, the festival screenings appeared to fare even better than expected due to some good films (especially those with distribution) and the elimination of a whole host of distractions on this gorgeous island. The NFF is dedicated to the art of screenwriting, and many of the fest activities are geared toward this pursuit. From staged screenplay readings to panel discussions to a gala tribute to a screenwriter, the writer is paramount at this event.
The programming for Nantucket, like virtually all regional festivals, was somewhat uneven: upcoming Paramount Classics release "Adventures of Sebastian Cole" -- which premiered in Sundance's Competition section -- is an original, charming and well acted story about how a family copes with stepfather Hank's decision to get a sex change, while NFF world premiere "American Detective," by screenwriters David Von Hatten and Dan Brown (also director and producer) received extremely favorable word of mouth. Clark Gregg shines especially well as Hank in "Cole." On the other hand, U.S. premiere "Billboard" by screenplay competition winner Janusz Glowacki (co-written and directed by Lukasz Zadrzynski) was roundly panned by attendees, as was Will Conroy's "Catalina Trust." Unfortunately, the world premieres at smaller, regional festivals like Nantucket are usually sub-standard fare, since most filmmakers submit first to fests with a larger industry presence, like Sundance or the LAIFF.
Other films attending with distribution in tow included Tom Tykwer's widely praised "Run Lola Run" (Sony Pictures Classics), Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' "Sugar Town" (October Films), Don McKellar's "Last Night" (Lions Gate), Goran Paskaljevic's "Powder Keg" (Paramount Classics), Radu Mihaileanu's "Train of Life" (Paramount Classics) and Mark and Michael Polish's "Twin Falls Idaho" (Sony Pictures Classics).
The closing night film, Colette Burson's "Coming Soon," was shown in the director's cut, prior to MPAA-mandated editing. The film is a thoughtful, if uneven, look at how teenage girls in the U.S. look at their sexual coming of age. The film features a winning performance by lead Bonnie Root, and the cast also includes Gaby Hoffman, doing a game Christina Ricci impersonation as Root's acerbic, sardonic best friend. The film contains nothing that I can see warranting an NC-17 from the MPAA, except, perhaps a scene in which a teenage girl spits what is assumed to be semen into a sink, before commenting on how disgusting it is to swallow after giving a blow job.
Writer/director Burson told indieWIRE that she shot that scene partly so the MPAA would have an obvious scene to object to, one that the filmmaker could handle losing. Other scenes deemed problematic by the MPAA included one where Root's character, Stream, achieves orgasm with the help of a strategically placed jacuzzi jet. The film is a clear example of the double standard being set by the ratings organization, where extraordinarily violent films are typically awarded a mere 'R' rating, while films involving sexuality (especially that of teenage girls - a subject typically avoided in the United States) are judged much more harshly.
The 2nd annual writer's tribute to Joan Presson Allen at the 'Sconset Casino (not a gambling establishment) was as smooth and as polished an affair as last year's fete for Ring Lardner, Jr. Guests were treated to cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, and a largely hidden raw bar, complete with the best raw oysters and clams on the half shell this reporter has ever eaten, and despite a profound shortage of chairs, the attendees seemed to enjoy the evening. NBC's Brian Williams was again the MC of the event, and if he plays his cards right, he's got a future as a professional MC (not to mention the likely successor to Tom Brokaw as the anchor of NBC's Nightly News). The Academy Award-nominated Allen ("Cabaret" and "Prince of the City") was also the writer of such films as "Funny Lady," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "Deathtrap." Attending the tribute were speakers Ali McGraw ("Love Story" and Allen's "Just Tell Me What You Want"), Jerry Orbach (TV's "Law & Order," "Prince of the City"), playwright Wendy Wasserstein ("The Heidi Chronicles"), NBC President (and part-time Nantucket resident) Bob Wright, and author Robert Daley ("Prince of the City"), along with guests October Films Co-Founder Bingham Ray, Shooting Gallery President Eamonn Bowles and NBC's Tim Russert.
One of the annual rites of Nantucket is the Vanity Fair party held at the home of J. Seward Johnson. Each year the festival's filmmakers, staff and selected guests gather to party at this ocean-front mansion, decorated with swinging 60's hanging bubble chairs, a beaded curtain that leads to a billiards room, and a gorgeous pool and gazebo. Food was provided by the Johnsons' regular chef, Jeff Shehab, who whipped up some tasty morsels, including coconut shrimp, potato ravioli, chicken sate and smoked salmon. The above were quaffed down with M