In Nantucket, A Focus on "Telling Good Stories"
by Eugene Hernanadez
Over the past few years, spring has emerged as a key season for regional festivals in the United States. While some events still seem confused about the direction they want to take, other fests are settling nicely into their own niche. Such is the case in Nantucket, site of a festival that has become a solid June resort event, with a continued focus on the art of screenwriting. This year's installment, which ran from June 19-22 on the island off the coast of Massachusetts, delivered its local and industry audience a solid film selection, high-profile celebrity events, quality seminars, and a comfortable environment for networking (or even relaxing).
Among the hurdles organizers had to overcome this year, however, were transportation delays and confusion for some en route to events outside the core town area and a late streak of mostly cold, wet weather. Not to mention an overzealous event sponsor on awards night.
The audience award at the 2003 Nantucket Film Festival was shared by Liz Garbus' doc, "Girlhood" and Peter Mullan's "The Magdalene Sisters," which also won the festival's writer/director prize. Garbus' "Girlhood" has already screened in Tribeca, Newport, and San Francisco, as well as SXSW and Atlanta where it won awards. It will debut in theaters this fall. Meanwhile Mullan's "Sisters" has been a hit on the festival circuit since debuting in Venice last year; it won the Discovery award in Toronto and the jury prize at Newport. Set in Ireland in the 1960s the movie explores the true stories of a group of young women who are sent to a convent and the abuses they receive while there. Miramax is planning to release the film in the United States on August 1.
Guy Guillet's "Quest to Ref" won the festival's audience award for best short and also nabbed the Teen Eyeview on NFF award. It was written by Benjamin Watkins.
Screenwriting prizes went to Catherine Hardwick and Nikki Reed for "Thirteen," which will be released in August by Fox Searchlight, and Annemarie Jacir for "Like Twenty Impossibles."
Vermont filmmaker John O'Brien was presented a special jury prize for outstanding direction for his latest film, "Nosey Parker." The writer/director, who is a sheep farmer and justice of the peace in Vermont, as well as director of the previous local hits "Man With a Plan" and "Vermont is For Lovers," won an iPOD at the ceremony. Unfortunately, as he indicated during the ceremony, he does not have a computer and checks his email at the local public library. Finally, director Vicky Jensen and writer Scott Ingalls won a special teen jury prize for "awesomeness" for their film, "Family Tree."
The 2003 NBC Screenwriters Tribute to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was a classy evening honoring a talented and respected writer, until it also became a lengthy opportunity for company chief Bob Wright to honor some of his network's own talent, from Chris Matthews to Lester Holt and evening M.C. Brian Williams. The sponsor, the new owner of Bravo network, frustrated many in attendance with its self-referential kudos and future nightly news anchor Williams forced some to squirm when concluding the evening with his own inappropriate remarks about soldiers in Iraq. As Variety's David Rooney said well this week, "The newsman spoke of the armed forces fighting so writers could sweat blood, create art and enjoy being in beautiful places like Nantucket."
Among the high profile events at the 2003 Nantucket Film Festival was the highly anticipated reading of "Confederacy of Dunces." The project which will be directed by David Gordon Green, from a script by Steven Soderbergh and Scott Kramer, was read before a sold-out crowd of 800 in a local school auditorium. The star-studded performance included performers Will Ferrell as lead Ignatius J. Reilly, Anne Meara as his mother Mrs. Reilly, and Paul Rudd as Mancuso. Other performers included Jace Alexander, John Conlon, Alan Cumming, Olympiz Dukakis, Jesse Eisenberg, Dan Hedaya, Kristen Johnston, Natasha Lyonne, Mos Def, Rosie Perez, John Shea, Celia Weston and Garret Savage. Green told indieWIRE that Lily Tomlin is already on board for the filmed version as Irene Reilly, Drew Barrymore will star as Darlene, Dukakis will play Santa Battaglia, and Mos Def is set as Burma Jones. "I don't think I could make it without him," Green told indieWIRE.
As for the lead role, no actor has been set yet even though rumors persisted throughout the weekend that Phillip Seymour Hoffman will play Ignatius. Ferrell's turn as the character struck a continually humorous chord with the audience. Staging included Reilly seated in the audience at the start of the reading, lashing out loudly as Savage, the reading's narrator introduced Miramax, the producers, and the cast. Wearing Reilly's trademark green hat, Ferrell made his way from the back of the auditorium, all the while calling catcalling cast as they were introduced. "I was startled and amazed at Ferrell's dig on Ignatius," Green told indieWIRE by email earlier this week, reflecting on the event. "I had not idea that a character that sad could make me piss my pants with laughter."
"George Washington" and "All the Real Girls" director Green, who is back in Georgia editing his latest film, "Undertow," told indieWIRE that "Dunces" will either shoot this fall or next spring in New Orleans.
On the eve of the reading, many of the same actors let down their hair at the highly entertaining late-night storytelling event. Cumming and Perez hosted the intimate event at the Harbor House Village. It was a unique festival event that offered an opportunity to see a different side of famous faces and industry friends.
Directors Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini, actor Paul Giamatti, and producer Ted Hope were among the panelists who attended the festival. The three participated in a "One Scene at a Time" study of their work on the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, "American Splendor." Other panels included a roundtable with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory, and Ishmael Merchant, while things heated up when a discussion about the death of independent film was discussed at the "Script Machine" seminar with Steve Hamilton, John Sloss, and others.
Reality television became a hot topic during the "To Tell the Truth" documentary panel. The discussion began as an exploration of how documentaries can be compromised, from cinema verite and "fly on the wall" filmmaking to the way that subjects are affected by the presence of a documentarian's lens. As the discussion continued, director Jack Cahill ("Long Gone") revealed his own challenges in trying to determine the truthfulness of one of his subjects. Later, director Robb Moss ("The Same River Twice") stirred up things, proclaiming that reality shows are "no less real than verite."
Doc panel participant and award-winner Liz Garbus called the Nantucket Film Festival a "top festival experience," expressing her own excitement that the event has embraced docs within its primary program, that it has recognized quality "storytelling."
"Recently, people have been going to the movie theatres and tuning in to see documentaries in record numbers," offered Garbus in a post-fest chat with indieWIRE. "There has been a greater understanding that good documentaries are about great storytelling, in the same way that narrative films are. A lot of people may attribute this to the popularity of reality TV, but I really think there is, in the field, a renewed focus on simply telling good, dramatic, entertaining, on-the-edge-of-your-seat stories."