Perhaps few other small towns in America scream "Film Festival" more than Provincetown. Among its small population of under 4,000 (which swells in Summer) are artists and an eclectic mix of families (gay and straight), singles, drag queens, frat guys and most likely anything in between - not to mention filmmaker John Waters. The town is simply famous for its cultural mix and celebration of the eccentric - or normal, depending on your point-of-view. And the small Provincetown International Film Festival reflects the mix.
Despite the economic challenges faced by organizers in recent years, explored over the weekend in indieWIRE, the event continues to thrive creatively.
This year's 11th run opened with Woody Allen's latest, "Whatever Works" and closed with the East Coast debut of Jay DiPietro's Sundance '09 feature, "Peter and Vandy" - two choices that might grace the screens of any decent indie-laden film festival for sure, but Provincetown also furnishes its diverse audience with a mix that included Swedish gay film, "Patrik, Age 1.5" by Ella Lemhagen (which won best narrative feature), Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Still Walking," Louie Psyhoyo's Sundance audience winner "The Cove" (personally, I say watch out for this come awards season), David Barba and James Pellerito's Olympian profile of flamboyant U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir, "Pop Star on Ice" and Paul Saltzman's doc, "Prom Night in Mississippi."
"In my 25 years of attending festivals for a living, I've never seen [audiences] appreciate foreign-language film as much as I've seen here," said Boston's Coolidge Theatre head Denise Kassell, who formerly headed the Hamptons International Film Festival. Kassell introduced Chilean director Sebastian Silva's award-winning "The Maid" (La Nana), which also debuted at Sundance this year. The film is based on his experience growing up with two maids employed by his parents in their Santiago home, one of which lived with the family for 25 years.
"One of the maids cried and the other one quit," said Silva laughing after the screening, about their reactions to the film. "It was a very culturally anthropological experience... I always thought it was strange growing up because [the maid] would cook for us and then she'd have to go sit and eat alone in the kitchen."
Silva said the upper classes he grew up in weren't always sympathetic to the plight of domestic servants. "Upper class people in Chile can be very snobbish. I heard crazy outrageous statements. They're right-wing, and they can be cruel simply out of ignorance."
For a town that can be walked from one end to the other in about a half hour or so, Provincetown offers a crazy mix of temptations, especially on weekends when it swells with weekenders arriving on the ferry from Boston. Restaurants and bars abound in the pedestrian-friendly town, not to mention the afternoon post-beach Tea Dance on the deck of a slightly seedy seafront hotel - underneath is a cruisy area subtley dubbed "the dick dock" - and an array of clubs and what nots that may stray the unsuspecting festival-goer.
But this writer played good Friday evening and headed off to the "Friday Spotlight" of Adam Salky's "Dare," which had its East Coast debut. The film starts out as a familiar teen drama, but hedges more raw as it finishes. Three teens, including a beautiful aspiring high school actress (Emmy Rossum), a hot hunk with everything but emotional fulfillment (Zach Gilford) and a closeted outsider (Ashley Springer) find themselves caught up in a emotionally tugging three-way romance. Sandra Bernhard and Alan Cumming also offer some great, if all too short performances in the film, which should have a Fall release, hinted writer/producer David Brind during a post-screening Q&A - though he said the details are still secret.
"Adam made the choice to have the beginning be bright and like a straightforward teen movie, but [during a pivotal point] he uses a handheld camera and the colors are muted," said Brind.
Saturday evening, the festival hosted its main awards ceremony, honoring Canadian director Guy Maddin ("My Winnipeg"), actor Alessandro Nivola ("Junebug" and the upcoming "Coco Before Chanel") and Strand Releasing, which is having its 20th anniversary this year.
The event was split in three parts with John Waters interviewing Guy Maddin on stage in what was probably the most esoteric and humorous part of the evening, with Maddin bantering in hilarious diatribes about his early days as a filmmaker and his back and forth battles with government funding.
"Growing up in Winnipeg, which is the flattest place in the world, I wanted to go to Vancouver, which is full of mountains. I really wanted to make a movie about mountains, but my producer wanted to make a pro-incest movie, so I was like, 'we can make an incest movie on a mountain...'" Maddin said afterward that his mom was a bit embarrassed, but mixed up the terminology when a local station asked her for an interview. "She told the station the film had too much incense," Maddin said. The Canadian director received PIFF's "Filmmaker on the Edge Award."
Actor Alessandro Nivola ("Excellence in Acting Award") revealed that the two roles he feels were his most important so far were also his least and absolute favorites. "In 'Junebug' I felt powerless as an actor," Nivola said in the small auditorium on the edge of Provincetown. "I'd finish not feeling like I had done a days work, but after I saw it - it all worked, so I tribute [director] Phil Morrison." Nivola said his favorite role so far has been "Laurel Canyon," in which he starred opposite Frances McDormand. He attributed acting to giving him an outlet. "I never felt comfortable in my own skin, so I wanted to escape, and I became an actor. It was either that or drugs...though I did some of that too," he told B. Ruby Rich who interviewed him on stage.
Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans were on hand to receive the fest's "Lifetime Achievement Award," introduced by producer "Christine Vachon" ('Far From Heaven," "Boys Don't Cry").
"We were working at a company that made 'Dirty Dancing' and we did well and then [ultimately] not well," recalled Gerrans, reflecting on Strand Releasing's genesis. "[Marcus Hu and I] went our separate ways, but then he called me one day and said, 'do you want to start a distribution company? I got a film...'" Twenty years later, the still independent LA-based distribution company, with such seminal indies as "The Living End," "The Edge of Heaven," Frisk" and the upcoming "Peter and Vandy" in addition to two MoMA tributes under its belt, is weathering the distribution turmoil, economic stress and changing tastes.
"There were those four or five films that didn't work and may have meant we wouldn't be around," said Gerrans. "And when that sixth one comes around, it really saved our ass."