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Parties, Screenwriters, Skinny-Dipping, and Oh Yeah, Some Movies: A Report from the 1998 Nantucket F

Parties, Screenwriters, Skinny-Dipping, and Oh Yeah, Some Movies: A Report from the 1998 Nantucket F

Parties, Screenwriters, Skinny-Dipping, and Oh Yeah,
Some Movies: A Report from the 1998 Nantucket Film Festival

by Mark Rabinowitz

The third annual Nantucket Film Festival is in the books, and with the
addition of the Writer’s Tribute, the event’s position has been
solidified as one of the leading specialty or themed festivals. It’s not
a hotbed of acquisitions like Sundance or Toronto, nor should it be,
especially in its third year. Too many festivals have made the mistake
of attempting to become “The Sundance of (fill in the blank).” Sundance
didn’t start out as the behemoth it has become, and other fests won’t
either. It took a special mix of personality (Robert Redford),
programming (“Sex, Lies & Videotape,” et. al.) and proximity to Los
Angeles to make Sundance. And it is the opinion of many in the community
that one Sundance and one Toronto in North America is quite enough,
thank you.

Another grouping of fests, by far the largest, are the regional events
such as the recently concluded Atlanta Film & Video Festival or the
Florida Film Festival. These fests don’t pretend to attract large
contingents of distributors, but are an important showcase of work
originating in the region of the festival, and also function as tools
for distributors to get local press for films due to be released.

None of these fests, not to mention large audience-driven events such as
Seattle, Chicago or San Francisco, seem to fit a theme-based festival
such as Nantucket’s emphasis on screenwriting. The writer is
all-important at this festival, from the many staged screenplay
readings, right down to the fact that the writer’s name is listed first
in the catalog above the directors. Long having been the whipping boy of
the film industry, festivals such as Nantucket and the Austin Heart of
Film Festival are working to showcase the work of the writer and raise
the profile of the art of screenwriting.

The screenplay readings were largely well received, as were the film
selections, with Jez Butterworth’s “Mojo” and Amos Poe’s “Frogs For
” getting particularly strong word of mouth, along with the
closing night film, “Amy,” directed by Nadia Tass and written by David

For two years in a row, the festival has managed to put together an
eager corps of polite and helpful staff and volunteers. There were a
few screw-ups, however. When I arrived, it took about two hours to make
the trip from the airport, to the check-in area, to one guest house and
then to where I was staying (a trip that should take only 30 minutes.)
Of course, when I got to my cottage, the sign on the door read “Mark
Babinowitz” which became my new nickname for the remaining five days of
the fest.

The screening venues are about as up-to-snuff as one can expect from a
seasonal resort community, and two Ring Lardner, Jr. penned films,
M*A*S*H” and “Woman of the Year” were beset with projection problems.
There was a smattering of complaints in this regard, but not an
overwhelming grumbling. Rumors of poor sound during the Saturday night
screening of John Shea’s “Southie” abounded, but the word on the film
was such that good sound scarcely mattered.

Aside from all of the important scribe-centric events, (writer’s
tribute, screenplay readings, workshops) Nantucket is one of the more
fun and relaxing stops on the film festival tour. As for the parties in
this idyllic June atmosphere, there were not too many, not too few, with
a smattering of afternoon receptions and a couple of evening dillies.
indieWIRE was a host along with FILMMAKER Magazine and the Massachusetts
Film Commission of an afternoon reception, with filmmaker Brad Anderson
and his writing partner Lyn Vaus (“Next Stop Wonderland“), filmmakers
Amos Poe (“Frogs For Snakes“), Susan Skoog (“Whatever“), Amy Talkington
(“Second Skin“) and many others, gathered in a courtyard for hors
d’oeuvres prepared by local restaurant The Jared Coffin House. Said
party flowed directly into the more-exclusive Polaroid/Vanity Fair
reception where the guests included many of the aforementioned
filmmakers, plus the Ring Lardners, Ben Stiller and his parents, Anne
Meara and Jerry Stiller.

The NBC-sponsored tribute to Ring Lardner, Jr. at the Sconset Casino on
Friday night was a pleasant, if sweltering affair, with good food and
copious alcohol present. Again, the Stillers were in attendance, as was
quite a bit of NBC on-air talent, including “Suddenly Susan“‘s Brooke
Shields, Peter Gerety and Callie Thorne from “Homicide: Life on the
Streets,” Co-host of “Today” Matt Lauer, and the MC of the evening, NBC
News’ Brian Williams. Post-tribute, many of the attendees returned to
the Point Breeze hotel for a more “let your hair down” kind of party,
where I learned from festival photog (and French native) Tiffanie, that
Creamsicles are not universally known. Resplendent in a flowing cream
and orange ensemble, she did not get the reference.

Saturday’s events were centered around the famous filmmaker’s softball
game, sponsored by Nantucket Nectars and the even more famous Vanity
Fair party, held at J. Seward Johnson’s house (of Johnson & Johnson
fame). With the attendance kept to a manageable size by the hosts, it
was an intimate soiree, held in a house that appears to be caught in a
time warp. While the upstairs is “New England Coastal” (boats,
telescopes, etc.) the downstairs leaps out of the 1960’s, complete with
hanging bubble chairs. Initially scheduled to run from 8-11 pm, that
time frame went right out the window since many folks were at a
screening that wouldn’t let out until 10:30. Besides, people didn’t
begin taking their clothes off and jumping into the pool until at least
10. (Clothed) guests included U.S. Senator John Kerry, Matt Lauer, Brian
Williams, Amos Poe, Amy Talkington, Newport Film Festival honchos
Christine Schomer and Nancy Donahoe, The Reel School‘s Jonathan Judge,
festival Artistic Director Jill Goode, Justin Dorazio, and many others.
With a crowed significantly scaled-down from last year, the atmosphere
was relaxed and convivial, with many guests playing pool inside while
others made their way to the massive pool outside.

Apparently it doesn’t take much to cajole a group of filmmakers and
festival guests into getting naked and going swimming. Determined not to
let the evening wilt, a few hardy souls that missed the first go-round
doffed their party togs and made the leap into the 90 degree water. Once
that began, a whole new flock of nakedness erupted. With little
incentive to get out of the pool and rejoin the party, this last group
decided to simply stay partly submerged. Little did we know that for
some of the evening, the hosts of the party were in the gazebo watching
the frolicking and debating whether or not to turn on the floodlights.

The island is not, of course, without its faults. Along with Newport,
Rhode Island, Nantucket is in the running for being the whitest place on
Earth. So white, in fact, that a restaurant named “The Brotherhood
(scary enough) has a sign depicting a horned man in semi-colonial garb
with a bag of money in one hand and a (presumably) African adult slave
(joined by a chain to a child) in the other hand. Over the man’s right
shoulder is what appears to be a slaving ship. While not reflecting on
the festival per se, it does underscore the still-broad color line that
separates much of America, and I for one, would love to see how the
population of Nantucket (or Newport, for that matter) would react to a
sidebar of African-American films. Care to hazard a guess as to when the
last time “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song” was screened in Nantucket?

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