Woods Hole Film Festival Celebrates Its 30th Year Both In Person & Online
July 31-August 7, 2021
The Woods Hole Film Festival (WHFF) celebrates its 30th year from July 31-August 7, with 52 feature length and 104 short films from 22 countries. Many of the films will screen in person at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Redfield Auditorium, 45 Water Street, Woods Hole, Falmouth Academy’s Simon Center for the Arts, 7 Highfield Drive, and Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Falmouth Road, Cotuit. All films and events will also be available to stream online. This year’s edition also includes the festival’s trademark events, including both in-person and virtual Q&A’s with filmmakers, workshops and master classes with Filmmaker-in-Residence Alexis Gambis, panel discussions, morning filmmaker chats, and an awards ceremony. Tickets and passes are on sale at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org. For more information, call (508) 495-3456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are excited to celebrate our 30th year in person with the Cape Cod community and online with our virtual one,” says Founder and Executive Director Judy Laster. “In a challenging year for film production, we feel fortunate to be able to present a full slate of some of the best emerging independent films from around the world.”
The festival includes a mix of first-time and veteran filmmakers (many having participated in the festival several times previously) with a focus on films and filmmakers with ties to New England, science, music, and politics. There are 22 world, 7 North American, 3 US, and 65 New England premieres.
Nine feature films have New England connections. Of note is Lilly Topples The World, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature at SXSW in 2021. It follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh, a native of Sandown, NH (much of the film was shot in MA and NH), who is the world’s greatest domino toppler and the only woman in her field. It’s an unlikely American tale of a quiet Chinese adoptee who transforms herself into a global artistic force with over 1 billion YouTube views. Best Summer Ever, a hybrid narrative and documentary feature shot in Lincoln, VT at Zeno Mountain Farm, a retreat and camp for people with and without disabilities and other marginalized communities, takes on the teen musical genre by featuring eight original songs plus a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities. It represents the feature directing debuts of Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, with a cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Benjamin Bratt, and Peter Sarasgaard. Festival alum and Vermont resident Jay Craven’s Jack London’s Martin Eden, based on London’s 1909 novel about a poor and unschooled sailor who meets a magnetic young woman of means 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 Boston neighborhood of Roxbury and features an entire cast of Boston actors. The Catch, about a young woman who returns to her hometown and her estranged family on the rural coast of Maine, was filmed in Gloucester and Rockport, MA. Director and MA native Matthew Balzer developed the plot based on true crime stories and anecdotes about real New England fishermen.
Notable short films with New England connections include: John Gray’s Extra Innings starring Peter Riegert, about an aggressive sports reporter who interviews the manager of the Boston Red Sox in an attempt to uncover secrets from his past; Discover Wonder: The Octopus Garden by John Dutton, about a research expedition that uses Alvin, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Human Occupied Submersible, to journey two miles deep into the abyss of NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where they discover one of the rarest and deepest octopus brooding colonies on the planet; and Fermín Rojas’s King Philip’s Belt: A Story of Wampum, which illustrates how the Mashpee and Aquinnah Native Wampanoag people on Cape Cod are weaving a new ceremonial wampum belt for the first time in almost 300 years in the hopes the belt will call out to the legendary belt once worn by Sachem King Philip (Metacom).
Two films that originally screened at the festival as shorts are now screening as feature length films by the original directors. Last Night in Rozzie, directed by Sean Gannet and shot in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale, features a screenplay by Boston native Ryan McDonough. When a New York lawyer (Neil Brown Jr., Straight Outta Compton) returns home to Boston to reunite his dying friend (Jeremy Sisto, Six Feet Under, Suburgatory) with his young son, he is compelled to confront a childhood trauma. Soy Cubana by Jeremy Ungar and Ivaylo Getov depicts the Vocal Vidas, an all-female Cuban quartet that was invited to perform their first show in America in 2017, just as US-Cuba relations were closing. What began as a concert became a journey across physical and ideological borders and an affirmation of the connective power of music.
Other narrative features include: Peace by Chocolate, director Jonathan Keijser’s directing debut based on the true story of Tareq Hadhad, who fled war-torn Syria with his family, struggling to settle into his new Canadian small-town life and caught between following his dream to become a doctor and preserving his family’s chocolate-making legacy; the world premiere of See You Next Christmas, a yuletide romantic comedy directed by and starring Christine Weatherup, as well as Marc Evan Jackson (The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Janet Varney (Legend of Korra); and the New England premiere of Talia Lugacy’s This Is Not a War Story, starring Frances Fisher and executive produced by actress Rosaria Dawson. The latter is about a ragtag group of combat veterans in New York whose anti-war art, poetry, and papermaking keep 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 is a festival hallmark. Besides the previously mentioned Best Summer Ever and Soy Cubana, there are three other feature length films and one short with musical themes. Festival alumnus David Henry Gerson’s The Story Won’t Die is a documentary about a Syrian rapper, tortured by Bashar Al-Assad for his lyrics, who uses his music to survive one of this century’s deadliest wars. Together with other creative personalities of the Syrian uprising, he tells the story of revolution and exile while reflecting on a global battle for peace, justice, and freedom of expression. Behind the Strings directed by Hal Rifken tells the story of the formation, rise, and success of the Shanghai String Quartet, four classically trained musicians who fled to the US when Mao’s Cultural Revolution ended and have since performed for 36 years around the world. The film covers their formation, 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 aspiring pianist Norman Malone who becomes paralyzed on his right side at age 10 after being attacked by his father. Over the next several decades he masters the left-hand repertoire in secret before a chance discovery of his talent leads him to making his concert debut. Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone’s documentary Vinyl Nation digs into the resurgence of vinyl records, the diversification of vinyl fans, and the connective power of music in these divided times. The short documentary A Concerto Is a Conversation by Ben Proudfoot & 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 feature length films are part of the festival’s Bringing Science to the Screen program. Annie Kaempfer’s The Falconer spotlights Rodney Stotts, one of the few African American falconers in the US. Growing up in Washington, DC during the crack epidemic, Rodney lost friends and family to drugs and street violence. He was destined for the same, until he joined Earth Conservation Corps, an organization that included inner city kids to clean-up local rivers and habitat to encourage wildlife restoration. The feature documentary To Which We Belong by Pamela Tanner Boll (co-executive producer of the Oscar-winning Born Into Brothels) and Lindsay Richardson highlights farmers and ranchers leaving behind conventional practices that are no longer profitable or sustainable. Observations at 65º South by Lillian Hess follows a team of nine “rogue” scientists who embark on a journey to Antarctica on a small sailboat in an effort to fundamentally change polar research practice.
Filmmaker-in-residence Alexis Gambis’s Son of Monarchs, a narrative feature about a Mexican biologist living in New York who returns to his hometown in the majestic monarch butterfly forests of Michoacán, will also screen in competition. The film premiered at Sundance in 2021 in the NEXT category and received the Sloan Feature Film Prize. Gambis, whose films combine documentary and fiction, often embracing animal perspectives and experiments with new forms of scientific storytelling, will conduct a virtual master class about science filmmaking on Monday, August 1, and participate in a virtual discussion on Thursday, August 5, about how filmmakers and scientists collaborate to make films about complex scientific concepts with Nipam Patel, director of Woods Hole’s Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). Patel participated in the production of Son of Monarchs, and the MBL also assisted Gambis with material for his prior feature film The Fly Room.
Two political films make for 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. American Gadfly by Skye Wallin profiles 89-year-old former senator Mike Gravel, who comes out of retirement when a group of teenagers convinces him to run for president one last time. It also features interviews with fellow candidates Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Rick Santorum, and Andrew Yang.