The Island band Ballywho performed a little bluegrass outside the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven Sunday afternoon as patrons lined up to be let into the movie house. It was a gray September day, but within a few minutes, Islanders were swept off the streets of Vineyard Haven and into the heart of a failing Hamburg restaurant, as the fifth annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival came to a close.
There was no red carpet, no black-tie affair and no passport was required to attend last weekend’s festival. All Islanders needed to do was pick a venue, the Capawock, the Katharine Cornell Theatre or the Vineyard Playhouse, to catch a glimpse of Romanian, French, Japanese, Chinese, German, Danish, Albanian and Argentinean culture.
Sunday evening brought a sold-out crowd to the Capawock for a screening of the German film Soul Kitchen, which told the story of a Hamburg restaurant owner who discovered all you need is a little funk, soul and faith to make a restaurant work. Torn between following his girlfriend to Beijing and staying behind to keep his business afloat, Zinos finds out through love, good food and great music what really matters to him in the world are good people. It was met with a thunderous applause at the end.
“Overall it was a resounding success,” festival organizer Richard Paradise said earlier this week. “I’ve only heard fabulous reviews.”
Highlights of this year’s festival included a Global Citizen Award for actor Matthew Modine, whose latest film The Trial was screened Saturday evening after the ceremony. The Trial tells the story of a small town attorney, played by Mr. Modine, who in the midst of tragedy turns his life around after being assigned to a capital punishment case.
“It was amazing, he was sort of choked up when we gave him the award,” Mr. Paradise said of the new humanitarian award. “He was very appreciative . . . we should all aspire to be that type of person.”
Another new addition to the program this year was the juried international short films competition on Friday when 200 entries from over 25 countries competed. Brooklyn-based filmmaker Luke Matheny’s God of Love took top prize. Mr. Matheny was the youngest filmmaker to enter the competition; God of Love won the gold medal at this year’s Student Academy Awards. The charming, witty short follows the story of a champion dart-throwing lounge singer who receives a package of passion-inducing darts.
“It was quite interesting to see that the jury chose the same film that the audience chose,” Mr. Paradise said. “He probably has a great future in filmmaking ahead of him.”
Other films included The Last Survivor, a documentary that follows the story of four anti-genocide activists, all of whom are genocide survivors from the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo. Justin Semahoro Kimenyerwa, a Congolese genocide survivor, attended the screening, hosted by Kristy and Gary Maynard. Mr. Paradise hopes more people will be able to host international filmmakers and participants in the future.
“Our challenge is always trying to get people and filmmakers from individual films to travel to the Vineyard,” he said. “There are lots of people who wanted to come, but the festival can’t afford to pay for flights from Europe or Asia.”
Even though many filmmakers were unable to attend the screenings, Mr. Paradise had eight sold-out shows, and more than half the seats filled at the other screenings.
“It seemed like numbers were up, there were more sellouts before the screenings,” he said. About 100 people were turned away from Mr. Modine’s screening and award ceremony. “It would be nice to have larger theatres, but it’s not physically possible right now. We’re committed to Vineyard Haven, and the theatres are fairly intimate in size,” Mr. Paradise said.
Jake Gyllenhaal was in the audience for Exit through the Gift Shop from the United Kingdom on Saturday night, which tracks the footsteps of world-famous graffiti artist Bansky at work. Director Miao Wang attended the Thursday night screening and panel discussion of her film Beijing Taxi that follows three cabdrivers in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.
“Everyone loved the films that they saw and that’s a testament to great programming,” Mr. Paradise said. “There was a great mixture of films that you could chose from.”
People who attended the festival agreed. “It’s an amazing mix of sophistication but so homegrown at the same time,” said Andrea Jacobs of Freeport, Me. When the film skipped in the middle of the screening, Ms. Jacobs was surprised at how civil theatergoers were. “It’s not Cannes. It’s very quirky but here it all is from all over the world. It’s very special,” she said.
Volunteer Pamela Peia wished she could have seen more films. “It’s wonderful to see movies you can’t see otherwise,” she said. “I want to see more!”