Friday, October 2, 2015

GUEST POST: Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival 2015

September 8-13, 2015

I've heard Bill say that the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival is one of his favorite festivals, and I had the chance to attend it this year on his behalf, representing "The Loneliest Stoplight" in the Animated Shorts program.

Martha's Vineyard is an island in Massachusetts and even though I've lived in that state for 11 years, I have never visited Martha's Vineyard until now.  My experience with film festivals is also limited; I've gone to a few as an audience member, and have only attended 2 as a filmmaker.  So I had no idea what to expect of 4 days on the island as I left Manhattan at 8AM Friday morning.  I was traveling with filmmaker SIGNE BAUMANE, curator of the Animated Shorts program; EDWIN CHAVEZ, director of "The Wandering Eye"; and TOM BROWN, director of "Teeth".  Four animators on the road – that's always a recipe for fun.

For whatever reason, we missed our appointed ferry ride at 11AM, and the next available ferry was not till 4PM.  So we killed 4 hours in New Bedford, the highlight of which was a trip to the WHALING MUSEUM.  There, we marveled at the size and complexity of these beautiful marine mammals, learned about the hardships of a life at sea and about a long, cruel history of whaling.  As often happens after museum trips, I walked out with mixed feelings and a few fleeting urges.

Whale skeletons on display, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Edwin Chavez charging forward, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Signe Baumane relaxing, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

Finally we caught a ferry to Martha's Vineyard and arrived at an all-American house.  I thought we were going to stay in a hotel so I hadn't packed any travel sized shampoo.  Signe kindly bought us some shampoo - a gesture that, to me, really initiated the great weekend we were about to have.  The 4 of us were getting along quite well.  Somehow, we were the only filmmakers attending the festival that weekend, so we had plenty of time to exchange stories and jokes.

Our house for three nights, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Pool, water, sunshine, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Wild turkeys in the backyard gazing into the distance, Photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

It would seem that the right thing to do at a film festival is to watch films.  So both Saturday and Sunday were devoted to watching features and shorts.  The Animated Shorts program took place Saturday afternoon.  In fact, it was my first time seeing "The Loneliest Stoplight" on big screen and I was nervous to catch glaring mistakes like sync issues or inconsistent colors.  Fortunately, I didn't catch anything that would keep me up at night.  The audience seemed to enjoy it too.  "Stoplight" was the first short in the show - a wholesome and sweet story that eased the audience into some of the more bizarre films later in the program.
Festival director Richard Paradise introducing the Animated Shorts program, photo courtesy of Tom Brown 

Here are a few short films from the program that I thought were especially strong:

"Yul and the Snake" by Gabriel Harel is a solid film with a gripping soundtrack that I am still thinking about, 3 weeks later. 

"Haircut" by Virginia Mori features lovely, mysterious pencil drawings that made me itch to draw. 

"The Panty Fairy" by Juanwei Chen is a film I had already seen no less than 10 times, and I never get tired of how confidently it carries itself and its sense of humor. 

"The Night of the Naporitan" by Yusuke Sakamoto hits me in the right spot with its well controlled humor and absurdity. 

"Teeth" by Tom Brown & Daniel Gray is a meticulously constructed, visually lush film that leaves you wanting more. 

"The Wandering Eye" by Edwin Chavez is short and sweet, straightforward but also full of mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Baumane's programming and left the theater feeling proud that so many strong animated short films are born each year. 

Unfortunately, none of the feature films I watched in the festival left much of an impression.

I understood why Bill loves going to this festival; it really is a great escape from New York City.  2015 has been such a busy year for me that going to Martha's Vineyard was my first time seeing the ocean all year.  To boot, I haven't climbed a tree since 2007 and I went up one on this trip.  These are just a few simple things, in combination with good films, good company, and free wine, that ended up being deeply satisfying for me.

Signe Baumane examining an ancient creature, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez
Wendy Zhao saying hello to the ocean, photo courtesy of Edwin Chavez

I'm very thankful to Bill for giving me the chance to go to Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival this year.  I would love to return another year, near summer's end, for another great experience.

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