Martha's Vineyard Film Festival

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The Martha's Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) is an annual film festival founded in 2001 and held in Chilmark, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The festival takes place in March, but the MVFF also produces a summer film series in July and August, a family film series in November, December, and January, and special events at other times of the year.

The MVFF annually screens more than fifty films, and many of these screenings are attended by the films’ directors, producers, or subjects—some local, some famous, some local and famous, some famously local.

The mission of the MVFF is “to produce community events that celebrate all genres of film and spark discussion, debate, and action.”[1] From its beginning, the MVFF has been an unconventional film festival, as much a celebration of community, food, art, and music as it is a celebration of thought-provoking, activism-inspiring, and emotionally resonant stories, ideas, and lives through the medium of film. As MVFF Founder and Creative Director Thomas Bena puts it, “The MVFF is more than a festival. It is a happening.”[2]

Emphasizing community and priding itself on its intimate scale and unusual location, the MVFF is a festival featuring lesser-known and independently produced documentary, narrative feature, and short films about subjects which are important to its audiences: family dynamics, the environment, local and international politics, the arts, alternative/countercultural lifestyles and subcultures, and people who have made a difference.

Winter Festival[edit]

The MVFF's winter festival in March is the main event, a long weekend of film screenings and discussions held at the Chilmark Community Center, a town gathering spot which is transformed into a sort of “community living room” replete with large couches.[3]

In addition to screenings and discussions with guest filmmakers and film subjects, the winter festival includes food prepared by Vineyard chefs, art installations, and performances by local musicians (though some “off-island” musicians and DJs have also been featured).

Summer Film Series[edit]

The MVFF's Summer Film Series (SFS) began in 2004. It takes place at the Chilmark Community Center every Wednesday night in July and August (and sometimes the last Wednesday in June). Each SFS evening starts with Cinema Circus revelry and a film for kids. During intermission, there is more live music and a meal prepared by Vineyard chefs. The evening concludes with the feature presentation and discussion (usually attended by guest filmmakers or film subjects).

Cinema Circus[edit]

Although the MVFF has included programming for children since 2006 (not to mention a few films actually made by kids), Cinema Circus came into being in 2009 and is the brainchild of Lindsey Scott, who later became the MVFF's Director of Children's Programs. A child- and family-friendly alternative to the usually adults-only content of MVFF programming, it is an integral part of the MVFF's Summer Film Series. Its mission is “to produce family events that engage children with films, discussion, and activities that promote media literacy and community interaction.”[4]

In addition to live-action and animated films for children, Cinema Circus events also include performances by musicians, clowns, acrobats, jugglers, hula hoopers, unicyclists, stilt walkers, and puppeteers, along with face painting, costumes, and healthy snacks and meals.

Family. Film. Feast.[edit]

An offshoot of the MVFF's Cinema Circus, this family-oriented winter series also began in 2009 and takes place at the Chilmark Community Center. It features screenings of films both parents and children can enjoy, dinners prepared by Vineyard chefs, and performances by local musicians. Like other MVFF events, Family. Film. Feast. was created not only to entertain but also to raise awareness about important issues (sustainable agriculture, health and nutrition, family dynamics) and inspire action and change for the better.

Family. Film. Feast. has included collaboration with other organizations on Martha's Vineyard. Rick Bausman and his Drum Workshop are favorite performers. IMP, the Vineyard's kid and teen comedy improv troupe, performed at a Family. Film. Feast. event in December 2010.[5] The following month, the MVFF teamed up with Slow Food Martha's Vineyard to present a documentary film preceded by a family-friendly short films program and a “slow food” dinner prepared by Vineyard chefs Cathy Walthers, Jan Buhrman, and Robert Lionette.[6]

Special Events[edit]

The MVFF occasionally screens films “down-island,” at Vineyard Haven's historic Capawock Theatre. These screenings have either been encore presentations or in advance of the winter festival or summer film series. Special screenings have included the documentaries Inside Job (prior to its 2011 Best Documentary Oscar-awarding), Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, Southern Comfort, The Present, and Surfwise, as well as the narrative feature films Ballast and Beginners.

In addition to post-screening and panel discussions with featured filmmakers, the MVFF has also hosted talks by other members of the film world. Screenwriter Naomi Foner was the featured speaker on the last night of the 2007 Summer Film Series. Cinematographer Michael Chapman spoke before screenings of two of his films,[7] and film critic A.O. Scott of The New York Times was a guest programmer and speaker, during the 2008 Summer Film Series.[8] The MVFF's tenth annual winter film festival in 2010 featured a talk by New Yorker film critic David Denby.[9]

Greater Community Involvement[edit]

Besides bringing film, live music, art, food, and circus performers to the Vineyard community, the MVFF has also introduced a filmmaking class. MVFF Managing Director Brian Ditchfield began teaching the class at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School in the winter of 2010. Fourteen students in grades four through eleven attended it. They created two short films which were presented as part of the MVFF's tenth annual winter film festival in 2010.[10]

2011 Festival Highlights[edit]

The eleventh annual MVFF winter festival[11] opened with Charlotte, a special sneak preview of Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte's new documentary about the Vineyard's own Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, and the screening sold out well in advance. The director, cinematographer Brian Dowley, and two of the film's subjects, Ross Gannon and Pam Benjamin, spoke to a packed house after the screening. The MVFF will be showing the film again during its 2011 Summer Film Series.

Other attending filmmakers and film subjects included Yoav Potash (Crime After Crime), Marilyn Sewell (Raw Faith), Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, and Nev Schulman (Catfish), Laura Israel (Windfall), Sam Feuer (The First Grader), Anne Makepeace, Tobias Vanderhoop, and Wenonah Madison (We Still Live Here), and Peter Richardson (How to Die in Oregon).


  1. ^ “MVFF website” Archived 2012-08-04 at
  2. ^ “MVFF website” Archived 2012-08-04 at
  3. ^ Dooley, Megan (March 5, 2010). “Festival Finds Itself Sitting Pretty on Chilmark Sofas at Ten Years”. Vineyard Gazette.
  4. ^ "MVFF website" Archived 2012-08-04 at
  5. ^ Lipsky, Jonah (January 1, 2010). “Short Films Night Is Long on Vineyard Spirit, Food and Fun”. Archived 2012-03-20 at the Wayback Machine Vineyard Gazette.
  6. ^ Robards, Brooks (January 5, 2011). “Film: Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard and M.V. Film Festival Team Up”. The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
  7. ^ Davis, Cooper (July 18, 2008). “Jaws Camera Man Shares Screen Favorites”. Vineyard Gazette.
  8. ^ Decker, Sam (July 24, 2008). “Film: A.O. Scott: A New York Times Critic’s View”. The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
  9. ^ Myrick, Steve (March 18, 2010). “Film: MVFF Moves Film Fans into Theater, Out of Comfort Zone”. Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
  10. ^ Dooley, Megan (March 12, 2010). “Little Props and Horrors: Student Scary Movies Play on Big Screen.” Vineyard Gazette.
  11. ^ Robards, Brooks (March 16, 2011). “Film: Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s 11th Annual Event”. The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

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