Nantucket Film Festival 2023 Preview

JohnCarl McGrady •

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The Nantucket Film Festival returns to the island today, featuring a series of notable films including “Elemental,” the 12th consecutive Disney Pixar film to open the festival. Also on the first day are the Sundance premiere “The Pod Generation” starring Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and “Game of Thrones” alum Emilia Clarke, the biographical documentary “Joan Baez I Am A Noise” with the singer-songwriter in attendance, and the Austrian documentary “Patrick and the Whale.”

A slew of special guests are also journeying to the island with NFF, including “M3GAN” star Allison Williams, “Dances With Wolves” actor Graham Greene, actress and comedian Michaela Watkins, and Lola Tung from “The Summer I Turned Pretty.”

Former NBC and MSNBC news anchor Brian Williams is returning to the festival to host its signature Screenwriters Tribute event, celebrating director Nicole Holofcener, “The Summer I Turned Pretty” author Jenny Han and documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Williams has hosted the event in the past, but it will take on new significance this year amidst the ongoing writers’ guild strike that has shuttered production on numerous film and television projects after production companies refused to negotiate with screenwriters.

The last day of NFF’s iconic “Morning Coffee With…,” a series of conversations with professionals from the film industry, has been transformed into an extended panel on the strike, dubbed the Screenwriters State of the Union. The NFF, a Nantucket summer staple since its founding in 1996, has become a well-respected destination film festival notable for its focus on screenwriting, which makes the strike an even more important issue.

“Over the past 28 years, it has been a great privilege to honor, support, and cultivate talented writers and storytellers in film and television at our Festival. Now the industry once again finds itself at a critical juncture, and we want to offer NFF as a platform for these artists to have this conversation,” NFF Producer Jaclyn Rose Wohl said in a statement.

NFF is also hosting other signature events, such as its annual “Women Behind the Words” panel focused on gender disparity in film and television, and “Native American (Mis)representations,” a conversation about the depictions of Native Americans in everything from sports mascots to television shows. The latter conversation will be between Greene, Dinè writer Allie Redhorse Young, Apache musician Stevie Salas and Nantucket native Donick Cary to coincide with the world premiere of Cary’s film “Hail to the Breadsticks.”

This year, the festival is debuting the Maria Mitchell Visionary Award, created in partnership with the Maria Mitchell Foundation and given to a female filmmaker who stretches innovative boundaries. The award, named after the Nantucket astronomer, will be awarded to “The Pod Generation” director Sophia Barthes, who will receive a $5,000 cash prize. NFF also offers the $5,000 Adrienne Shelley award to a female writer or director working in the film arts and the Tony Cox Screenplay Competition awards for emerging screenplays selected by a jury of industry insiders.

Other notable films include a pair of A24 offerings: Saturday Night Live writer Julio Torres’s surrealist comedy “Problemista” with Oscar winner Tilda Swinton and Holofcener’s comedy-drama “You Hurt My Feelings” with Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. “Afire,” the German relationship drama that won the prestigious Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, is also in the lineup. “Jules,” starring Ben Kingsley, is set to be the closing night film. NFF also recently announced the addition of “Maggie Moore(s),” directed by “Mad Men” actor John Slattery and featuring performances by his co-star Jon Hamm and 30 Rock creator Tina Fey.

In total, NFF will screen several dozen feature films, documentaries, and short films, with some focused on Nantucket itself. Laura Cunningham, owner and creative director of local video production company Yellow Productions, directed two short films in the festival that highlight the people and environment of the island. The first, “Coskata-Coatue: A Refuge on the Edge,” focuses on the titular wildlife refuge, while “The Ottisons: A True Nantucket Story,” chronicles the history of a Nantucket family and their property near The Creeks. Cunningham isn’t the only local director with short films at the festival: local students who participated in Nantucket Community Television’s Teen View program will also have their productions screened.

Films will be screened at the Dreamland Theater, the ‘Sconset Casino, and the White Heron Theatre, and passes and tickets are available now.

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