There is a central dilemma with the Provincetown International Film Festival, which takes place at the tip of the Cape this weekend. It is tough to sit in a theater for two hours when you are in one of the most beautiful places in the world, a place where the mere quality of the light attracted some of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
That sunlight, whether reflecting off an abandoned dory beside the harbor or off the intricate scrollwork of a 19th century captain’s manse, is, some say, what kept those artists, and generations of tourists, coming back to this cosmopolitan town on the tip of Cape Cod.
Then there is the unique hook-shaped geography of the place. Here, you have Race Point Beach on one side, its rolling Atlantic Ocean waves lapping at the 43,500 acre Cape Cod National Seashore.
On the other side you have Cape Cod Bay, the departure point for whale-watching tours, fishing trips, and sunset schooner sails.
For a bird’s eye view of this panorama, you can climb to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, the tallest granite structure in the United States. The structure commemorates the landing of the Pilgrims (take that Plymouth!).
Just writing about Provincetown can be distracting from the matter at hand: the Provincetown International Film Festival, one of the Cape’s premiere events. It is no exaggeration to say the festival started rather humbly. The first year, there were only a small number of films and some venues required viewers to sit on the floor.
This year the 15th annual festival runs through Sunday, June 23. It has become a must-attend event for Cape film buffs.
Of the dozens of films shown in any given year, there are always intriguing documentaries, the kind that you discuss with your friends afterwards over drinks. This year, several of the documentaries have Cape themes, including, “Built on Narrow Land,” about modern architecture in the Outer Cape.
There are usually features with a buzz that takes them all the way to the Oscars. This year, the new film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, “I’m So Excited!,” is having its East Coast premiere at the festival and is sure to be a sold-out hit.
The most obsessive film buffs line up early for the films, angling for a seat down front. That’s not a bad idea, because at most of the venues there are definitely good seats and bad.
As befits a town known for being a bit off-kilter, the theaters vary widely. (Some attendees walk around with their own seat cushions.)
Every year the festival picks an acting honoree with some indie credentials, and this year, it is Matt Dillon. Expect to see him wandering on Commercial Street during the weekend.
They also honor a “filmmaker on the edge”—again think cult film—which this year is Harmony Korine.
Filmmaker John Waters attends every year and introduces a special pick of his that tends to be an off-beat selection from year’s past. This year it is “Paradise: Faith,” a 2012 Austrian movie about a woman’s religious devotion.
Film festival organizers tell attendees to come prepared: you need clothes for four types of weather: fall, winter, spring and summer.
Bring a bike or rent one in town. It is the most efficient way to cruise down Main Street to get to a movie on the far side of town.
Make time during the weekend to explore. Take an early morning paddle by kayak across the harbor to Long Point, the four-mile uninhabited sandy spit containing the Cape’s final curl.
The best part about the festival is, you come out of a dark theater and that famous light hits your face: you are in Provincetown, perched at the edge of the continent and anything seems possible.
What You Need To Know To Go
The Provincetown International Film Festival runs Wednesday to Sunday, June 19-23.
You can see the complete schedule and order tickets online at Provincetown Film Festival.
A festival warning: don’t expect to wander into a movie at the last minute without a ticket. Most movies sell out a day or two in advance.
But five minutes before each film starts, festival organizers usually let in a small number of people because of no-shows (that infernal delicious sunshine luring people to outside activities.)
– Laura M. Reckford