At The Provincetown Film Festival with John Cameron Mitchell

Written by Laura M. Reckford

PROVINCETOWN – Fortunately, John Cameron Mitchell waited until the end of the credits of the biopic about famous movie critic Pauline Kael. That allowed Cape Cod Wave a quick opportunity to interview the award-winning actor, writer and director about Provincetown, the film festival, and even, unexpectedly, Pauline Kael.

John Cameron Mitchell is a legitimate celebrity anytime, but at this year’s Provincetown Film Festival, wrapping up today, he was honored with the Filmmaker on the Edge award, making him, arguably, the celebrity at the festival. Not to overstate it: this is the interview with the celebrity at the 2019 Provincetown Film Festival.

His 2001 film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on his hit Off-Broadway play, earned him the Best Director nod at the Sundance Film Festival and his subsequent movies–Shortbus (2006); Rabbit Hole (2011); How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017); and the new musical podcast, Anthem: Homunculus–continue to earn him raves.

On Sunday, the last day of the 2019 Provincetown Film Festival, there he was, in the audience of “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael,” sitting in the next to last row of the Waters Edge cinema on Commercial Street in Provincetown.

This Cape Cod Wave reporter was sitting in the row in front of him. Not to equate the two of us, since he is considered a trailblazing genius, but it seems we both like to sit near the back of movie theaters. 

As the ending credits played, I staged a completely spontaneous, unplanned interview—my favorite kind. I knew I had to make it a quick one, as audience members for the next movie would be coming into the theater any minute. The guy who was cleaning up the popcorn boxes was already sweeping the floor as we were finishing up our brief interview and photo session. Geez, no respect.

Because this is Cape Cod Wave and we have to keep our stories grounded in Cape Cod, I led with the obvious question: What do you like about P’town?

He said this is his fifth time in Provincetown. “It’s the town that time forgot and it remembers it sometimes, and real estate prices go up,” he said, with a laugh. “I live in New York, so I’m supposed to go to Long Island or the Hudson River Valley, but I feel like me here.”

Hitting our stride with the interview, I segued into the festival itself. He likes it. “It’s about pleasure rather than business and it’s very relaxing,” he said. “It’s my favorite small film festival.”

John Cameron Mitchell cues the lighting for his close-up at the Provincetown Film Festival.

As for the Pauline Kael movie we just saw. Not exactly together but one row apart. He said, the movie brought back memories for him of his sort-of encounter with Kael. It was back in 2000. He had just finished his movie version of “Hedwig” and none other than Pauline Kael, the famous film critic of The New Yorker, asked to see it. This was before they showed it at Sundance, where he earned the Best Director Award.

“We got [the film] to her. I don’t know what she thought of it.” But he thought it was pretty great that she wanted to see a new film by a new filmmaker and that new filmmaker happened to be him. She died the following year, in 2001.

Cameron Mitchell was impressed by the Pauline Kael movie, which is as much about movies as it is about the well-known critic and contains clips from dozens of famous and infamous movies.

“I liked seeing this,” Cameron Mitchell said. “It reminded me of when the movies mattered.” He said he thinks “movies will come back” into vogue some day. Right now, the big spectacle-type movies are in style, like they were in the 1960s. And then the 70s rolled around and small, more intimate films became popular. Maybe the same thing will happen. But right now, television is bigger than the movies, he said.

John Cameron Mitchell at the movies in Provincetown.

Since John Cameron Mitchell was the Filmmaker on the Edge for the 2019 Provincetown Film Festival, they held a special screening of his 2001 film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He said the screening went great and the film with a special “4k restoration,” looked “fantastic.”

Interview completed, it was time to take the photo of John Cameron Mitchell. I wanted a photo of him sitting in a theater seat. Always the director, he suggested a wide angle, showing lots of empty seats. Good idea and, for the record, I did have the same thought. I got into position with the wide angle. I worried about the low lighting. He suggested we use the flashlight on his phone to light his face. Nice touch. I was now collaborating on a shot with award-winning director and ground-breaking theatrical artist John Cameron Mitchell.

Thus, you, the reader, have the interview and the photo, a shot of John Cameron Mitchell at the movies in a place where he feels at home, at the Water’s Edge cinema in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Take that Rolling Stone!

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About the author

Laura M. Reckford

Laura M. Reckford is co-founder of Cape Cod Wave. She has been a reporter and editor on Cape Cod for more than 20 years in magazines, newspapers and radio. She has also authored numerous Frommer's Travel Guide editions on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

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