PROVINCETOWN – With COVID hopefully on the wane, we’re all taking tentative steps toward whatever a normal world might look like.
And that goes for the Provincetown International Film Festival.
After a much-reduced schedule last year, the fest is marking its 23rd year with a hybrid fest, running June 16-25, that combines live and remote screenings and events. That way moviegoers who are reluctant to head into a theater — or simply can’t make it to the Cape tip — can still watch most of the festival offerings. Meanwhile, those ready for going back to the communal experience of watching movies in a theater will have plenty of in-person opportunities, too.
There’s nothing tentative about the festival’s official opening-night presentation: “In the Heights,” based on the Tony-winning Broadway hit musical, featuring music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”). The film opened in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11, but the screening (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 16) will be held at the Wellfleet Drive-in, which, if the weather cooperates, seems the perfect place to experience this joyous, heartfelt musical extravaganza and celebrate the kickoff of this year’s festival. (Actually, the festival unofficially opens the night before at the drive-in with a special screening of “Give or Take,” which was shot on the Cape — including at Wellfleet Drive-in.)
Directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), “In the Heights” (PG-13, 143 minutes) has all of the song-and-dance pizazz that you’d expect, but it also gets to the basics of what’s important in life. Focusing on several people living in a Latino community in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, it celebrates the kindness and generosity of people. It acknowledges that life involves change (not all of it good), disappointment and heartache, and that life often isn’t fair. But it suggests that people should stay hopeful, stay positive, as they pursue their dreams and help others as they pursue theirs. There’s an undeniable, genuine sweetness at work here. ***½ (out of four)
The award presentations are always a big deal at the festival, and rightfully so. The Filmmaker on the Edge Award has gone to such directors as Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola and Jim Jarmusch, and the Excellence in Acting Award to such performers as Vera Farmiga, Parker Posey and Lili Taylor (side note: if you’ve never seen Taylor in the 1991 drama “Dogfight” you’ve missed one of the all-time great performances).
This year’s choices are quite impressive. Richard Linklater, whose long list of exceptional movies includes “Dazed and Confused,” the “Before” trilogy, “Waking Life,” “Tape,’’ “School of Rock” and “Boyhood,” is this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge. And Riz Ahmed, whose extraordinary performance in last year’s “Sound of Metal” earned a best-actor Oscar nomination, is this year’s Excellence in Acting recipient.
Conversations with Linklater and Ahmed as they receive their awards will be available to stream starting June 19. Director and fest regular John Waters, always a witty interviewer, is set to talk with Linklater.
Also, in recent years, a Next Wave Award has been handed out. Previous winners include Aubrey Plaza, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jillian Bell. This year’s winner, Natalie Morales, has appeared in such films as “Battle of the Sexes” (as tennis pro Rosie Casals) and “The Little Things,” and on Netflix’s “Dead to Me” and HBO’s “The Newsroom.” A conversation with her will be available to stream starting June 18.
The film selections will feature the usual combination of narratives and documentaries, full-length features and shorts.
Of the documentaries, I’ve seen “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” (PG-13, 90 minutes). It’s a revealing portrait of the Broadway, movie and TV star, now in her late 80s. It details her personal life, including a longtime affair with Marlon Brando; the racism and sexism she experienced as a young Puerto Rican actress and her subsequent activism for change; her Oscar-winning performance in the original film version of “West Side Story”; and much more. Definitely a movie for fans of movie history, it will be screened at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at Waters Edge Cinema in Provincetown. ***
There’s much, much more, of course, and you can find festival information at provincetownfilm.org/festival.
Meanwhile, check this column in the coming days for more festival coverage.
Well, if you feel like it.
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.