When you go to a film festival, you take a leap of faith.
There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of many of the films. You trust that those programming the fest will have your back.
How? Simple. By choosing good movies.
I’ve seen seven of the more than 110 movies (including shorts) to be screened at the Woods Hole Film Festival, for instance, and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.
The 32nd annual festival kicks off officially on Saturday, July 26, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 5. Most of the films also will be available to stream Aug. 6-13.
There also, as always, will be other events, including workshops, panel discussions and parties. (Shameless self-promotion alert!: Members of the Boston Society of Film Critics – including yours truly – will discuss “The Role of Film Critics in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Streaming” at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, at Woods Hole Community Hall, 68 Water St.)
More info on films and events: woodsholefilmfestival.org.
The first Saturday will start at 2 p.m. with the excellent “The Thief Collector,” which played the fest last year.
Here’s my mini-review from when I saw it then:
“The Thief Collector.” A Willem de Kooning painting stolen decades earlier from an art museum is discovered hidden in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter after they’ve died. Did this world-traveling couple steal it? And, if so, why? What other secrets were they keeping? These and many other questions about art and life’s choices are explored in this compellingly offbeat true-life crime documentary, with Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Sarah Minnick (“Better Call Saul”) as the Alters in reenactments. ***½ (out of four)
The film’s director, Allison Otto, is this year’s filmmaker-in-residence. She will teach a master class at noon Monday, July 31, at the community hall.
Here’s a brief rundown of the other films I’ve seen so far:
“Maestra.” Director Maggie Contreras profiles five female conductors who take part in La Maestra, an international competition in Paris that could make or break their careers. This first-rate documentary not only provides an intimate view of the subjects’ lives, it offers an insiders’ look at the role and challenges of a conductor – to be a “lightning rod” between the orchestra and the audience, for instance. It also shows how women still must contend with sexism (“Smile a bit more”) as they pursue their passion. As the five women take part in La Maestra, we experience their joy of success, their heartbreak of disappointment, and the sense of camaraderie that develops among them. When contest results are announced, the suspense is riveting. ****
“Eden.” Writer-director Estefania Cortes’ Spanish drama concerns four strangers who come to a remote hideaway to put an end to their troubled lives in a relatively simple, painless way. Their reasons for coming here are slowly revealed, but do they justify taking this step? Cortes doesn’t offer simple answers. She doesn’t judge the characters, but captures their anguish, their bitterness, their resignation, their resolve, their confusion. The film leaves you wanting more, but there’s enough here to keep you invested in the story and the questions it inspires. ***½
“Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection.” Director Randy Martin’s revealing documentary tells the tragic story of singer-drummer Karen Carpenter, who formed the hit-making duo the Carpenters (“Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”) with her brother, Richard, only to die at 32 of a heart attack related to anorexia nervosa. Close friend Olivia Newton-John, Carnie Wilson (one of the executive producers), Belinda Carlisle, Cynthia Gibb (who played Carpenter in a TV movie) and others discuss her voice, her impact, her family, and the insecurities and drive for perfection that led to her demise. For Carpenters fans and non-fans alike. ***
“In the Company of Rose.” Film and theater writer-director James Lapine, a Tony winner for “Into the Woods,” spends time with fellow Martha’s Vineyard resident Rose Styron, widow of author William Styron (“Sophie’s Choice”), and she tells him about her life. That’s essentially it – but what a life it is. Now in her 90s, charismatic poet-activist Rose talks about her marriage and family, her career, and crossing paths with Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro, Truman Capote (on what was essentially her first date with “Bill,” in Paris), and fellow Vineyarders Mike Wallace and Art Buchwald. ***
“All Men Are Wicked.” ‘I’ve killed 14 men. … How many have you killed?” “On purpose?” Mike Hansen wrote, directed and stars in this strange, funny Western – made by a cast and crew from the Cape – that begins with three outlaws hanging upside-down in a desert while accused of robbing a stagecoach. Among the other characters: a guy who thinks – and acts like – he’s a dog. Definitely an original. ***
“Earlybird.” If you haven’t seen Cape native Joshua Koopman as
a loose-cannon, low-level, charismatic but intimidating Quincy criminal in writer-director Peter Horgan’s gripping crime thriller “How to Rob” (***½), do yourself a favor and check it out; he’s great. The film is on multiple streaming platforms. Koopman shows his versatility by taking on an entirely different type of character in writer-director Martin Kaszubowski’s comedy “Earlybird.” Koopman plays depressed Michael, who runs a theater company but has to close up shop when he gets a rent hike. Since he’s got nothing to lose, Michael decides to take risks and have fun. Despite his actors’ protests (Chloe Skoczen is especially funny as the grumpy lead actress), Michael stages his hilariously bad pet project “Cat War.” Surprise! It’s a hit! Though the second half doesn’t live up to the film’s clever premise (I would have liked to see more emphasis on the bad productions), the message is inspiring. To quote “Risky Business”: “Sometimes you gotta say, ‘What the fuck.’” ***
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.