Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Sundance or Cannes, and the outdoor “café” was comprised of hay bales and picnic tables inside a tent that was “heated” against the chilly, up island breezes, but the three-day Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival was a huge hit due to its people—filmmakers, fans, and the folks from Morning Glory Farm who provided fabulous food—and, mostly, to the terrific selection of over two dozen quality documentaries.
Take Wolfpack, for example. A riveting, disturbing, yet oddly inspirational story of six boys who were kept locked up for 14 years in the family’s Lower East Side Manhattan apartment, the film chronicles the boys’ ability to survive thanks to the creativity of their souls and the magic of movies. It won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at Sundance Film Festival last year.
By popular demand at MVFF, the film was shown three times. And, as if it wasn’t mesmerizing enough, at the end of each screening, out walked four of the Wolfpack boys who graciously answered audience questions.
I had a chance to speak with two of them between their appearances. We stood near a bale of hay; they were articulate, engaged, startlingly relaxed, and self-confident. They told me they’d been looking forward to coming to the Vineyard. “JAWS was one of our favorite movies,” Mukunda, the eldest, now 28, said. Good thing they stayed in Edgartown, where much of that film was shot.
It you have a chance, rent the DVD. The ways in which these boys grew and blossomed in an environment that would make many of us simply curl up and die is astounding. It is guaranteed—by me—to make you look at your own life differently . . . and with gratitude.
Though I didn’t get to watch (I sold t-shirts, mugs, and more to a bustling, happy crowd), the films covered a wide variety of topics that included the rising heroin epidemic on Cape Cod; the intriguing story of Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt; and the chronicle of a Sri Lankan man who escaped that country’s civil war with a two strangers—woman and an orphan. Titled Dheepan, the film won the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Another unique screening was Presenting Princess Shaw, the story of Samantha Montgomery, who, by day, is a caregiver for the elderly; by night she’s Princess Shaw, a soulful singer who turned into a viral sensation.
Samantha/Princess was at MVFF, too. On the last day of the festival, I spotted her sitting on a picnic table bench, staring across the expanse of lawn between the Chilmark Community Center and Chilmark School.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
She smiled wistfully. “This has been such an amazing experience,” she said. “I’ve been trying to figure out if the Vineyard can possibly be a real place. And if the people are real people.”
I laughed. “Maybe we’re just another movie,” I said.
I walked away, completely understanding how she felt.