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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Nantucket Film Festival - Chapter 15 in Literary Love Story

As the days lengthen, so the Nantucket Film Festival fires up for its 15th annual storytelling blowout, June 17 to 20, 2010. The Festival, which celebrates screenwriters, screenwriting and the art of the raconteur in today's cinema, boasts "The Writers are Coming" as its motto.

Wordsmiths aren't the only ones to wash ashore. Once again, 4,000 screenwriters, producers, agents, development executives and lay cinephiles are due on the Massachusetts island -- along with some 6,000 local denizens -- that Herman Melville associated with all things "fine" and "boisterous." 

A century-and-a-half have passed since Nantucket's biggest booster scrawled those descriptions (in Moby-Dick), but the writerly tradition whales on in such NFF standards as the Screenwriters Tribute and Late Night Storytelling.

This year, the Tribute broadens to salute three scribes instead of one. Barry Levinson (Diner, Tootsie), Davis Guggenheim (Waiting for "Superman," An Inconvenient Truth) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine) form the Academy Award-winning trinity of Tributees.

The fruits of Arndt's latest scriptwriting effort, Toy Story 3, will screen on Opening Night, one day prior to the Disney•Pixar film's national release. NFF's nod to screenplays conceived for animation is a new development. As Artistic Director Mystelle Brabbée explained, the landmark anniversary packs a special chance to "acknowledge contributions in additional fields of screenwriting and storytelling."

Late Night Storytelling, hosted by veteran thesp Anne Meara and writer Jonathan Ames (HBO's Bored to Death) returns with five surprise guests plus brazen recruits from the audience. The bawdy, irreverent platform for ghost stories is known to draw maximum frissons from its performers' script-free delivery. 

Another prime example of Nantucket's programming is All-Star Comedy Roundtable, moderated by Festival board member Ben Stiller. This year, Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program) and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) bring their minds and mouths to the famed laugh-in.

In Their Shoes... is yet another Festival staple. Levinson will join this year's talkfest hosted by MSNBC political pundit and film geek Chris Matthews. Expect Baltimore's most prolific portraitist to reflect on three decades of directing, producing and writing what Brabbée tagged "smart and literate films."

For further proof of NFF's thing for writers, the Festival will host Showtime’s annual Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting. The jury choosing this year's winner includes producers Stephanie Davis (HBO’s Bored to Death), Joana Vicente (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), and Steven Haft (Dead Poet’s Society).

To name but two other awards, the Adrienne Shelly Excellence in Filmmaking Award – a $5,000 jackpot -- and Best Storytelling in a Documentary Film and will also honor best efforts at the Festival.

Other Festival staples include Morning Coffee With… , a daily carb and coffee klatch with marquee guests revealing what really happened on a given film set, and gets fest-goers up earlier than otherwise conceivable.

A total of 25 feature films will unspool at NFF 2010, spanning studio and independent productions made in the U.S., foreign imports and documentaries from all over. Some 20 to 25 short films will also be shown.

Sharing the Opening Night screen with Toy Story 3 will be Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s comedy of manners,The Extra Man. The much-anticipated John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, from Sam Taylor Wood, will do Closing Night honors.

Also spurring pre-fest buzz is The Romantics, co-starring Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin and Josh Duhamel. The first directing effort of Galt Niederhoffer crashes a wedding where a group of ex-Yalies -- and the long-standing joust between the bride and the maid of honor -- rejoin.

From Stanley Nelson comes Freedom Riders, the Festival Centerpiece. The award-winning filmmaker's (The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords) journalistic rewind of 1961, when 400 black and white civil-rights activists defied Jim Crow laws on the roads of the Deep South, is the first feature-length film about this pivotal chapter in U.S. history.

Longtime civil rights activist and one of the featured freedom riders Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. is slated to join Nelson in a post-screening discussion. The event will be jointly presented with the non-profit educational group Facing History and Ourselves, reflecting a larger Festival initiative to forge strategic partnerships that can expand its participant base.

Nantucket's loyal following is both a "blessing" and a challenge, noted NFF Executive Director Colin Stanfield. "The intimacy of these events, the separation from the mainland -- it's like going on a fantasy adventure," he said. "Once people have experienced that, it's hard not to come back year after year to this magical place 30 miles out to sea."

"It's a real respite from the fast pace of the business that happens at the usual festival," he continued. Stanfield credits the island's "small, intimate environment" with more than just niceties. "Endless careers have been launched because so and so recognized someone's writing, and there was the space to sit down and talk over lobster rolls and ice cream." 

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