Download: The Nantucket Film Festival: Day One
In 2019, I had the privilege of attending the Nantucket Film Festival (NFF), which takes place on the quaint and posh Massachusetts island about 30 miles south from Cape Cod. While Nantucket is widely known for its footprint in the whaling industry – it was one of the inspirations for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – the island is also unwaveringly steeped in its artistic roots. Nantucket is home to several noted museums and galleries, my favorite of which is the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The island has been used in works by Edgar Allen Poe and is featured in films like Summer of ’42, One Crazy Summer, and The Nanny Diaries. The sitcom Wings was set here as well.
The film festival was founded in 1996 by siblings Jill and Jonathan Burkhart, and is executive directed by Mystelle Brabbée. When I attended the 2019 gala, Nantucket included a very strong slate of films, including one that I immediately fell in love with – Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s The Peanut Butter Falcon. Aside from great films, Nantucket offers more intimate festivities, including the Screenwriters Tribute, Late Night Storytelling, and the All-Star Comedy Roundtable.
Now in its 27th year, NFF continues its storied tradition of celebrating those who create the stories that become film – the screenwriters. This year’s honorees include Barry Jenkins (Screenwriters Tribute), Ramin Bahrani (Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling Award), and Cooper Raiff (New Voices in Screenwriting Award). Actor John Turturro is also present to receive the Compass Rose Award for Career Achievement.
Ben Stiller (who directs Turturro in AppleTV’s Severance), Jenny Slate, Peter Farrelly, and others whose films are featured on the program will be in attendance. Sara Dosa, the acclaimed director of the Opening Night film, Fire of Love, being one of those additional guests. Dosa was on hand for a Q&A that followed her film. I saw Fire of Love last week (review here), and absolutely loved it. I made sure to catch the Q&A following a very well received showing. Dosa was incredibly fascinating to listen to. She was both coy and astute in her delivery. I am incredibly excited to see her next film (as consulting producer) Oceania, which focuses on an island nation that will become uninhabitable by 2030 due to the impacts of climate change.
Other films that played on day one: Marcel the Shell (which I have been dying to see since it’s rapturous reception at Telluride last year), Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm, Lightyear, and Official Competition, which became my first film at the festival.
Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, Official Competition is a twisted and oddball satire on moviemaking, ego, and the creative process. The film begins with the aftermath of Humberto Suárez’s (José Luis Gómez) 80th birthday celebration. Humberto is dealing with the existential dread that often comes when the end is nearer than the beginning. He wants to do something substantial that he can be remembered for – aside from being an incredibly wealthy man. He ponders building a bridge that could bear his name, but that idea lasts only for an instant. Humberto quickly switches gears and decides to produce a movie.
But not just any movie. A GREAT movie!
He purchases the rights to an award-winning novel and hires the eccentric director, Lola Cuevas (played with vehement passion by the great Penélope Cruz), to deliver this monumental project. Cuevas is as untamable as the red, curly mane that adorns her pretty head – a warning that she is as unconventional as she is erratic. Cuevas then casts two actors of completely different styles and backgrounds to star in the tragic tale. Their personal temperaments couldn’t be any further from the other (aside from each having enormous egos). Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) is a worldwide superstar who drives fast cars and dates faster women. Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) is a method-acting thespian, who turns his nose up at awards and first-class privileges. Imagine Ben Affleck and Daniel Day-Lewis making a film together playing brothers, and you’ll have a good start of understanding what’s in store.
The three begin table readings for the movie they are making. This is when Official Competition really takes off. The parody of filmmaking certainly works and is often quite hilarious. Their banter is like something out of The Odd Couple, if only The Odd Couple had been written by Edward Albee instead of Neil Simon. Official Competition operates best when it is fun and satirical. While the third act shifts gears with a jaw-dropping turn of events, Official Competition remains humorous, contemporary, and smart as a whip.
Cruz is marvelous as the uncompromising director, compelling the actors to repeat take after take of the same lines at rehearsal. She works them excessively and the actors respond amusingly to her approach. These moments brought out most of the humor in the film, and the audience was eating it up along the way. Penelope Cruz continues to marvel, following her Academy-Award nominated performance in Parallel Mothers with another turn worthy of such accolades. She is one of the finest and most versatile actors of her generation, and once again provides us with a performance that is sure to be among the best of the year.
Banderas and Martínez are also terrific in their dueling roles, trading blows throughout the film that are oftentimes cruel, if not always smirk-inducing. Their frivolous bantering and crude attempts to one-up the other with outrageous performances is highly entertaining.
Official Competition is a quick-witted black comedy that playfully skewers the filmmaking industry. While it could benefit from some tightening up in the second act, the performances alone – notably Cruz – are enough to make Official Competition worth the time to seek out.
My agenda for Day Two at NFF includes a slew of documentaries – Descendant, It Ain’t Over, and The Pez Outlaw – along with James Morosini’s father/son comedy, I Love My Dad.