The dates are the same but the format has changed. The 29th annual Woods Hole Film Festival is going virtual this year. And while the village of Woods Hole might not be bustling with people moving from one event venue to another, the festival will still be offering 42 feature length and 144 short films, live question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, workshops and master classes, panel discussions, live music, an awards ceremony and even a Kids Day.
The festival will take place from July 25 through August 1.
Unlike in previous years, passes are being sold in advance of the festival, while individual tickets will go on sale on the first day of the festival. Purchases are through the festival’s website.
Live question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, master classes, workshops, and panel discussions will be the only scheduled events with suggested “watch” times for the films that coincide with them. There will be no need to wait in lines for screenings, no parking worries and no sold-out screenings. Audience members and filmmakers alike will be able to participate from anywhere in the world.
“We’re trying to create a virtual event that comes as close to the live setting as it can be—in feel, in style and in engagement,” said founder and executive director Judy Laster, who added that the festival will still be a community event. “The definition of community will just be larger.”
The festival includes a mix of first-time and veteran filmmakers with a focus on entries with ties to New England, as well as films about science. There will be 38 world premieres, 11 North American premieres and six US premieres, with 52 films made by women and 42 made internationally—including one from Antarctica, a festival first.
Two of the world premiere feature films have connections to New England. In “Give or Take,” a disillusioned New Yorker goes home to Cape Cod after his father dies to prepare the house for sale while sharing it with his father’s temperamental live-in boyfriend. Environmental reporter David Abel, whose documentary “Lobster Wars” screened last year, returns with “Entangled,” about the efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction.
Three festival films take on political issues: “Represent,” about three women in the Midwest who take on entrenched political systems in their fight to reshape local politics; “Public Trust,” an investigation into how public lands are facing unprecedented threats from extractive industries supported by politicians; and “The Last Days of Capitalism,” a drama about a wealthy man who meets a mysterious woman while holed up in a Las Vegas penthouse that is an inquiry into the true nature of power and those who seek it.
Several festival alums are returning with their latest films. Judith Helfand, whose documentary “COOKED: Survival by Zip Code” screened at last year’s festival, will present “Love and Stuff,” her personal documentary about dealing with her parents’ possessions while becoming a mother for the first time at age 50. Festival co-founder Kate Davis and husband David Heilbroner return with “Born Into the Gig,” their music-driven documentary feature that follows five singer-songwriters hoping to carve out their own musical identity in the shadow of their parents’ iconic greatness. Another returning filmmaker is Jonathan Wysocki, whose “Dramarama” is about a closeted teen who struggles to part ways with his high school drama friends. Executive producers Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman return with “The Bookmakers,” which profiles the people who are keeping books alive in the 21st century.
Forty-two feature films are by international filmmakers representing all seven continents. In Kate Stryker’s documentary “Baato,” a Himalayan family travels by foot every winter to sell its medicinal herbs at market, only to find its livelihood disrupted during the construction of a transnational highway to China. Martin Busker’s drama “Zoro’s Solo” tells the story of a 13-year-old refugee from Afghanistan living in an emergency shelter in Germany. Kay Rubacek’s documentary “Finding Courage” recounts a former Chinese journalist, living in exile in the United States, during her efforts to reunite her family and find justice for the murder of her sister. In Bulgarian filmmaker Nikola Bozadzhiev’s “Shibil,” a story about a father who uses his daughter as bait to capture an outlaw is told from the viewpoint of the incarnated soul of the main character’s horse. Sevgi Hirschhaeuser’s “Toprak” is about a family in rural Turkey dealing with poverty, family traditions and religious heritage.
Nearly 20 feature length and short films fall under the auspices of the festival’s Bringing Science to the Screen program. Environmental thriller “Current Sea” follows investigative journalist Matt Blomberg and ocean activist Paul Ferber as they explore the illegal fishing trade in Cambodia. In Mark Mannucci’s feature documentary “Decoding Watson,” the stature of acclaimed Nobel Prize-winning biologist James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is destroyed after he suggests that black people are innately less intelligent than white people. Given the chance to salvage his reputation during the making of the film, he chose to affirm his views, sparking a global response that reduced his importance as a scientific icon. The documentary “Picture of His Life” chronicles wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum as he photographs a polar bear underwater while swimming alongside it.
Four films coincidentally star “Saturday Night Live” cast members past and present. The previously mentioned “Give or Take” stars former “Saturday Night Live” performer Cheri Oteri. Matthew Bonifacio’s short drama “Master Maggie” features an appearance by current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kenan Thompson. The short comedy “Island Queen” stars former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Rachel Dratch. Maya Albanese’s short “Freeze” stars former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Chris Parnell. Based on the filmmaker’s own story, it follows a 35-year-old woman who visits an offbeat fertility clinic to freeze her eggs after a series of romantic misadventures, only to discover that she is pregnant.
Two short documentaries with origins in Woods Hole are also making their world premieres. Woods Hole Film Festival board member Hortense Gerardo’s “The Opioid Epidemic: A Mother’s Reckoning,” co-directed with Monica Cohen, examines the human toll of the opioid epidemic. Kyle Maddux-Lawrence’s Beyond the Gulf Stream follows a group of oceanographers as they research the interaction between deep ocean waters and the coastal currents.
Three festival alums will conduct master classes and participate in panel discussions as filmmaker-in-residence: Highlights of the festival’s classes and panel discussions include a masterclass with director, writer and producer Laura Nix on how to create a meaningful impact campaign, using examples from the one she developed for “Inventing Tomorrow,” her documentary feature about teenagers from around the globe tackling environmental issues through science. Animator Patrick Smith, whose animated short film “Gun Shop” was on the 2020 Oscars short list, will teach a master class on how to be a career animated short film filmmaker. Award-winning British producer, writer and director of documentary films John Edginton returns to the festival for his third filmmaker-in-residency. He will offer two master classes: “When Documentary Visions Collide with Filmmaking Realities,” which will address the challenges that can occur at every stage of the filmmaking process; and “Doc Doctor Surgeries,” confidential problem-solving sessions for filmmakers.
Full festival passes, which provide access to all the films and events on the virtual platform, are $120, $100 for festival members. Features Only and Shorts Only passes are $90 each, $80 each for festival members. Individual films are $14, $12 for festival members. Workshop and master classes are $20 each, $18 for festival members. The entire festival lineup, along with passes and film admissions, is available at www.woodsholefilmfestival.org.