7 film festivals to check out this summer

A still from Crosby Tatum's film “The People, United." (Courtesy Crosby Tatum/Triceptus Studios)
A still from Crosby Tatum's film “The People, United." (Courtesy Crosby Tatum/Triceptus Studios)

Moviegoers are back, according to the independent theater operators and film festival leaders I spoke with over the last few leafless months. “With a vengeance,” adds Woods Hole Film Festival Executive Director Judy Laster, delighted. Because Woods Hole’s off-season dinner-and-a-movie series consistently ran at capacity all winter, she expects more of the same for the 33rd annual festival later this summer. That’s positive for a lot of people, she says.

Especially for independent filmmakers like Boston’s Crosby Tatum, who counts on festivals to show his work. He will celebrate the world premiere of his documentary “The People, United! A Cinematic Diary” at Roxbury International Film Festival in June. Tatum and I spoke just as he’d begun filming this project during the incredibly tense months of Summer 2020. He explained then that he felt compelled to record how “everyday people” were responding to George Floyd’s murder. To minimize the array of risks associated with gathering in public at that moment, he also felt compelled to film as much as possible on his own.

Tatum’s commitment to “the people” meant that he embedded himself within both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protests, principally around Greater Boston. “You can only stand on one side for so long,” says Tatum when we spoke again recently, using a metaphor apt for his whole film. “You also have to get to the other side.”

In one pivotal scene, opposing groups protest across the street from each other in front of the Massachusetts State House. While people occasionally explain on camera why they’re there, the film does not elevate individual “characters.” For Tatum, acknowledging that everyone has a right to express themselves was part of his healing process.

Making “The People, United!” helped Tatum deal with the trauma of seeing the death of a person of color by police hands broadcast so widely. For him, that fact alone signaled societal breakdown. Plus, he adds, “Personally, I was hurt. This is what an officer can do to you.” In anticipation of a divide that has only deepened, he says he figured, “If I’m going to have grandchildren and the events of 2020 aren’t in their textbooks, I want some kind of record from my perspective told in the way the people [who were there] really told the story.”

Tatum directed, produced and edited about 200 hours of raw footage into 80 minutes. Unfathomably (at least to this writer), he also scored the film himself by watching hundreds of YouTube videos. That process alone took nearly five months. Despite the heartache and long hours, Tatum says he’d make the whole thing over again, though preferably as paid work. “I feel this movie will help inspire people to push past what we’ve all been through,” he says. At the movie’s close, he points to two pieces of pending legislation related to policing and voting rights and calls on viewers to vote. He says he can’t wait for people to see his film, talk about the issues raised, and hopefully take action.

“The People, United!” screens at the MFA on June 21 at 5 p.m. Here are several other options for uniting around independent film in Boston and nearby locations this summer.

Somerville Theatre’s 70mm & Widescreen Festival

When: June 12-23

Where: Somerville Theatre

Highlights: Over eight consecutive days, the Somerville celebrates Hollywood’s biggest formats, shot in CinemaScope or on 70mm film largely in the 1950s and ‘60s. Perhaps the most sweeping example, visually and culturally, director David Lean’s 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia” (70mm) screens on June 12. On June 14, extra ambitious moviegoers can catch the 1955 Gene Kelly-Cyd Charisse post-war musical comedy “It’s Always Fair Weather” (35mm) at 7 p.m. and refill popcorn in time for the steamy-in-1955 “Picnic” (35mm) at 9:30 p.m. I can’t help but think of “Picnic” alongside “Peyton Place,” published in 1955 and adapted to film and TV years later, because both drew attention for exposing female desire in uptight, small-town settings. My personal picks would be either William Wyler’s 1968 film “Funny Girl” (35mm) on June 16 for enshrining Barbara Streisand as a movie star, or Edward Dmytryk’s 1957 “Raintree County” (35mm) on June 23 because its cringey North-South premise and “crazy woman tricks man to marry” plot promises a cultural history reality check. Plus, when was the last time this screened on 35mm in Greater Boston?

Good to know: “Raintree County” certainly screened in Boston in 1957 as this vintage Harvard Crimson review shows. Per Thomas K. Schwabacher, “Elizabeth Taylor is still the most beautiful film actress today, despite the alarming evidence of a double chin. It takes little charity to forgive her occasional deficiencies as an actress.” We’ll never know if Taylor returned the favor of forgiveness.

Provincetown International Film Festival

When: June 12-16

Where: Provincetown’s Waters Edge Cinema, Town Hall, The Art House, Fishermen Hall, Crown & Anchor

Highlights: Provincetown has a history of attracting cutting-edge artists and writers. For 26 years, PIFF has played that role within independent cinema, calling itself “the largest cultural event in lower Cape Cod” and drawing more than 10,000 annual filmgoers. Besides excellent on-screen fare — fiction, nonfiction features and seven shorts programs — PIFF hosts great parties and shows particular savvy with its awardees. “Excellence in Acting” recipient Colman Domingo will attend (June 13). He’s so good in “Rustin” and in everything else, right? His latest, “Sing Sing” — which he starred in and produced for A24, will screen. Opening night’s “Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution,” a documentary about the rise of queer comedy, features two PIFF “Next Wave” awardees, comedy writer Mae Martin (“Handsome” podcast) and comedian Joel Kim Booster (“Fire Island”). Both are scheduled to be in conversation with one another and comedian Judy Gold on June 13. Plus Andrew Haigh, the writer-director behind “All of Us Strangers,” picks up the “Filmmaker on the Edge” award and will have a public conversation with John Waters on June 15. PIFF excels as a showcase of New England and its talent, too. Massachusetts director Lisa Olivieri will premiere “Recovery City,” a documentary about Worcester women dealing with addiction and recovery. The reflective debut feature “High Tide,” by Marco Calvani, follows an undocumented immigrant, unmoored and searching for meaning over one summer in Provincetown.

Good to know: Lisa Olivieri’s first documentary, “Blindsided,” also took place in Massachusetts. In 2018, Olivieri talked to me about the steps she took to craft the delicate story about partner violence between two women. It took nearly 20 years and a truckload (my words) of patience.

Nantucket Film Festival

Where: Nantucket Dreamland

When: June 19-24

Highlights: Wide-release titles (“Inside Out 2”) and lots of indies get their chance for an island screen at this summer fest. Documentarian Roger Ross Williams picks up a Career Achievement in Filmmaking award and appears with “Stamped from the Beginning,” his adaption of Ibram X. Kendi’s book. A short doc about the Route 1 Chinese American restaurant and North Shore entertainment megaplex Kowloon will screen. So will three shorts about Nantucket in the “Views from Nantucket” program. But don’t let the reds fool you, sometimes this island unbuttons, as seen in the short doc “The Dildo from Nantucket.” Even if a historically significant find, it’s still a dildo. From Nantucket.

Good to know: TV creator extraordinaire Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”) and “Girls 5Eva” creator and showrunner Meredith Scardino also pick up awards for Excellence in Television Writing and New Voice in Television Writing, respectively.

Roxbury International Film Festival

When: June 20-28 in person, June 27-July 2 online

Where: Hibernian Hall, MFA Boston, Northeastern University, MassArt and online

Highlights: “Celebrating people of color from around the world.” That’s the motto of this festival, entering its 26th year and once again hosting a robust film line-up with discussions, parties and script readings. In addition to the world premiere of “The People, United!” on June 21 by Boston filmmaker Crosby Tatum, RoxFilm screens the almost entirely woman-made feature “Ugly Sweater” on June 23. In it, high school senior Ruby wants to study astrophysics at an Ivy League school but her anxiety takes shape as — an ugly Christmas sweater. Sincere but not cloying, plus well-acted and adorned with thickly knitted practical effects (think sweaters), if I ran Hallmark I’d sign this for “Christmas in July,” pronto. A few months ago, producer Sara Marković wrote in an email, “our set was what the women before us fought for.” If that means more sweet nerds find a happy ending, then I’m game.

Good to know: ArtsEmerson will host RoxFilm’s online screenings June 27-July 2.

Woods Hole Film Festival

When: July 27-Aug. 3

Where: Redfield Auditorium, Clapp Auditorium and Woods Hole Community Hall in Woods Hole; and the Falmouth Academy in Falmouth

Highlights: Once again WHFF’s team of programmers (including young people on fellowship) whittled down more than 1,000 submissions to 120 films. WHFF Executive Director Judy Laster explains that process means “saying no to some good films and important filmmakers.” It also means an intentional slate infused with a summer vibe. The underdog surfer documentary “Maya and the Wave” and Dawn Porter’s Luther Vandross biopic “Luther: Never Too Much” catch that uplift. There are many New England picks, too, such as “Lost Nation,” a historical fiction narrative about intersecting pursuits of freedom in pre-Revolutionary Vermont. As with past projects, here director and educator Jay Craven brings film professionals and college students together as one crew. The Massachusetts-made, slow-burn thriller “Crookedfinger” brought out a slew of area talent to IFFBoston and gets another screening. The documentary “Brief Tender Light” captures the shared and unique experiences among four African students who attend MIT. Comedic writer-director Mark Kiefer, of Boston, makes a world premiere with his short “The Day Keeper,” about, you guessed it, a Cape Cod lighthouse keeper. Many other regional filmmakers fill up the roster, especially the shorts programs. Most films will stream online Aug. 4-11.

Good to know: Each October, WHFF brings back jury and audience award winners for “Best of Fest” screenings in Woods Hole. Other off-season programming includes biweekly dinner-and-a-movie events, often with add-ons like live music or poetry. “People come from off Cape for those,” says Laster. If too far a commute for Bostonians, WHFF also presents films at the MIT Museum mostly during the academic year.

Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival

When: Aug. 2-10

Where: Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs

Highlights: According to a festival representative, MVAAFF founders Floyd and Stephanie Rance are “elated at the roster of talent” that will attend this year's festival, however, they are not at liberty to announce the slate just yet. “We can share that there will be a host of Oscar-nominated talent and new and emerging filmmakers who will be showcasing some of the most exciting African American content to debut this fall,” says the rep. With a serious uptick in celebrity presence over the last few years (the Obamas! Misty Copeland!), and partnerships with all the major platforms, this once up-and-coming-festival might be the hottest ticket in New England moviegoing.

Good to know: Last year, writer-director Cord Jefferson attended to present one of my favorite films from 2023, “American Fiction.” The film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Jefferson won for his screenplay adaptation of the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett.

Mayor's Summer Movie Nights

When: Aug. 6-29

Where: Parks throughout Boston

Highlights: Newish family-friendly titles (reboots and sequels galore) mean new reasons to pack up the cooler and lawn chairs and make an evening out of summer outdoor moviegoing. “Little Mermaid” ditches animation for live action (Allston/Brighton, Aug. 6). Chalamet does Depp does Wilder in “Wonka” (West Roxbury, Aug. 14). Frolicking pandas get a fourth installment in “Kung Fu Panda 4” (Hyde Park, Aug. 22). Trolls resume their song-and-dance in “Trolls Band Together” (Charlestown, Aug. 26). And some recognizable faces turn up in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Downtown, Aug. 29) — I’m looking at you, Annie Potts. Neither an exhaustive nor exhausting list (unless you’re a parent), you can’t go wrong with these fun picks. Trust me, I consulted a 6-year-old with “very big feelings.”

Good to know: Free popcorn while supplies last. Seriously!

Also showing:


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Erin Trahan Film Writer
Erin Trahan writes about film for WBUR.



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