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Festival atmosphere

Between the Blockbuster and the beach there are the film festivals of New England
By PETER KEOUGH  |  June 9, 2009

Whatever Works opens the Provincetown Film Festival on June 17.

Summer traditionally has been the happy hunting ground for Hollywood studios — the time when they unleash their big-budgeted, f/x-heavy warhorses on armies of newly freed schoolchildren and frazzled adults trying to beat the heat. Indeed, this summer is proving more lucrative than most, with big returns already from Star Trek, Angels & Demons, and Terminator Salvation, among others. This is not the season you'd expect much interest in films such as Amreeka, a gentle, autobiographical comedy about a Palestinian, or in Peter and Vandy, a romantic comedy told in reverse. Those two obscure features can be seen at the Nantucket and Provincetown film festivals, respectively, two among several such venues that will be popular New England destinations this summer.

Film festivals have been proliferating in these parts like greenhead flies in July. So how do they do it against competition from Harry Potterand the Half-Blood Prince and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra? Not too shabby, it turns out.

"Festivals thrive during this time because they are an alternative to blockbusters," suggests Adam Roffman, program director of one of the area's most successful such venues, the Independent Film Festival of Boston, which wrapped up April 28 (summer, in the movie world, starts around April Fools Day). He ought to know, because since it began in 2002 the IFFB has increased attendance from 10,000 to 25,000 admissions, drawing long lines of patrons despite competition from hyper-promoted studio masterpieces like Fast & Furious and Crank: High Voltage.

Like the films themselves, the festival atmosphere provides an alternative to the mainstream-movie experience, offering an engagement and intimacy with the movies that you won't find after any old screening at the local mall. Unlike the cineplex, where the only dialogue will be from people who forgot to turn off their cell phones or who have to explain what's going on to their imbecilic friends, at a festival the filmmakers and cast members are often available to discuss their work, appearing after screenings or in panel discussions or just hanging out in parties, restaurants, or clubs. And if the filmmakers aren't around, there are plenty of other people willing to talk. Most everyone in attendance is a cinephile, eager to share his or her knowledge, insights, and opinions in one big, exhilarating, and exhausting celebration of film.

Finally, these local festivals are heating up because they often take place in vacation spots where people might be headed anyway. You might not be able to fly to Cannes for sun, fun, flicks, and stars, but nowadays, you don't have to.

PROVINCETOWN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | JUNE 17 THROUGH 21 | P-town is a perfect location for a film festival. With its funky ambience, arty reputation, and natural beauty, the only mystery is why it took so long for someone to take advantage of it. The resort town on the tip of the Cape was already celebrating its 100th anniversary as an artists' colony when this film festival began in 1999. Festival directors have been making up for lost time, though, and the list of past winners of their Filmmaker on the Edge Award — John Waters, Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch, and Quentin Tarantino — is a who's who of independent filmmaking.

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