Seven years ago, I attended Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival with my first feature documentary, Beijing Taxi, a portrait of three Chinese cabbies on the eve of the 2008 Olympics.
I had always wanted to visit the tranquil Cape Cod island, and I wasn’t disappointed: Over three days, I screened the film to a very enthusiastic audience; my mom became the star of the parties despite her very limited English; and she got her first taste of a nude beach by the Gay Head Lighthouse. So with my new feature Maineland under my belt this year, MVIFF was one of the festivals I most wanted to revisit. Lucky for me, I was invited back.
I love boats and watercraft—a newly discovered direct ferry from Manhattan seemed like the perfect way to reach the Vineyard on a congested Friday afternoon. But two hours into the ride, all my equilibrium was lost. The fast and furious Seastreak bumped along on choppy waters for what felt like an interminable three hours. As I stumbled off the ferry at last and into our shuttle van, I met the rest of the filmmaker group who had suffered the same fate. An hour later we were laughing about it over sushi at Mikado, a new pan-Asian bistro in Vineyard Haven still waiting for a visit from the Obamas.
Our ever-hospitable host, Festival Director Richard Paradise, stocked a big, charming A-frame house full of booze for most of the filmmakers in attendance, which certainly helped grease the wheels of camaraderie. On Saturday we joined our housemate Bill Plympton and family at a screening of zany, wild-eyed animated shorts he had personally curated for MVIFF, as he does every year. I marveled at the uninhibited imagination and painstaking execution of these mercurial minis, like Willy Hartland’s intricately constructed “New York City Sketchbook,” its creative process so different from documentary filmmaking. I felt inspired to collaborate someday with these remarkable talents.
Richard greeted each audience member with a big hug. He knows his community inside and out. They have supported him full-heartedly as he’s built up his impressive Film Center through the years. Local patrons are adventurous, too—knowing how early-to-bed the Vineyard can be in the off season, it was impressive to see people line up for a 9 p.m. screening of The Ornithologist, an artfully baffling wilderness tale from Portugal shrouded in erotic mystery and religious allegory.
Our screening of Maineland, which tracks two affluent Chinese teenagers landing at a boarding school in rural Maine, sold out a week before the festival. Our Q&A was fueled by thoughtful questions about the craft, as well as genuine curiosity about China and the cross-cultural dialogue at the heart of our story. Later that night, Hartland treated us to the ultimate nightcap—a lively account of how he discovered his parents’ secret CIA past.
That sense of intimacy extended to the closing night party, at a cozy second-floor Italian restaurant, where conversation fizzed around the bar and a jazz quartet serenaded the crowd with laid-back renditions of Columbia-era Sinatra. Such convivial, easygoing elegance defines MVIFF. As I watched the sun set over Nantucket Sound a few hours earlier, I kept musing to myself, after the famous song: “Heaven; I’m in heaven.” MM
Miao Wang is the New York-based director and producer of Beijing Taxi and Maineland, coming soon to theaters.
Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival 2017 ran from September 5-10, 2017. For more information, visit their website here.