For its 25th anniversary, the Provincetown International Film Festival perfected the art of putting on a film festival at a very hard time for festivals in general. All are bouncing back, or trying to bounce back, after years of COVID-induced darkness. Some were struggling even before COVID.

But from June 14 through 18, at the twisting tip of coastal Massachusetts where pilgrims and LGBTQ+ pride coincide, the theater seats were packed, the lines moved in an orderly fashion, and people actually talked about movies. PIFF succeeds by looking deeply at the many things that makes Provincetown special while also looking outward at its place in the world.

The first film of the festival was I Am a Town, PTown local Mischa Richter’s moving portrait of the place he loves, from its sand dunes to its beaches to its street musicians to its Portugese-American fishing families to its recent emigrees from Jamaica to gay couples who have found peace and fun in Provincetown for decades.

Opening-night film Cora Bora, on the other hand, had no obvious PTown connection — it’s set in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon — but the uncomplicated sexual fluidity of its main character owes a debt to the long struggle, activism and achievement of gay-friendly communities like Provincetown.

It’s a sign of how much things have improved for festivals lately that when I Am a Town debuted, three years ago, it was at the Wellfleet Drive-In, near Provincetown, because people had to socially distance in their cars. When it played Thursday, it was in PTown’s majestic town hall, one of the picturesque locations featured in the doc.

The Provincetown International Film Festival Solves Problems

But even in the grim summer of 2020, the festival made the best of things. In addition to screening new films at the drive-in, it hosted a special night with John Waters, the festival’s longtime patron saint, for a delightful drive-in screening of the killer-bunny trashterpiece Night of the Lepus. It was one of the first fun nights we had since the pandemic began.

2020 was also the year that Anne Hubbell took over as the executive director of the Provincetown Film Society, which runs the festival. A Kodak executive and producer, she started attending PIFF years ago, in a sponsor capacity, and later screened her own films there. She was delighted that this year’s festival had some 200 filmmakers in attendance.

“The energy in the town is really up. And there’s a lot of young people here. … I think people are ready to come back,” she told MovieMaker.

Provincetown is always an idyllic place, but a film festival in the middle of Pride month makes it feel like an especially essential destination.

“It’s a quintessential New England beach show, and it’s like adult Disney World,” said Hubbell.

She was standing by a poolside when we talked, and glanced out at the ocean. “The light is extraordinary,” she noted. “It doesn’t really matter what time of day.”

But it’s not just pretty. It’s also a potential career-maker.

“We got Academy accreditation for short films last year,” Hubbell said. “And so, because of that, we had over 1,000 short films enter the festival, which is a lot for us. And that also means that we had eight shorts programs. In a five-day festival, that’s a lot.”

This year, everything at the festival just felt easy: Every walk through town or along the coast is lovely. It’s not too far from Boston or New York City. People were open-hearted and funny. Things worked.

One of the only screenings that didn’t start on time was an immensely popular shorts bloc Saturday afternoon at the charming Waters Edge Cinema — and what a good problem to have. Do you know how many festivals would kill to have an overfilled shorts bloc?

When it rained on the day of a planned garden party, the organizers pivoted to a party at the beachfront hotel The Boatslip, and noted that rainy days are perfect for watching movies.

Also Read: Chrissy Judy Is a Gay Drag Platonic Love Story for Everyone — and One of the Year’s Best Films

Guests at the Boatslip party included everyone from Waters to Bruce LaBruce to Billy Porter. LaBruce was this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge recipient, while Porter received the Excellence in Acting Award.

Bruce LaBruce and John Waters at the 25th annual Provincetown International Film Festival

Other festival attendees included former Saturday Night Live writer Julio Torres, presenting his film Problemista, and Hacks scene stealer Megan Statler, who starred in Cora Bora. Torres and Statler received the Next Wave Award. Among others on hand was The Idol star Rachel Sennott, presenting her very funny, ridiculously rule-breaking twist on a high school movie, Bottoms.

Best of all, the work of the Provincetown Film Society, which presents the festival, continues its work year round, most notably by hosting meetings of Outer Cape filmmakers.

Also: Awards

This year’s PIFF awards represented a wide range of films, and the festival’s emphasis on hailing LGBTQ+ stories with universal appeal. This year’s PIFF Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went Fairyland, directed by Andrew Durham, and the PIFF Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Lakota Nation vs. United States, directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli.

The John Schlesinger Narrative Award went to Savanah Leaf for Earth Mama, which film programmer and narrative Schlesinger juror Sheryl Mousley called “a beautifully accomplished first film – human resiliency combined with natural elements tell of the struggles of motherhood in today’s world.”

The John Schlesinger Documentary Award went to Kristen P. Lovell and Zackary Drucker for The Stroll, their documentary about transgender women of color during the 1990s and early 2000s engaging in sex work in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. “The Stroll invites its audience into a world most of us have only known from the outside, and does so with empathy, style, and beautifully imaginative storytelling,” said filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, Documentary Schlesinger jurors.

In the shorts categories, Best Animated Short went to “Aikāne,” directed by Daniel Sousa, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Best Documentary Short went to “MNM,” directed by Twiggy Pucci Garcon. The Best New England Short was Read ‘Em and Weep, directed by Jeffrey Hoyt, the Best Queer Short was “Campfife,” directed by Austin Bunn, and Best Narrative Short went to “Motherland,” directed by Christina Yoon. A special jury prize went to “Y,” directed by Matea Kovač.

Main image: Next Wave Award recipients Julio Torres and Megan Statler. Photo by Mae Gammino, courtesy of PIFF.