The Provincetown International Film Festival will celebrate its 20th year in much the same way it does every year: with a solid program of movies that challenge the way we think. Yes, there will be big-name guests and lively parties punctuating the June 13-17 event. But at PIFF, launched in 1999 by then-Brattle Theatre partners Connie White and Marianne Lampke with Provincetown’s PJ Layng, the movies have always been the message.
The lineup of 45 features and 29 shorts — about the same number of films as in previous years — reflects the festival’s strong commitment to women-directed films. “Between our short films and features, we have 27 films directed by women this year,” says Lisa Viola, PIFF artistic director. “All of our Spotlight films including opening and closing night are directed by women, and all of our panelists for our daily PIFFtalks are women filmmakers.”
The opening feature, “Wild Nights with Emily” stars PIFF acting honoree Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson and depicts the “Belle of Amherst” as anything but the reclusive spinster of legend (Cynthia Nixon’s portrayal in “A Quiet Passion” last year also dispelled that notion). Writer-director Madeleine Olnek, who was at PIFF in 2011 with her comedy “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,” mixes slapstick with the subversive in a touching love story about Dickinson’s secret romance with her lifelong friend and sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler).
The Spotlight film, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” stars this year’s New Wave award-winner Chloë Grace Moretz as a gay teenager who’s dispatched to a conversion therapy center. The dark comedy is director/co-writer Desiree Akhavan’s followup to her 2014 PIFF hit “Appropriate Behavior.”
Just as important to the festival’s milestone year are titles with less star power, says Viola, citing Josephine Decker’s “Madeline’s Madeline,” starring Miranda July and newcomer Helena Howard as a mother and daughter forced to confront their relationship, as a film that “may have to find an audience but is worth seeking out.”
Other under-the-radar films that deserve attention, says Viola, include Carlos López Estrada’s “Blindspotting,” about two childhood friends, played by actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal who co-wrote the script, coming to grips with changed realities in their rapidly-gentrifying Oakland neighborhood.
Issues of immigration and human rights are powerfully dramatized in “And Breathe Normally,” director Ísold Uggadóttir’s Iceland-set story about the bond that forms between a mother who is training as an airport border patrol officer and the female refugee from Guinea-Bissau who’s being detained.
Themes of families in transition emerge in several notable films, including Jeremiah Zagar’s directing debut “We the Animals,” about three brothers coming of age; the Brazilian film “Loveling,” directed by Gustavo Pizzi, about a mother (Karine Teles) and her fierce devotion to her four sons; and “Night Comes On,” director Jordana Spiro and co-writer Angelica Nwandu’s intimate portrait of 18-year old Angel (Dominique Fishback), fresh out of juvenile detention and back in a tough neighborhood where she must fend for herself.
Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” documents the astonishing, true tale of identical triplets, separated at birth and adopted by three different families, who were reunited. The film, with screenings June 14 and 16 sponsored by GlobeDocs, reveals the dark secrets behind the feel-good story.
Joaquín Phoenix heads a strong cast in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” adapted from John Callahan’s autobiography and directed by Gus van Sant, a former PIFF honoree. The film showcases a dramatic performance from the usually comedic Jonah Hill as a sponsor in an alcohol treatment center where Callahan (Phoenix) reluctantly ends up and discovers his gift for drawing irreverent cartoons.
“Every Act of Life,” directed by Jeffrey Kaufman and produced by Marcia Ross, who were at PIFF in 2015 with “State of Marriage,” is a lively, moving portrait of American playwright Terrence McNally, whose 1995 Tony Award-winning “Love! Valor! Compassion!” portrayed loss in the age of AIDS. Another groundbreaking gay artist is revisited in director Ondi Timoner’s scripted narrative debut, “Mapplethorpe,” the festival’s closing night feature. Matt Smith stars as the controversial photographer who revolutionized the contemporary art world during the decade ravaged by AIDS.
For more information go to www.provincetownfilm.org.Loren King can be reached at email@example.com.