City by the Sea: Provincetown 2012 Film Festival Recap

Austin Dale
Leslye Headland's Bachelorette

P-Town a fairly isolated village on the very tip of Cape Cod, making it the home of America's easternmost film festival. It's the happiest place on Earth.

Provincetown changes something in you! Ask anyone who has spent a day or two there. It might be the salty air. It may just be the Planter's Punch, the town's longtime unofficial drink. Perhaps it was just the fact that the Provincetown International Film Festival, now in its 14th year, is a well-curated, intimate, and refreshing respite from everything else on the festival circuit. P-Town a fairly isolated village on the very tip of Cape Cod, making it the home of America's easternmost film festival. It's people are friendly -- honestly, I can't say I met anyone who wasn't a saint -- and respectful of the town's queer legacy. It's the happiest place on Earth.


One reason I was thrilled to come to Provincetown this year was the premiere of the new cut of Leslye Headland's Bachelorette, a film I fell madly in love with this January in Sundance. Headland has produced a vastly different cut. It was met with reserved acclaim at Sundance, but as Provincetown's Opening Night film, it brought down the house. It's cleaner, quicker, funnier, and slightly more audience-friendly, but it loses none of its bite and spite. John Waters, who has vacationed in Provincetown for decades and is heavily involved with the festival, was in attendance.

At Headland's Q&A (which was briefly delayed when she was mobbed by young women heaping praise), Waters asked a question about the response from the MPAA, because, of course, he's John Waters. Tom Quinn, co-president of TWC's Radius off-shoot, stepped in to confirm Bachelorettehad received a "soft R", with no controversy. "It's funny," Headland added, "because I hear they're really weird about sex scenes that women actually enjoy." Nonetheless, Waters called the film "totally brilliant", which caused Headland's knees to buckle. Surely, Waters' approval is a great compliment for a first time filmmaker, and, yes, it's totally deserved. If it's true that every festival has an unofficial it-girl, Provincetown's was Leslye Headland.


Provincetown also held an anniversary screening of Swoon, the still-shocking modern classic that helped launch the New Queer Cinema movement of the early '90s. Writer/Director Tom Kalin and producer Christine Vachon held a breakfast discussion about the contemporary meaning of queer cinema. Neither of them considered it an ongoing movement. "Subgenre is limiting," Kalin said. "My work took a backseat to politics." Vachon: "Queer cinema was a place and time. Now, gay characters on television are taken for granted."

Never have I felt the influence of New Queer Cinema more profoundly than at this festival. Many of the major films at Provincetown veered heavily towards queer subject matter, and not all of it is anywhere near as dark as what we saw in Swoon and Poison. For example, Friday's showcase film was Jonathan Lisecki's conception comedy Gayby. It's about as deep as a tablespoon, but it has some tremendous situation comedy and funny-as-hell performances by Jenn Harris, as a neurotic Brooklyn yoga instructor who wants a baby, and Matthew Wilkas, her gay best friend, who agrees to father the child the natural way. It premiered at SXSW and has been taking the festival circuit by storm, making Lisecki not just a filmmaker to watch, but a filmmaker to root for.

The widely-acclaimed AIDS activism docs Vito and How to Survive a Plague were also screened. If for no other reason, these films are important because time has moved ACT UP even further into the margins than it was in its time. Any resurgence of interest in the movement is to be welcomed. And also, these are both extremely noble and powerful films.

I had a opportunity to speak briefly with Kirby Dick, who was at the festival with his excellent new doc The Invisible War. It's a harrowing documentary about the silent epidemic of military rape, and the institutionalized cover-up that prevents its victims from prosecuting their attackers and speaking out. We spoke about the amount of people he interviewed, because I was most struck by the sheer number of survivors on screen, as well as the military's immediate response to the project. “The thing that's so astounding about this is the numbers, Dick said. “We wanted to convey that by showing how broad it was, not just using four or five people. Every time we talked to these people, the emotional devastation was so profound, and I would just come out feeling incredibly angry.”

The military's response to the film was swift: “Once the film premiered at Sundance and won the Audience Award, we knew we had something powerful. One thing we wanted was for the military to change policy. We had these private screenings with high-ranking retired members of the military and officers' wives, just to get it seen and discussed widely within the armed forces. So many people saw it that it got to the Secretary of Defense, who held a press conference and announced some significant changes. And of course, we were really pleased and proud.”

The festival brought together Dick and two other deserving honorees on Saturday afternoon, for an awards ceremony and a series of discussions. Filmmaker on the Edge recipient Roger Corman was interviewed by John Waters, who called Corman "one of my all-time heroes". Of course, this discussion between the two B-movie masters was filled with insight into Corman's legendary career. The man might have influenced postwar American cinema more than any other filmmaker. After all, he gave Scorcese, Bogdanovich, Nicholson, Coppola, and Demme their first chances. Corman was slightly more humble about his legacy: "I was also the first producer/truck driver."

And, of course, the Acting Achievement recipient, the fabulous Parker Posey spoke with her BFF actor Craig Chester, who introduced her aptly: "People just love Parker. Everywhere I go, everybody loves Parker Posey." She was her typical buoyant self, chatting about her long career, spent hopping between tiny independent projects and Hollywood supporting roles. Craig didn't seem to like the direction the conversation was going, joking: "I spent all night watching Barbara Walters. My goal was to make you cry." Parker responded, "Oh, I can cry. Give me a second, Craig. I'll just think of the scripts I've been getting."

There was one tense moment during Dick's discussion with filmmaker Mary Harron. He had said that male victims of military rape had faced more trauma than its female victims. Towards the back of the auditorium, a woman stood up to confront Dick about that statement, to applause. Dick did, however, reiterate his statement with more clarity, as he felt that women have more resources for dealing with the trauma of rape, whereas men must also confront the stigma associated with male rape victims. His response wrapped up the discussion, which was followed by a standing ovation. I overheard Dick speaking with someone later that evening, discussing that moment, and he seemed excited that his movie was provoking such necessary debate and discussion.

The festival's official parties veered towards the tame, but Provincetown's party scene is nothing to sneeze at. After the opening night party, I and some friends ended up at the brilliantly-named Fag Bash, packed with a diverse crowd of Provincetown's younger queers, some really creative drag queens, cheap draft beer and amazing music. It might sound run-of-the-mill, but it was the most fun crowd I've seen at any film festival.

All in all, the Provincetown Film Festival is an exhilarating mash-up of the best of Sundance, a round-up of contemporary and classic queer cinema, and a nonstop circuit of cocktail parties and fascinating talks. Come for the terrific film selections, stay for the sunshine and Provincetown's one-of-a-kind joie de vivre.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.