Diverse Culture & Simple Thrills: The 2010 Inaugural Aruba International Film Festival – Feature

Crystal clear waters begin to glisten and pulsate against the towering buildings along the crescent coastline. The Atlantic is welcoming to guests and residents of nearly forty cultures. It is a diverse and beautiful island so it is of no surprise that Aruba is hosting its first ever International Film Festival.

When Aruba decided to peruse the notion of a festival, they decided on recruiting Claudio Mazzenga, a charismatic man whom has helped oversee such esteemed festivals as the Venice and Rome Film Festivals. To make a successful festival, the industry veteran knew that the journey would include choosing the right films and most importantly bringing Hollywood with the local community, which similarly minded celebrities, like his long time friend Richard Gere.

During a local open discussion entitled “In Conversation With..” which highlights an artist’s body of work and interaction with the festival, Gere appeared very humble taking in the amount of appreciation the mainly Dutch population had for him. Gere addressed questions about his humanitarian efforts and the daunting challenge of being a first time producer for “Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale”, the Opening Night film. His attendance helped propel the festival in the right direction. Afterwards drinks were poured and bare feet danced as the eagerly awaited film festival showed a strong start.

After experiencing the rich nightlife, the island’s tropical lushness always helps weary travelers rejuvenate for their next experience. The Hyatt Regency Aruba rests on a exclusive part of the island, right where the beach begins to crescent westward. This curve makes the waters calm and generally untouched by weather. The Atlantic Ocean’s color pulsates with blue and greens, and the finely grained sand is a welcome feeling to the skin.

Not to be unmatched, the Hyatt’s elaborate pool area boasted enough amenities such as bar cabanas, poolside dining, a twisting waterside, and sunbathed mermaids that this traveler could hardly decide where to spend many mornings. Lost between the pleasures of each, the sun begins to settle as the festival comes into full swing.

Crowds of Arubans turned up for the nightly red carpet events located at the Paseo Herencia Cinema positioned across from the resorts. Local news and radio personalities hosted the event and constantly switched between English and Spanish. Applause filled the area as festival goers welcomed the cast of “Venezzia,” a love story centered during the country’s involvement in World War II. The island of Aruba related to the story, since the oil used during the war by the Venezuelans were drilled off the coast only a few miles away. The cast included Latin TV star Ruddy Rodriguez, who shared in the belief that a festival in Aruba can help bridge the gap between Hollywood and Latin America. His hope is that the commanding beauty and adventure here will bring visitors, and hopefully will expose them to diverse cultures of the surrounding countries; including Venezuela.

The positive vibe of the locals and incumbent travelers echoed during the film’s screening and continued next door to Mr. Jazz, where moviegoers were treated to luscious mojitos and salsa dancing. The encompassing themed night showed just a taste of how, with each day, the festival would embrace a different aspect of the island; whether it be Island Chic or American influence.

Five miles south of the premiere resort area rests a secluded cove that offers hands-on experience with aquatic life for novice mariners. De Palm Island offers snorkeling through vibrant reefs, thrilling banana boat rides, and a very unique attraction; the Sea Trek underwater walk. New to many weary outsiders the walk utilizes snuba: a variation of scuba diving where a helmet piped to the surface allows one to walk on the ocean floor 25 feet below. Underneath the diver feels a sense of slow-motion weightless as snapper and rainbow fish approach unafraid. The experience takes some getting used to, but with trained divers escorting guests through the maze and simultaneously photographing the whole event in front of real wreckage, this excursion would be a highlight for any thrill enthusiast.

Before returning to the film festival. patrons congregated in the beautiful open air hotel lobby of the Hyatt to embark on a De Palm off-road safari. The first thought inclined that this would be a gentle excursion along the beaches mainly because anyone was allowed to drive. Waivers were signed, and the visitors boarded five yellow and black-striped Land Rovers. What was to followed threw all previous expectations out the window.

After a quick drive over the asphalt jungle of the upscale resort area, the rovers embarked into the rocky desolate desert terrain located on the northern part of the island. The strong easterly winds prevent architects from building alongside the picturesque oceanside vistas, which include natural bridges, veering rock formations, and towering cacti.

The 4 1/2 hour  drive included more turns and bumps that rivaled any American theme park ride, and with the added flavor of the local tour guide that pitched us information with humorous undertones, the eventual consensus among the riders was that this safari was a not-to-miss attraction. The final uphill trek atop a lone mountain peppered with lizards and local goats ended with a much deserved dip in Aruba’s captivating natural pool. Looking at the diversity of Aruba’s terrain one could imagine how it would influence local and international filmmakers to shoot there.

That evening, the festival event is shrouded in black ties and flowing dresses. An orange glow pulsates throughout Paseo Herencia as writer/director Guillermo Arriaga takes the stage. The Oscar lauded writer of “21 Grams” and “Babel” attended to host a screening of “The Burning Plain,” his directorial debut starring Charlize Theron. The film revolves around the themes of regret, escape and infidelity using a non-linear structure that links all three storylines together. As a Mexican writer, Arriaga is no stranger to the clashing of American influence on foreign culture. He seemed very pleased by the the large turnout for a culture as diverse as Aruba.

The final night, marking the end of the first half of the festival, encompasses belly dancers, fine champagne and a rich view of the pristine star filled sky that only an island paradise can offer. An inaugural festival is always a tricky feat to attempt but the eagerness and the sheer exhilaration of all who attended the 1st Annual Aruba International Film Festival show its definitive potential to make it work in the long run.

By Paul Wassberg

Cobblestone Waves & Celluloid Whispers: The 2009 Nantucket Film Festival – Feature

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Nantucket, as a point of geographic reference, is an island that lies about 20 miles off of Massauchussets’ South Shore. Home to many of the elite, its small town vibe is balanced by arts-heavy, artisan-thinking community which perfectly embodies the Nantucket Film Festival which itself is committed to story as a screenwriter’s film festival. Unlike The Hamptons, which is only partially removed from its point of origin, Nantucket offers an autonomy that is both peaceful but specifically evident in its lodging, nighttime escapades and food-on-the-go, which is key for any festival goer.

However the peace in the thick of the night as a dense fog rolls in off the jet stream keeps the island’s temperature constant almost year round…a haven within the ocean’s bosom.

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Finding the texture of films at a film festivals takes a perspective of choice. This year captured the essence of “The Ramis Effect“. But it is also about a feeling and emotional core. “Introspection” is a word that comes to mind which captures the mindset as you walk down the cobblestone roads in the main quadrant of town. The wharf spreads out to your left while the stones marketing the road leads up to the church at the top of the hill which also houses a theater venue: Bennett Hall. On the other side of the island, accessible by the comfortable and efficient Nantucket Shuttle, the Sconset Casino, more akin to a society club in its beauty, offers an almost concert hall performance which enhanced many of the viewing

“The Burning Plain”, screened at Sconset, was produced by Walter Parkes and Laura McDonald who previously helped guide Dreamworks’ film division with Steven Spielberg. The film stars Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger as two generations of women whose actions impact the other through miscommunication and guilt. The split narrative structure allows for a very unorthodox approach to character motivation giving both actresses as well as the girl who plays a younger version of Theron’s character Mariana a breathe of confused emotions about the meaning of love at its most wretched and how to interpret it. An inner battle to be sure.

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The Exploding Girl“, screened at Bennett Hall, takes the ideology of the “isolated” and places it in a overpopulated world. Ivy is spending is spending the summer in Brooklyn, separated from her boyfriend and is best friends with a guy that she can’t quite perceive. Quietly beautiful and seemingly at peace, this girl who should be enjoying the bristle of her newly legal status instead is spending her time in between moments of self doubt anticipating her next epileptic attack. Shot on the Red One camera which is quickly becoming the boon of the indie scene because of the filmic images it is able to capture, even in low light, the moments of stillness with Ivy’s life surrounded by the bustle of the city or the comfort of her bed paint the picture of internal life in progress.

“The Messenger”, also screened at Sconset, uses “isolation” as battleground where information becomes a heartfelt dagger in a modern world. The film follows two Army soldiers played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson who, despite have their own perceptions and vices, are charged with informing families of the respective deaths of their loved ones in combat. The film balances an essence of internal strife with the masks of emotions that crumble in the face of human fraility.

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The venue setting also proved the inherent equiibrium of the artistic community in Nantucket with both “Tropic Thunder” director Ben Stiller and Greenestreet founder Fisher Stevens, present in the general audience, both asking intrinsic questions on the essence of these themes to both actor Ben Foster and director Oren Moverman .

The key of Nantucket in connectivity too is the aspect of its getaway element and removed from the modern city which allows, as the above shows, people to be people. While the island has an airport which can appropriated by turbo prop, the journey at times can be as telling as the destination.

Departing from the lower level at Logan International Airport, the Plymouth/Brockton Bus Line takes a winding but picturesque two hour drive into the heart of Cape Cod ending up at Hyannis. A mere two blocks away from the final stop in the cusp of the harbor is the Hy-Line Ferry, a high-speed transport that can get you to Nantucket, 25 miles out, in slightly under an hour. While waiting, thirst may overcome. The Raw Bar On Ocean Street, steps away from boarding, offers simple and relaxed fare as their clam chowder and a cold Bud prepares one for the crossing.

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The initial Ferry ride over took place at dusk so the cirrus clouds booned above as the sun sunk into the west. The flitter of the lighthouse faded away as the ship gained speed and headed out into the ocean. Unlike the slower ferry, according to some passengers, the high speed is very smooth, like a limo of the sea.

Arriving on Nantucket as the lights of bobbing boats glistened to the arriving vessel in the night, the cobblestone streets leading out from the straight wharf center the old school feel of town. As fog horns echo in the distance, the feel of 18th century regality fills the mind.

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The Brant Point Inn, the resting place of noir, is an easy 10 minute walk through town on the cusp of the residential area filled with B&Bs. Cabs are ample so the transition can be smooth as silk. Settling into an upstairs bedroom, as window slips flow in the light wind, dreamland takes hold as, in the darkness, the fog can be seen drifting in off the ocean

When attending a film festival, access to venues is specific. Nantucket has three looping shuttles within one service: the NRTA. The farthest point needed is Sconset Casino where most of the daily films are played. The shuttle drops you off right around the corner. Because of its schedule, it is also a great place to interact with fellow filmmaker and industry people. The beach, with a great view of the breakwater offshore, is only steps away across a quaint wooden bridge.

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The food during a film festival also needs to provide an ease of use but with a substance necessary to placate a visitor on-the-go. The most effective area, which is also a late night hangout for summer crowd (much akin to The Hamptons) is Broad Street between Easy and North Beach. There is a string of small eateries that hit the spot

Stubby’s offers differing American fare but the cheese steak replete with onions presented the right balance of zest before a journey to the pub. Steamboat Pizza, by comparison, offered the comfort of an 18” pie split between cheese and pepperoni that was both hearty with taste and filling that can’t be replicated in a chain.

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The Juice Bar, a late afternoon stop, offers a degree of latitude when one needs a quick ice cream fix between movies. Their “Kahlua Krunch” double scoop within their home made waffle cone cools the senses. Easy Cantina, the prince of the late night, has Thursday wing specials but the essence of its $6 burger at the witching hour as the perilous few survivors stroll in with tales of lore is quite worth the effort.

For the essences of the go who need a little bit wider berth, the old staple of Grand Union, unassuming and low profile, right in the heart of downtown near the wharf can offer a quick fix of potato salad, bottled water or the fizz of a good Northeast root beer. As this is a town without the requisite convenience stores which would mar its image, this option offers the ability to balance the ride if your diet requires special needs.

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Nantucket’s late night, especially in the summer, offers a distinctly pub rich vernacular although the most vibrant was a hidden away near the high end vestiges of the boat basin just north of downtown. Slip 14 balanced the essence of the island’s young and beautiful with the essence of bigger city influence but without the extensive door line. During the summer, a large chunk of the population is from off island so there is an influx of new young blood looking to enjoy the festivities. Clocking a rum and coke while smoking a Cohiba Cuban on the cusp of the harbor as the dresses slink and the eyes wander, the smiles continue without the abatement of old.

Not to say that the pub experience is anything but viable in the town. After Slip 14 when last call approaches, Brotherhood Of Thieves, up Broad Street as well, offers a dark and refined bar experience that reminds one of the East Village in NYC but with a more elegant and clean theme. A Guinness pint goes down quickly while a Blue Moon bides the conversation with the local Russian bar girl, quiet but direct, allowing for the last drop of the night.

The night before, as the drizzle kissed the ground, the sound of town abated but, in the deep quiet of the night, one place offered a glow. Right off the cobblestone of Main, the red essence of The Club Car, though small and narrow, possessed a vision of energy as the locals wound down a late night. A piano player in the back, enticed by the twenty-something crowd, smiled as the would-be youngsters sang along in unison to the high pitched melody of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.

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As the wind of lore heads in, the rain drizzles through the streets with a delicious smell that is lost on the West Coast. With the natural energy of a N’oreaster approaching from the North Atlantic, the churning of the sea provides a wondrous perspective of its powers. With a surge of waves, the Hy-Line braves the sound’s fury heading back to the mainland enticing a beautiful escape.