The Tentacle
The 27th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival
SATURDAY, JULY 28 THROUGH
SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 2018
The Back Story
     

    The Back Story

    We are pleased to present our new series called “The Back Story.” Written by Falmouth writer Sarah Murphy, “The Back Story” gives a more in depth behind-the -scenes look at the people and films that make the Woods Hole Film Festival hum.

    Story #1

    Back Story: Unreeling the Woods Hole Film Festival

    Filmmaker in Residence John Edginton

     

    By Sarah E. Murphy

    When award-winning British producer, writer and director John Edginton set out to make a documentary about the late Joe Cocker, he wanted to tell the story of the man behind the music.

    “In my opinion, you can’t really separate the two, and I didn’t want to undermine his brilliant talent by glossing over his demons and telling a false story,” Edginton said. “Joe never had any compunctions when it came to talking about himself, so I felt a huge responsibility to be true to him.”

    The result is 2017’s “Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul,” (a nod to the singer’s 1970 American tour “Mad Dogs & Englishmen”) which explores the turbulent personal and professional life of the legendary yet unassuming rock/soul vocalist who hailed from Sheffield, England and cemented his celebrity at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival with his iconic rendition of The Beatles’ 1967 hit, “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

    In his role as Filmmaker in Residence for this summer’s 27th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival, Edginton will conduct a Master Class on July 30 at Woods Hole’s Community Hall to share insights into the hurdles of the filmmaking process, and the potential pitfalls of the music documentary genre, drawing on his experiences making films about Cocker and Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett (with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason); Robyn Hitchcock (with Nick Lowe, Gillian Welch, Peter Buck); and Genesis (with Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett). Edginton has created films for virtually every documentary strand on British television, in addition to HBO, A&E, the Sundance Channel and VH1. As a production consultant, he also serves as a guiding voice, including the BAFTA-nominated documentary,  “Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender.”

    “One of the biggest challenges to a music documentary is the fact that you’re making it for the audience and not for the self-interest of the subject,” he said.

    Delving into the back story of any topic has always been an inherent part of the process for Edginton, who originally aspired to be a writer, despite his parents’ desire for him to pursue what they considered a safer path.

    “My mother and father wanted me to be to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather and be a doctor, but they were unable to convince me of that,” he said with a laugh.

    Edginton initially cut his creative teeth in print journalism, but he discovered there were limitations to how extensively he could tackle any given story, while TV enabled him to dig deeper.

    By establishing his own company, Otmoor Productions, Edginton has indulged his curiosity in controversial investigative documentaries such as the case of Mumia Abu Jamal and Ted Kennedy’s 1968 Chappaquiddick car crash.

    “If I hadn’t initially stumbled into television, I probably would have remained a journalist, and been quite happy. However, filmmaking allows you to get into more detail, which is always more satisfying when you have a sincere interest in a topic,” he said.

    Edginton admittedly also stumbles into his subjects, for he never aspired to make films specifically about music. Rather, he is propelled more by the person than the resume, as in the case of Robyn Hitchcock, whom he likens to an old-fashioned troubadour, motivated only by a pure love of music and unpretentious nature.

    “Every music documentary has to have a strong story, and in the case of Joe Cocker, it’s the fact that his life was in his voice. Everything he experienced throughout his career – including perhaps the reasons he became an addict – can be heard in that voice,” he said.

    It was a life Edginton always wanted to explore  – an idea he gave up on when the singer passed away in 2014 – until a few weeks later, when he heard Vic Cocker fondly reminiscing about his younger brother on the radio. After locating Vic on Linked In, Edginton reached out to gauge his interest in a potential film, and received an invitation to his home, where Vic and his wife regaled Edginton with stories. He was soon invited back, this time to meet Cocker’s widow, Pam, who was visiting from Colorado.

    “This was about six months after Joe had died, and she was nervous to meet me at first because she thought it might be too soon. But by the end of the afternoon, she had really warmed to the whole idea and was showing me photographs of Joe and his dogs. A few weeks later, Pam sent me an email to tell me she was ready,” he said.

    In an effort to avoid what he believes to be a formulaic trap of allowing a music journalist to form an opinion for the audience, Edginton tells the story through archive footage and interviews with Cocker’s music associates, such as former bandmate Chris Stainton, former manager and Woodstock Music Festival founder Michael Lang, and Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records. The film also features a touching interview with Billy Joel, which Edginton managed to conduct in the pre-show frenzy an hour before Joel took the stage at Madison Square Garden, revealing him to be more of a superfan than a superstar.

    However it is the unflinching input from Cocker’s brother and wife that allows the audience to see the vulnerable side of the singer, who was a prime target for selfish motives

    “They didn’t hold back when they spoke about Joe’s drinking and drug use, and never for one moment did they feel they should control the direction of the film. Whenever Vic comes to a screening, although it’s difficult to watch, he always says it was the right thing to do. You need to know the life of the man,” Edginton said. “I feel so humbled that we were able to tell Joe’s story, and I couldn’t have done it without the generosity of the family.”

    Seeing a project come to fruition continues to be a thrill for Edginton, whose advice for aspiring filmmakers is fairly straightforward.

    “Find people you like working with who share the same creative sensibility, and find subjects you’re passionate about,” he said. “If you can’t enjoy the job, don’t do it. That’s what I would tell  young people.”

    Meet John here:

    An Evening of Pink Floyd presented by John Edginton

    Master Class with John Edginton

    Published June 30, 2018. Copyright Woods Hole Film Festival. No part of this story may be reprinted or used in any manner without the prior express written consent of the Woods Hole Film Festival.

    Story #2

    The Back Story: Unreeling the Woods Hole Film Festival

    Opening the Door to Chets Last Call

    By Sarah E. Murphy

    Chet’s Last Call holds a very special in the heart of Dan Vitale.

    The legendary dive bar is where he first performed 35 years ago with his Boston ska punk band, Bim Skala Bim.

    Located across the street from the former Boston Garden on the corner of Causeway and Lancaster Streets, on the second floor up a narrow stairway above the old Penalty Box, the endearingly-sketchy dive bar boasted an orange interior and mirrored walls harkening back to its days as a strip club and disco. Named for the irritable yet lovable caretaker, Richard “Chet” Rooney, one of Boston’s youngest club owners at the time, Chet was known for his dedication to providing a venue for emerging talent.

    Vitale first visited Chet’s in 1983 to check out a friend’s band with Bim bassist Mark Ferranti. Despite the alcohol and drug-fueled haze and rumors of Boston mafia activity taking place below, the small club would prove to be a welcoming haven for Bim Skala Bim and other fledgling artists including The Dogmatics, The Neighborhoods, Scruffy the Cat, Husker Du and three unknown kids from Brooklyn who called themselves the Beastie Boys.

    “Most of the members of Bim Skala Bim were teenagers at the time, and clubs in Boston wouldn’t let you play if you were under age, so having somewhere to perform was a godsend,” Vitale said. “Chet made a big difference in our lives, and for many other bands, because a lot of us got our start there. He was like a punk rock angel.”

    Rooney, who had discerning taste and appreciated musical experimentation, was already familiar with Bim Skala Bim, having heard their first single on local radio station WBCN, and liked what he heard.

    The invitation was extended and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

    Vitale and many of his peers from the local music scene pay tribute to those halcyon days in Chet’s Last Call: A Story of Rock & Redemption, which he co-directed with his brother Ted Vitale. Edited by longtime friend, Emmy-nominated Jack Sherman, the full-length feature documentary has been chosen as one of five world premieres at this year’s Woods Hole Film Festival with a screening on Friday, August 3 at WHOI’s Redfield Auditorium. The special event is part of the Music at the Festival series, and will be followed by a show at Grumpy’s Pub in Falmouth featuring Bim Skala Bim and The Dogmatics, with several musicians from the film in attendance.

    The film explores the very public demons that plagued Rooney who, in addition to possessing a vocal talent he was too shy to share, also struggled with chemical dependency. For just as quickly as Chet and his club rose to local fame, they both disappeared.

    Reaching his own perceived rock bottom, Rooney dropped off the scene to seek treatment and subsequently studied to become an alcohol and drug rehabilitation counselor. He would initially answer calls by stating flatly, “Chet’s dead. Call me Richard,” before hanging up the phone. However, friends and musicians facing similar challenges soon recognized him at AA meetings, and just as he fostered their creativity at Chet’s, for the next twenty years, he would go on to make a larger impact by supporting their recovery. Rooney died suddenly in December 2015 at the age of 61, and the close circle of artists, whose friendships and collaborations have sustained over the past three decades, responded in what they believed to be the most appropriate way: with live music.

    A few months later in February, and then again in May, fourteen bands including Dogzilla, Bim Skala Bim, The Dogmatics, Pajama Slave Dancers, Liz Borden Group, Moose and the Mudbugs, and The Real Kids, along with several special guests, family and friends, all gathered for “Chetstock,” a memorial benefit at the Once Ballroom in Somerville. The film includes live performances from the shows and interviews with over 40 rock stars, writers, and former employees, along with archive footage of Chet’s. Additionally, it showcases candid conversations with Rooney’s two siblings and his niece and nephew. Created on a shoestring budget for under $20k, half of which was raised through Kickstarter, Vitale called the project a “labor of love” on behalf of all involved.

    “We believe this is an important story on many levels and it needs to be told. Everybody is touched by addiction, and often having someone supportive to talk to can make all the difference for people,” he said.

    To that end, Vitale hopes the story will be seen by a wider audience, therefore he continues to raise much-needed funds to augment his grassroots and social media publicity campaign. Steve Morse, former staff critic at the Boston Globe, who now teaches rock history at Berklee College of Music, credited the film for exploring an essential chapter in the city’s musical past.

    “Boston rock history isn’t complete without a look at Chet’s Last Call. This head-spinning new film is a raucous, fast-paced tribute to him and the underground, anything-goes music of the time,” he said.

    Vitale is grateful to Rooney’s family for their willingness to participate, for after initially agreeing to be involved in the project, they later expressed reticence.

    “I told them I really didn’t think we could make the film without their blessing, but then they saw some early footage from the interviews, and how Chet changed so many lives, so they wanted to be part of it, and they wanted us to be honest about his illness,” he said.

    Sarah Henderson responded by expressing the family’s gratitude for telling his story.

    “‘Chet’ was my uncle and godfather, and he was wholeheartedly dedicated to the Boston music scene. I got an early introduction to it at the age of 12,” she said. “I am thankful his legacy of music is still alive and I thank the filmmakers from the bottom of our collective heart for what they are attempting to do.”

    Throughout the challenges and financial hurdles of making the film, Vitale has relied on an inspirational bracelet given to him by a friend, which he put on two years ago and never removed.

    With just one word, the reminder provided encouragement when Vitale needed it most: Persistence.

    Visit here to check out a preview of “Chet’s Last Call: A Story of Rock & Redemption” or to make a donation.

    Related links:

    Chet’s Last Call at the 2018 Woods Hole Film Festival

    Friday Night Party featuring Bim Skala Bim

    Published July 9, 2018. Copyright Woods Hole Film Festival. No part of this story may be reprinted or used in any manner without the prior express written consent of the Woods Hole Film Festival.

    Story #3

    Back Story: Unreeling the Woods Hole Film Festival

    Behind the Scenes with Jane Julian and Nina Adams

    By Sarah E. Murphy

    For Woods Hole Film Festival documentary programmer Jane Julian, it’s less about the topic and more about the delivery.

    “No matter what the subject is, a good documentary must have a strong story and compelling characters. I need to be able to find somebody in the film to connect with,” she said. “I can usually excuse poor production value if the story is well-defined.”

    Inattention to detail, however, is one thing Julian can’t look past, so word to the wise, be particularly mindful of her biggest pet peeves – anachronisms and bad wigs.

    Although Julian fell in love with film watching Ben Hur at the drive-in as a child, her passion eventually shifted to documentary, which she has pursued as programming director for the Port Townsend Film Festival and Doctober in Bellevue, Washington. Festival season is a pleasant whirlwind for Julian, who resides in Durango, Colorado and works as a documentary consultant for Sundance Film Festival, Boulder International Film Festival, Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, and Mountainfilm in Telluride, just to name a few.

    Julian believes the documentary genre has become more popular with viewers in recent years, partly due to increased access through Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and pointed to the box office success of RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

    “Personally, I find biographies fascinating because I’ve always been curious about people and what makes them tick,” she said.

    One of the things Julian enjoys about Woods Hole is the breadth of topics, which this season runs the gamut from the world’s toughest horse race in Mongolia (All the Wild Horses), to the emotional journey of a litter of puppies training to be guide dogs (Pick of the Litter), to the debut of an Australian milliner at New York’s Fashion Week (MadHATtan).

    While it’s impossible to choose favorites, Julian is particularly excited for Afghan Cycles, one of many films in this year’s festival which highlights Muslim culture. Directed by Sarah Menzies, the story revolves around a generation of Afghan women challenging gender and cultural barriers using the bicycle as a vehicle for freedom, empowerment and social change, putting their lives on the line while doing so.

    According to Julian, Inventing Tomorrow offers much-needed hope in a negative time as it follows the highest convening of high school scientists from around the globe at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), while Capturing the Flag follows a group of volunteers who travel to Cumberland County, North Carolina to expose voter suppression in the 2016 US election.

    Julian believes another reason for the genre’s popularity is a thirst for knowledge.

    “One of the key things about the time we’re living in is there are so many attacks on the media. Therefore, documentaries are becoming even more important as a way to educate the public,” she said.

     

    Woods Hole Film Festival Shorts programmer Nina Adams starts thinking about the summer in December when the submissions start to trickle in.

    “What I’m looking for is a combination of things, but particularly something that takes an idea and says it in a unique way,” she said. “I’m also looking for something that grabs me, whether it looks different or sounds different.”

    And much like a poet who relies on the economy of words, the impact of the filmmaker’s message is also defined by brevity.

    “I love shorts because they tell a story succinctly, they engage you quickly, and they resolve it in under 30 minutes. It’s a remarkable talent, and it’s very hard to do,” Adams said.

    But it doesn’t matter how profound the message is if it can’t be heard, therefore quality control is essential.

    “There are certain technical criteria that have to be met with me. The sound must be crisp and clear. If there is background music or ambient sound, it has to be really well done,” Adams said. “There must be a meeting of content and technical quality, and the technical choices have to make some connection with the story.”

    Growing up in New York, theater and film has always been a passion and an avocation for Adams, who moved to New Haven, Connecticut in the 1960s, where she remains involved in local theater. After filing out a volunteer form at the inaugural New Haven Film Fest, Adams soon found herself overseeing the entire event, until it eventually folded in 2005 due to lack of funding.

    Since then, she has been lending her talents to Woods Hole, and believes being open to experimentation is key to being an effective programmer. Rather than designate the categories each year, Adams allows the films to dictate the direction.

    “I don’t start with any particular themes in mind. Instead they evolve. Perhaps it’s a small group of films about urban and international violence and how people are dealing with it. Over time, I begin to group them in my mind. As more submissions come in, I start to expand the category or create a new one,” she said. “However, it’s very important to put films together that somehow create an experience of totality, rather than just one short after another.”

    To that end, thinking outside-the-box is a signature aspect to Adams’ process.

    “I don’t always put films together that are the same genre. If the topic is women emerging, I love to mix things, such as a serious film about women’s roles, followed by a comic piece and an animated piece, if it somehow fits. Therefore, all the shorts programs are a combination of all these things, which is quite unusual for film festivals,” Adams said.

    “In the end, the audience is seeing them all juxtaposed and talking to each other and, when you’re successful, it becomes a bigger story.”

    Published July 11, 2018. Copyright Woods Hole Film Festival. No part of this story may be reprinted or used in any manner without the prior express written consent of the Woods Hole Film Festival.