Nantucket Film Festival: Day Two Brings ‘Toni Morrison,’ ‘Tel Aviv,’ and the Vaquita Whale

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Nantucket Film Festival: I began day two bright and early, perusing the locale to better get acquainted with my whereabouts. The island certainly lives up to its reputation as “the gray lady,” as the pearly harbor waters meet the silvery sky in a manner that creates an almost indiscernible horizon. The main streets are paved with modern-day asphalt, but the quaint and archaic side avenues are encompassed with either an asymmetrical brick or an opulent cobblestone. It’s quite a lovely town, as you could imagine. The atmosphere was buzzing here this morning. People were out enjoying the cool air with their morning coffee and discussing their approach to today’s film schedule in between bites of their freshly baked cinnamon rolls and whole grain muffins. I was already ahead of them.

My first viewing of the day was Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” an intimate documentary detailing the legendary author’s life. The film made its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and chronicles Morrison’s early upbringing and how her family history helped shaped her career. In the face of the cultural biases that surrounded her, Morrison always sought out ways to speak to her entire audience. Her family’s past instilled in her an effort to discredit the notion that the white male gaze needed to be omnipresent in her work. We follow along as the literary and social justice icon speaks to how she challenged social norms and created a more ideological, fictional history through her stories.

Working as both an editor at Random House and a teacher at Yale University, Morrison also had the task of raising her two sons as a single parent. During all of this, she managed to write such classics as “The Bluest Eye,” “Song of Solomon,” and “Beloved,” the latter of which earned her the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award.

Greenfield-Sanders’ chooses to tell the story through the voices of Morrison and those who have collaborated with her over her career. He effectively stands out of the way, while overlapping his subject’s dialogue with historic images – some nostalgic, some haunting, but all effective. He has managed to capture one of our greatest living dignitaries in a wholly compelling manner.

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” delivers in a way that great documentaries often do. It allows us a window into our subject’s mind. We are able to witness her wisdom, intelligence, courage, and compassion, all of which are palpable and contagious. It is a film that has important social and historic significance, and one that left me inspired to seek out her transcendent work.

You can find our full review of the film here.

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” is distributed by Magnolia Pictures and opens in theaters on June 21.

GRADE: (★½)

The next film I took in was Richard Ladkani’s “Sea of Shadows.” I will be doing a full review for this one in the next day or two, so stay tuned. Here’s a hint though: I loved this film.

My third film was Sameh Zoabi’s “Tel Aviv on Fire,” a movie that has historic significance here at Nantucket. In 2016, Zoabi entered the script into the Nantucket Film Festival Showtime Tony Cox Feature Screenplay Competition. He won the contest, and is now back at Nantucket with the finished film, following its premiere at Venice Film Festival (where it won the Best Interfilm prize). The film has also played at Toronto, Sarasota, and several more festivals this year and last.

“Tel Aviv on Fire” takes place between Israel and Palestine, two countries long at odds with each other. Salam Abbass (Kais Nashif) is a Palestinian who resides in Jerusalem, working on the highly popular television series, “Tel Aviv on Fire.” Each day, Salam must pass through an Israeli checkpoint on his way to work. Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton), who commands this checkpoint, makes already complicated circumstances more challenging when he discovers Salam’s relation to the soap opera that his wife adores. Assi wants the heroine of the series, who’s tangled up in a love triangle with a Palestinian spy and an Israeli officer, to end up with the latter of the two. Salam knows this is a highly unlikely outcome given the show’s Palestinian funding. He must find a way to please both Assi and his producers while trying not to derail his career.

“Tel Aviv on Fire” is a side-splitting political satire that features one of the best screenplays from anything I have seen this year. The film is both hilarious and shrewd, using the cultural tensions of its warring parties to deliver a benevolent and timely message. The writing is brisk and inventive, with twists and turns that lead to an exceptional and masterly finale.

This was another crowd-pleaser, here at Nantucket. The audience was highly in tune with the slapstick humor, and clapped not only at the end of the film, but again during the credits for the actors playing the main roles. If Nantucket is to be any indication – and if the film is eligible – we very well could be looking at a film on the shortlist for an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature.

“Tel Aviv on Fire” is distributed by Cohen Media Group and opens in theaters on July 26.

GRADE: (★½)

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