One of the best times to visit Provincetown is during their international film festival (it was held June 17-21 this year). June is a great month, as it’s just ahead of the summer madness that the July 4th always brings, and is a week that’s void of the dated, sometimes silly, conspicuous, and fetishized themes that dominate the rest of the summer.
For a few weeks in June, people are in Provincetown because they want to explore the United States’ original art colony, eat at some of the best restaurants in the region, mingle with both burgeoning and highly-established writers, buy a drink or three for a young painter heading to grad school in the fall, and see some really good films.
Nothing beats the energy in June, as the locals get fired up for another season—they’ll be burned out and jaded in a matter of weeks, but in June, they’re genuinely excited for the high season around the corner.
This is a legitimate film festival, routinely attracting submissions from top talent. Films that play in Provincetown may have premiered at Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, or Cannes. Unfortunately, the people running the festival are programming for an older, local audience, looking for a pre-season diversion and the result is a slate of films that feels like it’s mostly been curated for an over-50 crowd.
Granted, this formula works perfectly for the attendees. Homeowners in Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet make a point to buy tickets or passes, arrive early to screenings (especially anything during the day), and genuinely enjoy the opportunity to hear someone marginally involved with the film introduce it at the charming Town Hall venue. Then they file out, shuffle down the street to buy fudge, and go home for the night.
But young people are conspicuously absent from the festival, which is a real bummer. (I’m 39, and was, definitely, one of the youngest people at most of the screenings and parties that I attended.) When I asked a few younger guys around town if they were seeing any films, they had no idea there was even a film festival happening, and they had no plans to see anything.
Few films would have appealed to them, anyway. The “celebrities” attending were at least twice their age, and the crowd at screenings is over 50, straight, or—gulp—lesbians. But there were a few films that definitely would have appealed to them, like Tangerine, the deliciously fresh and edgy Sundance standout that brilliantly explores the crazy world of trans hookers in L.A., with an incredible cast, writing, and directing. And Those People, which premiered at the festival, with a smart, sweet, contemporary story of young love in the rarified world of Upper Eastside Manhattan.
Unfortunately, the festival didn’t do a great job of getting the word out on films like these. On the other hand, a midday screening of Tab Hunter Confidential, the documentary about the iconic ‘50s crooner and matinee idol, was completely packed. In many ways, it’s a metaphor for the town itself: getting older, still revered, but losing its edge.
The festival could be a tremendous asset for Provincetown, but it’s unfortunately playing to the crowd it already has, rather than working hard to attract one for the next 10 years.
Here are the 10 Best Things about our week at the Provincetown International Film Festival:
1.) Fag Bash
Following a cute opening film (Sleeping With Other People) and a nice reception at The Crown & Anchor, we hit the legendary Wednesday night pop-up club, Fag Bash. It was absurd, sexy, and fun—exactly what you’d expect of a trip to PTown.
2.) Larry Kramer in Love and Anger (…and in real life)
Watching the powerful documentary about the iconic gay activist and playwright was even better, having met the man himself at the festival.
Hands down, the coolest film in the festival. This manic Hollywood romp follows a couple of “tranny hookers” on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. The filmmaker shot it almost entirely on iPhones, with a shoestring budget, and the result is rad.
4.) Garden Party
At this press event we were able to meet the few filmmakers who attended the festival and see honoree Jennifer Coolidge…and ponder why Stifler’s mom was getting an award (although they did screen Best in Show). We also got to chat with the always-awesome John Waters, and take in the incredible view from the lawn at Land’s End Inn, followed by…
5.) Happy Hour(s) at The Red Inn
At the water’s edge, just across from Land’s End it’s hands-down, the most gorgeous spot in town, and $1 Wellfleet oysters start at 2pm on the weekends. The cocktails are perfect, and are best enjoyed in an Adirondack chair on the deck, sitting with a cute guy, as the tide goes out.
6.) The State of Marriage
The screening for this smart documentary on the fight for marriage equality now feels like a prescient precursor to the long-awaited SCOTUS decision, that arrived just days later (June 26, 2015 shall go down in history!).
7.) Those People
This contemporary, complicated story of young love made for one of the better films of the festival. Imagine if three of the guys from Gossip Girl were in a love triangle, and you get the gist of what (and who) goes down here.
8.) Tab Hunter Confidential and Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict
Two outstanding documentaries that were entertaining, educational, and perfectly programmed for this festival.
9.) The End of the Tour
This smart, subtle, intimate story of a wildly successful author and the cynical Rolling Stone writer covering his book tour surprised us, and was one of the better films of the festival.
10.) I Am Michael
Based on Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ New York Times Magazine article about a friend who’d flipped from gay activist to crazy Christian, the James Franco film closed the festival with flare, before everyone strolled down Commercial Street to buy a drink at The Boatslip.
Here are 5 Things That Were Not So Great about PTown’s film festival week:
1.) Cash Bars
Apparently no one thought to get a liquor sponsor. Next year, we’ll bring one. Unless the event venues won’t agree to pour free drinks? Hmmm…
2.) Town Hall
While delightful in its own right, this venue has the most uncomfortable seats ever—so bad, they give you cushions, but that doesn’t help. Sadly for sponsors, we sat on their logos all week.
3.) The Crowd
The people at the screenings are perfectly nice, but it’s not the peeps of PTown you’d like to be spending all your time with. Where are the guys from out of town that love films? And if they’re young(er) and hot(ter), so be it; we won’t complain.
4.) The Wolfpack
This was the most disappointing film of the festival, somehow coming off serious Sundance hype. It was a 90-plus-minute reality show sizzle reel about a kooky family, with no point, whatsoever. Waste of time.
If you’re looking for a doc that covers 30 years in the journey of PTown and its lesbians, this one’s for you. If you’re covering the fest for Instinct, it turns out, it wasn’t meant for us. Point taken.
All in all, it was a fabulous week, and we’re already looking forward to going back next year. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.
Learn more about the Provincetown International Festival and prepare for next summer now!
Matt Heller is a writer, film fanatic, media professional, and PTown regular who prefers to do all things with at least one cocktail in hand. Follow him @Millennialsinfo
(PIFF Photos by Brett Plugis)