The Nantucket Film Festival: Day 4 – Awardsdaily
Day four in Nantucket turned out to be the best day of the festival. Along with some great films, the tribute to the screenwriters highlighted today’s celebrations. Among the winners this year are Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger), John Turturro (presented by his Severance director, Ben Stiller) and Cooper Raifff (presented by his Cha Cha Real Smooth co-star, Dakota Johnson).
Speaking of Cha Cha Real Smooth, Raiff’s second effort played today at NFF. I was able to catch Cha Cha before heading to Nantucket and wanted to use this space to share my thoughts on the film. Cha Cha is one of the best films of the year. I absolutely loved it. Raiff wrote, directed and starred in this quirky and lovable comedy about Andrew, a college graduate who has no idea what he’s going to do next. While working in a fast food restaurant and sleeping on the floor in his little brother’s room, Andrew discovers a hidden gift he has for getting the parties started. He takes on a new job as a dance motivator at his community’s bar and bat mitzvahs, where he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and his autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). The trio begin a unique relationship that begins a journey of self-discovery for young Andrew.
Some have argued that Cha Cha Real Smooth is too soft and sweet, while others think it hits all the right notes in this regard. I found him incredibly attractive and was quite engrossed in the relationships Andrew made with everyone he came in contact with. Whether acting as a mentor to his younger brother (Evan Assante), bonding with Lola, or falling in love with Domino, Raiff’s film is full of innocence and wonder. Some of the film’s most tender moments are shared between Andrew and his mother, played by the great Leslie Mann.
Johnson gives the film’s best performance, playing a young mother engaged to a fiancé (Raúl Castillo) whom she claims to love, despite her actions showing that there is still something unnourished. This hunger manifests in her magnetic attraction to Andrew. Johnson is fantastic as a young woman who made bad decisions in her life, despite being an incredibly well-meaning and genuine person. Domino is at a crossroads in her life and, in this respect, the film is also a journey of self-discovery for her. The chemistry between Johnson and Raiff is effortless and palpable, reminding me of what Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray pulled off in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is as charming as it gets, a delightful and haunting story about growing up, coming out, and unraveling the mysteries of finding your place in the world. The film’s quirky humor and emotional honesty leave you upbeat and nurturing, something we could use more of in our films today.
You can read Clarence Moye’s outstanding full review of the film, here.
My first film of the day was Endangered by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, which takes a very insightful look at the state of press freedom today. The role of the newspaper and the journalist has changed considerably over the past fifty years. I’m old enough to remember a time when news anchors like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw delivered the news in an honest, often unbiased way. They were icons of their time, standing on the shoulders of giants who came before them like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. The press and the American people who tuned in every night understood their role in creating a system of checks and balances with our government.
Fast forward to a new era – post-Trump – where corrupt politicians around the world, including right here in America, are working to discredit journalists. In Endangered, we witness the impact of this slander and the burden it places on the safety of four journalists: one in Mexico, one in Brazil and two working in the United States.
In Mexico, many journalists disappear or are found killed. Ninety percent of their cases are unsolved. The rise of the ‘fake news’ era has led to a 25% reduction in newspapers since 2004. The film examines how people are now more likely to get their (mis)information from Facebook and YouTube, where it is impossible to filter the truth. lies. Endangered also makes clear that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was the culmination of Trump’s four-year war on the press.
In Danger is a timely and seething view of an industry under siege. It is extremely well edited, fusing the stories of four journalists, weaving a web of infuriating evidence that our press freedom is in an urgent state of collapse.
Although I wish he had spent more time covering one of the biggest issues (the fact that the media is, in fact, swinging towards liberalism), he effectively covers the lack of humanity that is shown in our press, and how our country has been so divided by extremism. As one Trump supporter states in the film, “I’m not going to buy a newspaper that doesn’t express my opinions. This singular line speaks of all that is wrong with our country. We’re so split that there’s hardly any common ground left, and because of that, people just want the news delivered to them the way they want to hear it.
After the screening of their film wrapped, the filmmakers shared how they hope Endangered will inspire people to get into journalism. “People need information” and “(we) hope to get the free press off the tip of people’s tongues.” They discussed the difficulties of filming Endangered outside the country at the start of the pandemic, and the work they did to ensure teams were in place to support their subjects in Mexico and Brazil.
Sadly, and admittedly, the directors understand that those who most need to see this film are those who are least likely to watch it when it airs on HBO next week. And so we end up with the proverbial chicken and egg situation. What must come first to bring people back to the table: a source of information whose political ideologies are neither left nor right, or a people who are willing to listen when the source of information does not express his own views.
I was able to join the end of a screening of Severance, one of my favorite shows on television (AppleTV). Ben Stiller, who directs the series, and John Turturro, one of the show’s stars, were on hand for a delightful Q&A. The pair discussed how they grew the world of Severance from the mind of series creator Dan Erickson, the potential for a season two (it’s happening!), the importance of musical selection for the series and how Turturro was responsible for casting Christopher Walken. as his on-screen partner, Burt.
That night, I attended the Screenwriters Tribute. This event is perhaps the most exciting scene taking place at the festival. Before the ceremony, we were treated to a champagne party at the charming ‘Sconset Casino (which, ironically, is not a casino). After the cocktail hour, prizes were awarded for various achievements. The party was hosted by Ophira Eisenberg and Bethany Van Delft. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, The Underground Railroad) received the Screenwriters Tribute Award and graciously accepted via satellite. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (the makers of Endangered) presented the Special Achievement in Documentary Storytelling award to Ramin Bahrani, whose film, 2nd Chance, premiered at this year’s festival. Cooper Raiff (Cha Cha Real Smooth) received the New Voices in Screenwriting Award, dedicated to him via a recorded speech by Dakota Johnson. The final tribute was the Compass Rose Award for Career Achievement, which was presented to John Turturro by his Severance manager, Ben Stiller. While paying tribute to Turturro, Stiller described his acting abilities with singular words – “Physicality. Intensity. Depth. Precision. Intensity. Subtlety. Sensitivity. Intensity.
It was an incredible event. I got to meet Turturro, Raiff and Stiller (to whom I told how much I love his character and his performance as Chas in The Royal Tenenbaums). The three gentlemen were pleasant and easy to approach, which is always nice to see. Whoever said “never meet your heroes” was wrong. I am grateful for this extraordinary opportunity.