Audience Experience at Nantucket Film Fest
by Catherine Macallister
Those of us who have stayed up way past bedtime on a Saturday to tune into the late night comedy stylings of the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live know that we are in for treat when we see the Nantucket Film Festival’s line up of comediennes who will be receiving this year’s Creative Impact Award. Anne Beatts, Jane Curtain, Heidi Gardner, Sudi Green, and Sarah Schneider represent various generations of comedy writers and performers who have kept audiences laughing at their witty sketches on Saturday Night Live. Executive Director of the Festival, Mystelle Brabbée comments: “It’s such a unique show, they’ve produced 40 episodes a year for 44 seasons. The amount of work is undeniable.” The popular ticketed event, The Comedy Roundtable, will see a first: the recipients of the Comedy Impact Award are also this year’s guests for the Signature Program. During the Signature Program— SNL Writers’ Room Gold—audience members can expect an inside look at un-aired sketches as well as conversation between the women led by NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg.
Original SNL writer Anne Beatts will be returning to the island for the first time since 1967 as one of the recipients of this year’s Creative Impact Award. She is widely known for her work in the 1970s as a co-editor for the National Lampoon magazine and her Emmy award-winning work on Saturday Night Live. She went on to create and produce the 1980s show Square Pegs, where she says people “found it exceptional that I was running a show,” illustrating the underrepresentation of women writers and producers at the time. She recognizes that comedy has and hasn’t changed and that it’s “still harder for women to get jobs and get recognition” but that it’s a “really good time for strong women in comedy.”
While she has stopped writing for SNL officially, she has returned on many occasions, writing for the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler but admits she “doesn’t know the new generation” as well. Beatts points out the “terrific crop of women” currently a part of Saturday Night Live and the impact cast members like Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Cecily Strong, and Melissa Villasenor. Beatts is currently working on a documentary about women in comedy titled The Girl in the Room, inspired by former SNL cast member Gilda Radner and the notion that she was often the only “girl in the room” when it came to comedy in the 1970s. Anne Beatts is currently teaching at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, where she imparts wisdom and a rigorous schedule to her students, often having them write as though they were sketch comedy writers on SNL.
Witty as ever, Beatts reflects on her journey as a comedy writer, awardwinner and professor and is reminded of a phrase a good friend once shared with her, a little advice for future writers, and the importance of perseverance: “If you can’t get in the door, go through the window.”
Leslie Dixon, another comedy great, is this year’s honoree for the Screenwriter’s Tribute Award. Dixon’s screenwriting abilities are apparent in films like Outrageous Fortune, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, Freaky Friday, The Thomas Crowne Affair, and Limitless. Dixon joins a long list of accomplished screenwriters who have received this award over the course of 21 years, becoming the fourth female to win. Mystelle Brabbée describes Dixon as “somebody who has this unbelievably long body of work,” spanning comedy, musicals, and, more recently, suspenseful plots. While the award is not a lifetime achievement award, it recognizes the important work of writers and is for a “a screenwriter who has impacted American cinema,” and as Brabbée points out, Leslie Dixon “checked all sorts of boxes with sixteen films under her belt.”
Brabbée is also keen to point out that “comedies are not always recognized” in the world of cinema, so taking the time and opportunity to recognize Dixon and the women of SNL shows the way in which comedy has changed the landscape of film and television, particularly for women. The SNL Comedy Round Table will be held Saturday June, 22 in the Main Dreamland Theater, followed by the Screenwriters Tribute Awards that begin at 6:30pm in the ‘Sconset Casino.
The film festival is an opportunity for a Nantucket audience to see a collection of films that have been carefully selected by the Festival team. Basil Tsiokos, Film Program Director, describes the uniqueness of the Nantucket Film Festival and how it “brings attention to gems that might otherwise go unnoticed.”
“It’s connecting and engaging,” says Tsiokos and it’s “nicely contained,” emphasizing the schedule of about 60 shows and programs that allow for a greater audience engagement with each selection. With larger film festivals like the Sundance Film Festival or Tribeca Film Festival, films and features get lost “unless you know to look” says Tsiokos. This year especially, you will find women at the forefront of films and programs as writers, producers, and performers—sometimes all of the above. Find your favorite films and programs ahead of time at nantucketfilmfestival.org and prepare to be swept away by the lineup of films, features and stars that will be on Nantucket through Monday, June 24. The Nantucket Film Festival has programs and films running morning to evening, and provides attendees with the chance to experience cinema at its finest and most vulnerable.
Mystelle Brabbée commented on the success of the festival in its ability to bring audiences together: “It’s that shared experience of sitting in a theater and sharing in a story…crying…laughing together.”