The Woods Hole Film Festival is currently in full swing and I was anxious to check out the scene. So, last Monday, after waiting 15 minutes for the mysteriously raised Woods Hole’s Eel Pond Bridge to be lowered (there was nary a ship in sight), I made the brief walk over to the Woods Hole Old Fire Station, and quickly bought tickets at the makeshift ticket booth. As I was browsing the festival t-shirts and other wares, I had a short conversation with a film festival attendee who has a summer home in Falmouth and is a filmmaker herself. We talked shop. She told me that, though this was a great festival, it wasn’t that popular among those who purchase and distribute films, so it wasn’t a hot spot for the movie making wheeling and dealing that happens at larger festivals such as those in Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes. But, though a large part of the importance of festivals for filmmakers is to make connections with people that can take their films to the next level, a film festival is also crucial for building audiences and spreading word-of-mouth about these wonderful, independent movies. I’ve attended large film festivals in New York and Toronto, and I have to say that I prefer these smaller, less industry oriented film festivals. It’s easier to get tickets and everyone’s there for the films, not for the drama of celebrity sightings and back-room deal making.
That Monday, I saw three documentaries that had two things in common – all were made by woman filmmakers (huzzah!) and all seemed to circle around how faith shapes our lives. In “Making the Crooked Straight“, the documentary’s protagonist is guided by his devotion to Orthodox Judaism to live a life aiding those in desperate need. While “Women of Faith” investigates the complex feelings a group of nuns have towards the Church that they have spent their lives honoring. And, finally, “Saint Misbehavin” tells the story of another faithful, yet more psychedelic, servant to the good of man, Wavy Gravy, aptly described as “a genuine Mahatma of the Cosmic Giggle” and the “illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Theresa, conceived one starry night on a spiritual whoopie cushion.”
Making the Crooked Straight
In the documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” there is a scene in which a Long Island-born, middle-aged man walks the halls of his cluttered house in the morning, his fingers wrapped tightly around his Zabars coffee mug, as he diligently coaxes his slumbering children up from out of their beds. From a surface level, it sounds like a typical domestic scene, but there is nothing typical about it. The house is in Ethiopia and the man is Rick Hodes, a doctor and an Orthodox Jew, who has devoted the last 20 years of his life to healing the sick and impoverished people of that country. The children are 17 Ethiopian kids whom Hodes has treated (many for tuberculosis of the spine – a disfiguring and, if untreated, fatal disease) and has personally adopted in order to provide them with health care and an education. “Making the Crooked Straight” is a 30 minute documentary directed by Susan Cohn Rockefeller about the incredible change that one man, motivated by his compassion and his faith, is making in a seemingly hopeless situation. A large number of Ethiopian doctors emigrate to developed nations (Dr. Hodes states that there are more Ethiopian doctors working in the D.C. area than in all of Ethiopia), as a result Ethiopia is in desperate need of qualified health-care practioners and funding. Dr. Hodes and this documentary are working to call attention to a desperate situation and to show that there are things that can be done to help. The documentary was profoundly moving and the work Dr. Hodes does is inspiring and deeply humbling. Check out the documentary’s website for more information and ways to help.
Women of Faith
When I think of a Catholic nun, all that comes to mind are the stereotypes presented to me from popular culture. There are two sides to the stereotype: the stern-faced, ruler-slapping meany and the sweet, quiet, subservient church mouse. But, above all, both sides of these archtypes share one common characterisitc – a total, unblinking faith to the word of the Church. “Women of Faith,” a documentary by Rebecca M. Alvin, a Brewster local, reveals a much more nuanced and complicated portrait of these women. Comprised of a series of candid interviews with nuns and one Roman Catholic “womanpriest,” this documentary gives voice to the challenges and struggles of these women as they tell their stories of the powerful calling that drew them to a life of faith, and how they preserve that faith while also questioning church hierarchy and their devotion to an institution that (some of the nuns feel) does not equally value and empower women. Although the documentary suffers from some poor editing and a lack of a strong narrative frame, I found the interviews fascinating. As these women speak of their personal journeys, their individual stories can be seen to represent the larger picture of a Church caught in an difficult balancing act between adapting to a changing world while also honoring its traditions.
Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie
I’m sad to say, that before I saw “Saint Misbehavin‘” all I knew about Wavy Gravy was that Ben and Jerry’s named a now-discontinued ice cream flavor after him. But now that I’ve seen this wonderful documentary, I will list Wavy Gravy as one of my role models for how to live. By joyfully gulping down all that life gives him and by disarming, healing, and uniting all he encounters through his wholly-individual arsenal of laughter, intelligence, inclusion, and optimism, Wavy Gravy shows the world the power of embracing the bright side of life. Michelle Esrick, the filmmaker behind “Saint Misbehavin’,” spent ten years following and filming Wavy Gravy, and has created a magnificent tribute to his life. The documentary is a combination of amazing archival footage (it seems that a significant part of Wavy Gravy’s life has happened in front of the camera) and Esrick’s own material of the present-day life of Wavy Gravy, as well as her interviews with Wavy’s compatriots of the counter-culture. “Saint Misbehavin” chronicles the life of Wavy Gravy, originally named Hugh Romney. It follows him through his years in the early ’60s as as a Beat poet in the Bohemian Mecca of The Village in New York City, his call to move out West, his time spent with Ken Kesey and the LSD-fueled Merry Pranksters, his founding of the Hog Farm Collective (a long-running hippie collective), his crucial role as the emcee at Woodstock, his role in anti-Vietnam War protests, and up to today as he runs Camp Winnarainbow (a circus & performing arts camp) and his co-founding of the SEVA Foundation – a non-profit that is dedicating to eradicating poverty and fighting systemic illnesses in the developing world. That a man could do such amazing things, all while dressed as a jester or a clown, shows that Wavy Gravy is leading an incredible life that is entirely his own, while never stopping his fight to make the world a better, more peaceful, and more ecstatic place.
So, that’s the rundown of the films I saw. And, one of the true benefits of attending a film festival (besides the fabulous films, of course) is that you get to meet the filmmakers. After the screening of “Women of Faith,” Rebecca M. Alvin answered audience questions about the film. And after “Saint Misbehavin” the director, the producer, and Mr. Wavy Gravy himself held a wonderful Q&A. Wavy declared Woods Hole to be “one of the nicest holes I’ve been in” and also played the audience a song. It was a wonderful night. And there are more where that came from.
The Woods Hole Film Festival runs until Saturday, August 1st. Check out their website for the schedule, to purchase tickets, and to read brief synopses of the films. Tickets are $10 and WGBH members can buy tickets for $8. So, be sure to go – support this local film festival, meet filmmakers, and view their work.