Nantucket Fest wraps up

'Sisters' take top honors at NBC-backed event

NANTUCKET — The 8th Nantucket Film Festival wrapped Saturday with an awards ceremony that underlined how film and television can make strange bedfellows, also illustrating how corporate sponsorship can be a mixed blessing for this kind of intimate event.

NBC backed the awards night in addition to funding the NBC Screenwriters Tribute, which this year went to two-time Oscar winner Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the long-term collaborator of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. The Nantucket fest’s principal focus is on the role of screenwriting and storytelling in film.

But for much of the evening, the festival took a back seat to what became a private Peacock party incongruously laden with network in-jokes, celebrating the rise of recently elevated nightly newscaster Brian Williams, who emceed the event.

Popular on Variety

Toasting the room full of NBC execs and on-air personalities, including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star Chris Meloni and MSNBC anchors Lester Holt and Chris Matthews, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright raised eyebrows among the independent filmmakers present by stressing the importance of good scriptwriting on shows like “Law & Order” and “Friends.”

Even further removed from the standard film festival atmosphere were Williams’ closing remarks, which had many filmmakers squirming in their seats.

Referencing his experience reporting from Iraq, the newsman spoke of the armed forces fighting so writers could sweat blood, create art and enjoy being in beautiful places like Nantucket.

Top winners

Peter Mullan’s “The Magdalene Sisters” was the top honoree at the fest, sharing the audience award for best feature with Liz Garbus’ documentary on the troubled inner lives of two American teens, “Girlhood.”

The problematic path of female adolescence also was the subject of “Thirteen,” which earned director Catherine Hardwicke and co-writer Nikki Reid the Moby Dick Award for feature screenwriting.

Along with producer Susan Stover, Merchant and Ivory were members of the jury for the fest’s writer-director award, which went to Mullan for his drama about life in a harsh Irish convent-prison for women in the 1960s.

Special Jury Prize went to Vermont filmmaker John O’Brien for his rural docu-fiction “Nosy Parker.”

Other awards included the audience award for short to Guy Guillet’s “Quest to Ref,” which also won the Teen Eyeview award from a youth jury.

‘Awesome’ achievement

That panel awarded a special prize “for awesomeness” to Vicky Jensen’s “Family Tree.” Short screenplay nod went to writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s “Like Twenty Impossibles.”

Earlier in the fest, Chase Palmer won the 7th annual Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting for his original script “Buried Above Ground.” The prize includes a first-look option for Showtime to produce and an invitation to the Nantucket Screenwriters Colony.

Highlights of the four-day island fest included a Late-Night Storytelling event, hosted by Alan Cumming and Rosie Perez and featuring Olympia Dukakis, Mos Def, Kristin Johnston, Celia Weston and Paul Rudd, among others.

Those same actors participated, along with Will Ferrell, Anne Meara, Dan Hedaya, Jesse Eisenberg, Natasha Lyonne and others, in a staged reading, directed by David Gordon Green, of Scott Kramer and Steven Soderbergh’s script for “A Confederacy of Dunces.” The reading took place before an audience of 800, representing the biggest event ever staged by the fest.